Saying he has been preparing for it his whole life and touting his experience and work in the community, Waco attorney Thomas West announced Friday that he is running for judge of 19th State District Court.

Standing before a large crowd that filled much of the first floor of the McLennan County Courthouse, West, 54, initially was emotional in making his announcement, especially when he spoke of his late father and his family.

Years ago, his father asked him what he wanted to do with his life, West said. He told his father he wanted to be a lawyer and then become a judge.

“I have done every side there is to do in the criminal field,” West told the crowd. “I feel like it has been my calling to work with citizens of this county in the area of criminal law. You have to protect the victim. You have to give them their day in court. You have to give a fair trial to the citizens who are accused of crimes and to give them their fair day in court. Efficiency is the key to making this system work. It’s the greatest system in the world.”

Judge Ralph Strother, judge of 19th State District Court for 20 years, will retire at the end of his term in December 2020. The court is one of two in the county that primarily handles felony criminal cases.

“I have handled thousands of cases over my career, from the smallest infraction of the law to the most serious offenses facing our citizens,” West said. “Being a good judge requires the utmost in integrity, dependability, fairness, steadfastness and compassion.”

West graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1987 and from the Baylor University School of Law three years later. He worked as a felony prosecutor and misdemeanor chief in the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office from May 1991 to November 2000, when he joined the Waco law firm of Dunnam & Dunnam.

He has served as the municipal court prosecutor in Lorena since 2001 and has been associate city judge in Hewitt for two years.

West is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is a member of the Texas Bar Foundation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the McLennan County Criminal Defense Attorneys Association.

West, his wife of 30 years, Stephanie, are members of the First Baptist Church of Woodway, where West has been a deacon since 2002. They have three children, Jackson, Hannah and Ally.

Waco attorney Gerald Villarrial, who is West’s campaign treasurer, said he has known West for more than 20 years, dating back to when West was an assistant district attorney.

“One of the things I remember about Thomas is Thomas is a student of the law,” Villarrial said. “Thomas was always prepared. He knew the strengths of his cases and he knew the weaknesses of his cases. He knew how to be compassionate and he knew how to be strict. When the case required him to be firm and the punishment stiff, Thomas was always ready to do that. When the case needed to be taken in a more lenient fashion and shown more compassion, he was also ready to do that.”

Waco attorney Susan N. Kelly, a former prosecutor, said Friday she intends to oppose West in the March 2020 Republican primary and will make a formal announcement soon.

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