A former Dallas attorney hopes to cash in on his hometown family roots, his legal experience and potential turmoil swirling around the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office in his bid to oust District Attorney Abel Reyna.
Barry Johnson, 61, who moved back to Waco in March after practicing personal injury law in Dallas since 1989, said he is glad to be back in Waco, where he was born and raised, and said he hopes to serve the residents of McLennan County as district attorney.
Johnson, who will challenge Reyna in the Republican primary, is the son of the late Judge Joe N. Johnson, who served as justice of the peace and state district judge for 40 years. He said he literally grew up in the courthouse, just blocks from where his grandfather, Roy B. Johnson Sr., operated the first service station in Waco at Fifth Street and Webster Avenue.
Johnson’s announcement Saturday comes a day after Reyna’s office failed to deliver a conviction in the case of Jacob Carrizal, one of 154 bikers under indictment in the Twin Peaks shootout that Reyna handpicked to be tried first.
A 54th State District jury deliberated 14 hours before saying they were hopelessly deadlocked, forcing a mistrial. Jurors told a courthouse source there were never more than six of them in favor of convicting Carrizal on any of the three counts and at one point they had agreed to acquit him on the first count.
Also, Reyna’s former first assistant, Greg Davis, submitted a sworn affidavit, which was filed Friday, that alleges Reyna has dismissed criminal cases for friends and influential people in exchange for campaign donations and could be the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.
Johnson, a divorced father of two sons and a daughter ranging in age form 19 to 23, said he hopes to run a positive campaign.
“I would like for the campaign to be professional and to emphasize the qualifications as we are all applying for this job — that being working for the people of McLennan County, to run their law firm,” he said. “I am looking forward to an aggressive and spirited campaign, hopefully on a positive note.”
Johnson said he moved back to Waco, in part, to help care for his 87-year-old mother, Deane Johnson.
“I am just glad to be back where I was born and raised and I want to serve the citizens of McLennan County,” he said. “I found that since I have been here that the best way to do that would be to make application with the voters in this county to head up their law firm.
“That is where these public servants miss the boat, in my opinion. They forget who they work for, who pays their salary. That is the people’s law firm over there.”
After graduating from the former Richfield High School in 1974, Johnson attended Baylor University, graduating in 1979 with a business degree. He worked for the Texas Coffin Co. in Dallas for five years and then worked in the Dallas real estate market for two years before going to the Oklahoma City University Law School in 1986.
He tried his first jury trial as a law student in Oklahoma City with the help of a supervising lawyer and persuaded the judge to grant a directed verdict for his client, a hotel.
After graduating from law school, Johnson returned to Waco to work for the Haley, Davis, Wren, Bristow and Rasner law firm for 20 months before he moved to Dallas and joined the personal injury law firm of Ford, Needham, Johnson and Lovelace.
He worked there until 2008 and won verdicts of more than $1 million in at least three medical malpractice cases. In 2008, he went into solo practice, handling personal injury, family law and commercial cases. Since returning to Waco, Johnson said he has been handling some criminal cases.
“I think my qualifications are such that I have been trying lawsuits since 1989, been in the courthouse since 1989, trying complicated cases and running a law firm that had a staff from anywhere from 20 to 30 people in the past,” he said. “I intend to do what I have been taught through the years by my dad and others, and that is to treat everybody the same.
“Everybody gets treated the same. That is what my dad taught me from day one in his J.P. office. He said if you ever make an exception or give a favor to one person, one, you are compromised. I also think it is important to be professional. I will bring a business sense to that job and I think I have shown through the years that I have the right temperament for that job.”
Johnson, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for state district judge in Dallas County last year, even has chosen the same campaign logo and color scheme his father used in his races for state district judge.
Reyna is seeking his third term in office. He did not return a phone message seeking comment for this story. His latest campaign finance report shows he has $82,863 in his campaign coffer and $109,395 in outstanding loans.
Johnson said Reyna’s actions in the immediate aftermath of the May 2015 Twin Peaks shootout have left the county on the brink of a potential financial catastrophe.
“To me, it was a huge mistake for the district attorney to be on the scene of the Twin Peaks murders, and the reason is that it potentially exposes McLennan County to a huge financial risk and the McLennan County taxpayers are having to come in and pay the tab,” Johnson said. “Every lawyer will tell you that. You can’t take off your DA badge and go to the scene, where you have excellent, seasoned investigators there handling things.
“That was for ambition only. Ambition is a good thing, but you can’t let your ambition override your good judgment and your responsibility to the people you work for.”
Reyna has testified at hearings in the Twin Peaks cases that he consulted by telephone with former Waco police Chief Brent Stroman, who was out of state at the time, but it was Stroman’s ultimate decision to arrest 177 bikers that night. Reyna’s office has since indicted 155 of them. One has died since, bringing the total under indictment to 154.
Police reports show detectives had already interviewed some bikers, identified them and released them when Reyna and his assistants arrived at Twin Peaks. After Reyna got there, everyone with ties to the Cossacks or Bandidos went to jail, reports show.