Weatherford Democrat

February 14, 2014

Q&A: The race for Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace


Weatherford Democrat

— The WD recently sent questionnaires to the candidates in contested county races in the March 4 primary elections. The candidates were asked to provide background information and answers, in 300 words or less, to questions posed to them. Early voting begins Feb. 18. Today we look at the Republican primary candidates for Justice of the Peace, Pct. 4, Lynn Johnson and Bernard Suchocki. There is no Democratic opponent.

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Name: Lynn Marie Johnson

Age: 54

Occupation: Justice of the Peace, Pct. 4, since 2011

Family: Married to Ed Huddleston for 22 years. Four daughters: Kendall (19, petroleum engineering major at UT-Austin), Kallyn (17), Cameron (14) and Cheney (12).

Educational background: Graduated in 1984 with a law degree from the University of Minnesota; B.A. from Concordia College with degrees in Communications, Business Administration and Psychology.

Professional affiliations or memberships: Texas Justice Court Judges Association, Texas State Bar Association, Parker County Bar Association, Tarrant County Bar Association, East Parker County Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Business Alliance of Parker County, Bush Legacy Republican Women of Weatherford, Parker County Republican Women, Parker County Republican Party.

Community involvement: Aledo Children’s AdvoCats (2001 to present, serving as president for two years and director for nine years); Shattered Dreams (2008 to present); Project Celebration (2012 co-chair, 2014, 2017 and president of Project Celebration Inc.); Parker County Teen Court (founding member and volunteer from 2006 to present); BearCat Park; Aledo PTO (1999 to present); Aledo athletics (2008 to present).



What will be your top three priorities if elected justice of the peace and what steps will you take to achieve those goals?

My priorities in 2010 were: (1) compliance with the law and judicial ethics; (2) fiscal responsibility; and (3) personal responsibility. These remain my priorities today. 

(1) Compliance with the law and judicial ethics. I do not legislate from the bench. I listen to the facts presented, elicit testimony from the parties when needed and rule according to the law. Judges are not elected to make the law; they are elected to follow the law.

(2) Fiscal responsibility. I manage my court like a business employing talented people, managing and training staff, staying under budget, complying with collection practices required by statute, maximizing efficiency and productivity, utilizing technology, providing good customer service, increasing hours open to the public, making legal information available to litigants, maintaining high morale, building relationships with the community and other county departments and adhering to community values.

(3) Personal responsibility. When I took office, I made teen court available to teenagers for their traffic or Class C misdemeanor offenses and promoted the program to other courts. Teen Court requires a teen to take responsibility for the offense, participate in teen court as a juror and perform community service hours in lieu of playing a fine. Once successfully completed, the case is dismissed.

Similarly, options are given to adults to keep offenses off their record if allowed by law. If re-elected, I will continue to focus on these priorities by deciding cases based on the law, by managing the court like a business and by focusing on personal responsibility.



How can court efficiency or other areas of court operations be improved and what are your plans to do so if elected?

When I took office, I focused on improving efficiencies, reducing backlogged cases, and handling delinquent fines from the 1990s to present. 

To increase efficiency, I organized the court calendar so that certain court activities happened on certain days: Mondays – jail magistration and show cause hearings; Tuesdays – civil trials; Wednesday – evictions and civil cases; Thursdays –- criminal pre-trials or trials; Fridays – emergency chambers. A copier was turned into a fax/filings or backlog. Technology was updated. Security was increased. Employees were cross-trained. New court documents were drafted.

To help pro-se litigants, I co-wrote local rules for Parker County Justice Courts and created content for the JP website. To reduce backlog, I set cases for pretrial and/or trial. 

To handle past due fines, additional man-hours were dedicated to verifying that fines were delinquent and a collection firm was hired at no cost to the county. These efficiencies and others resulted in a reduced tax burden to Parker County citizens. If re-elected, I will add content to the county JP website regarding traffic offenses, will evaluate the performance of the collection firm, and will consider implementing video magistration.

Presently, my office is being trained on new Odyssey software that will further increase our efficiency and will allow officers to electronically download their citations to the court rather than require each citation to be manually entered by court staff.



Why are you the best candidate for the position?

I am the best candidate because of my consistent job performance for the last three years rather than events that occurred almost a half century ago.

Since 2011, I have handled over 16,000 cases, magistrated over 1,000 defendants, issued over 2,150 arrest warrants and presided over 350 trials.

Also, over the past three years, I saved the taxpayers approximately $540,000 due to improved efficiencies and compliance with the law.

My performance has earned me an endorsement from The Honorable Melvin Simons, who served as Justice of the Peace, Pct. 4, from 1999-2010.

Further, I am the most qualified because I am the only candidate with the experience and the education specific to the office of Justice of the Peace. I have been a licensed attorney since 1984, earning top ratings by my peers, and have 180 hours of JP training.

Also, I am the best candidate because, throughout my professional career, I deal with people calmly and courteously, I am willing to consider divergent points of view, and I treat people with dignity and respect.

Finally, I have a record of active community involvement and a demonstrated commitment to children. In my court, teenagers can avail themselves of the teen court program, based at JP4. In school attendance cases, I implemented a different approach which is more time consuming but has achieved a 96 percent success rate.



What training or experience has prepared you to do this job? In what areas do you expect to need additional training or education?

An effective justice of the peace requires competence in the law, good judicial demeanor and temperament, communication skills, management and administrative abilities, moral integrity, civic involvement and a sense of humor. 

As stated previously, I have 180 hours of Justice Court Training narrowly tailored to the duties and types of cases a JP handles: traffic offenses and Class C misdemeanors, criminal procedure, rules of (civil) practice in Justice Court, evictions, magistration, arrest and search warrants, bond conditions for DWI and family violence cases, tow hearings, personal property and animal seizures, mental health commitments, bond forfeitures, occupational licenses, administrative appeals, failure to attend school, OCA collection requirements, judicial ethics, and numerous other specialty areas.

