Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that he appointed Judge John Neill of Burleson to replace Justice Al Scoggins on Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals.
Neill, 58, has served the past 20 years as judge of the 18th Judicial District Court in Johnson and Somervell Counties. He is expected to start his new job on the three-judge intermediate appellate court in Waco on Feb. 20, joining Chief Justice Tom Gray and Justice Rex Davis on the court. He will succeed Scoggins, who announced his retirement in September.
“After 20 years of being a district judge, I am very excited about this new challenge,” Neill said Monday. “I am looking forward to getting started. I think very highly of Chief Justice Gray and Justice Davis and I am looking forward to working with them.”
Neill, a native of Ackerley in West Texas, moved to Burleson when he was a sixth-grader and graduated from high school there. He has a bachelor’s degree in history from Baylor University and earned his law degree at St. Mary’s University. He is a founder of the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program in Johnson County, is an ordained Baptist deacon and coached youth sports for 13 years.
Neill said he was appointed to hear a case involving a contest of a special charter amendment election in Arlington involving term limits for council members that he must conclude before he starts his new job. He said he will be in Waco Wednesday to meet with Gray and Davis and to meet staff members of the court.
Gray said he looks forward to working with Neill, whom he met when they were running in the same election cycle in 1998.
“We very much appreciate Governor Abbott making a very quick appointment to the court to fill this vacancy and void created by Justice Scoggins leaving,” Gray said. “It will allow us to move forward quickly, not seamlessly, but we will be able to transition since we know who it is going to be and know that we are not going to be without a judge for an extended period of time. That will really help us keep our work moving and set our priorities about what can wait until he gets here versus getting a visiting judge for things that need to be disposed of before his arrival.”
By contrast, Gray said Abbott also announced the appointment of a new justice for the appellate court based in Eastland. That three-judge court has gone more than a year without a full panel of judges before Abbott’s Monday appointment.
The 10th Court of Appeals is one of 14 intermediate appellate courts in Texas. It hears both civil and criminal appeals from courts in an 18-county Central Texas region.
Neill will have to run for election in 2020 and again in 2022, when Scoggins’ term expires.
Gray, who has been on the court since 1999 and chief justice since December 2003, said Scoggins was a trial court judge for 26 years and brought that valuable experience to the court. Neither Gray nor Davis have served as trial court judges. He said Neill, with 20 years on the state district court bench, will ably replace Scoggins’ trial court experience on the court.
Others who sought the appointment were Vicki Menard, judge of Waco’s 414th State District Court for the past 13 years; Waco attorney and businesswoman Gina Parker; Rick Bradley, Scoggins’ staff attorney; and 361st State District Judge Steve Smith, of Brazos County, who challenged Gray in 2012.