In addition, I have a law degree, 29 years of experience in handling simple and complex litigation of all types, business and organizational skills acquired from being an owner of an established law firm, and experience in operating a 300 cow/calf operation for 16 years. 

I also have extensive experience in volunteering for and leading local nonprofit groups without controversy.

If re-elected, I will continue to keep abreast of legislative changes and case law updates, will avail myself of relevant educational opportunities, and will continue to be actively involved in my community.   

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Name: Bernard R. Suchocki

Age: 71

Occupation: trial attorney

Family: My wife, Connie Givens Suchocki, is a former school teacher and Aledo ISD trustee. We have been happily married for 46 years and we have been Parker County residents for the last 25 years. Our son is Bernard “Chip” Suchocki Jr., a firefighter, and our daughter is Amy Suchocki Cleveland, who is employed by a defense contractor. We have four granddaughters: Savannah, Caroline, Elizabeth and Macy.

Educational background: JD Doctor of Jurisprudence; graduate courses in mathematics; bachelor of science degree in Physics and Mathematics.

Professional affiliations or memberships: lifelong conservative Republican; member of the Apollo XIII mission operations team; Presidential Medal of Freedom Award to the Apollo XIII Mission Operations Team; United States Supreme Court and United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, participant; board-certified personal injury trial lawyer; Texas State Bar; Texas State Bar, Litigation Section; United States District Court for the Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern Districts of Texas.

Community involvement: public service speaker for the last 25 years regarding the Apollo program and the “Success of Apollo 13.” Such presentations include graphics-rich video, personal text messages from Apollo astronauts and memorabilia flown in space and taken to the lunar surface. I have made local presentations to local and area students and the following organizations:  Stuard Elementary, McAnally Intermediate, Mary Martin Elementary, S.H. Crowley Intermediate, Crowley L. Davis Elementary, Davis Learning Center, Ruth Cherry Elementary, Wayside Middle School and teachers at Mary Martin Elementary;

Willow Park City Council (member); Willow Park Planning & Zoning (former commissioner); Willow Park Fire Department Board of Directors (former member); El Lago City Council (former member); Aledo Lions Club; Republican party; former volunteer tax assessor/collector for the City of El Lago; East Parker County Chamber Association; Center of Hope volunteer; Snack Pack volunteer for Aledo students.



What will be your top three priorities if elected justice of the peace and what steps will you take to achieve those goals?

A. My first priority would be to achieve an organized transition of responsibilities and ensure that any deadlines or critical hearings or functions are identified and handled. The steps to achieve this goal would be: (1) attend court hearings; (2) set up meetings with key personnel; and (3) review any pending deadlines from the court docket and from staff personnel.

B. My second priority would be to begin a study and assessment of the office to increase efficiency and productivity. The steps to achieve this goal include: (1) studying the job descriptions of each staff member; (2) interviewing each staff member; (3) obtaining staff input, concerns and opinions; (4) developing a working best practices manual; and (5) initiating weekly staff meetings to coordinate activities within the office and to identify and resolve issues before they become problems.

C. My third goal is to work with the community at large. I will invite and listen to input from organizations, parents and teachers and continually strive to improve the legal services provided by the justice of peace court.



How can court efficiency or other areas of court operations be improved and what are your plans to do so if elected?

Court efficiency is addressed above in items (a) through (c). I will honor the public trust. I will not have any competing individual law practice. I will be a full-time judge and I will continually strive to be fair and impartial and improve organization and efficiency. I will not decide an issue hastily or on emotion. Each time I take the bench I will remind myself of Deuteronomy 1:16: “And I charged your judges at the time, saying, hear the causes between our brethren and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him.”

Why are you the best candidate for the position?

A. I worked for NASA for 14 years and trained Apollo astronauts who were highly skilled and dedicated individuals. I came away from that experience with an incessant drive for perfection, detail, accuracy and organization. I worked hundreds of volunteer hours to help put a man on the moon. I will bring these skills and this work ethic with me as justice of the peace.

B. After the Apollo program, I managed the collection and organization of software requirements for the operations software to be tested in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL). I will bring these management and project development skills with me as justice of the peace.

C. After NASA I became an attorney in 1981 and became board certified in personal injury trial law in 1989. With the encouragement and backing of my wife, I worked almost 24/7 for several years to build a law practice and become the managing partner of Suchocki, Bullard & Cummings.

In the last 32 years, I have tried cases in many counties throughout the state, including cases in federal courts, district courts, county courts and justice of the peace courts and have appeared before many different judges. I will bring these management skills and 32 years of legal knowledge and trial experience with me as justice of the peace, along with a commitment to be fair and impartial and to follow the law and be reasonable in assessing judgments.

D. I have three cases left that will be resolved within the next several months. As such, I will not have an independent practice when I am elected justice of the peace. I will be a full-time judge and I am committed to a motto that I developed as a young man with NASA and a motto that I am passing on to my grandchildren: “No matter how big or small the task, do it better than it has ever been done before.”



What training or experience has prepared you to do this job? In what areas do you expect to need additional training or education?

I believe the description of my education, training and experience as noted in items (a) and (d) above qualify me for the position of justice of the peace. In addition, as an attorney I am required to attend at least 15 hours of continuing education each year. As a board-certified trial attorney, I must apply for recertification every five years and meet practice, peer review and continuing education requirements.

Nonetheless, I intend to supplement and continually improve my qualifications by: (1) seeking input from current and former JP Judges about recommendations; (2) observing and incorporating the best practices of other JP courts; and (3) identifying and scheduling a comprehensive series of continuing education courses throughout my term as justice of the peace.