Chief Justice Tom Gray of the Waco-based 10th Court of Appeals announced Thursday he will retire at the end of his term next year, confirming he will not seek reelection for a fourth time.
Gray, 67, was first elected to the 10th Court of Appeals in 1999, and in 2003 then-Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the chief justice position. Gray won a special election for the post the next year and has since been reelected three times, in 2006, 2012 and 2018.
Gray first informed his staff of his retirement decision Thursday, but he said in an interview that his plan was always to retire after he felt the court was in a better position than when he first took the post. However, he said if no other candidates had stepped up for the 2024 election, he would have run again.
Last week, Matt Johnson, former judge of Waco’s 54th State District Court and a justice on the 10th Court of Appeals for the past three years, announced he is running for the chief justice position in the March 5 Republican primary. Candidate filing remains open through Dec. 11.
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When asked if he felt Johnson would be a suitable replacement for him as chief justice, Gray said he had no comment.
Johnson said last week his goals as chief justice would include implementing changes to make the court operate more efficiently and move through cases more quickly.
Gray said the court has improved in his time as chief justice, with the number of pending cases being reduced from close to 500 to about 200. He said many justices place an emphasis on speed whereas he prefers to take as much time as necessary to reach the right verdict.
Gray said if he would have been unopposed, he would have run for reelection then retired midway through his term so that his replacement would have been appointed by the governor as opposed to his replacement being elected unopposed.
“The governor’s office would get to vet in-depth the qualifications of my replacement,” Gray said. “Because my greatest fear now is that there will be no vetting process.”
Gray said there has been much strife and disagreement in the court over the last two years. He said he did not want to leave the court further damaged and preferred to step aside for his replacement.
Johnson said via text he wishes Gray the best in his retirement.
“I wish Tom the best in his retirement,” Johnson said. “But I will continue to campaign district wide in all 18 counties for the position of Chief Justice of the court.”
The 10th Court, an intermediate appellate court with three justices, serves 18 counties in the Central Texas area: Bosque, Brazos, Burleson, Coryell, Ellis, Falls, Freestone, Hamilton, Hill, Johnson, Leon, Limestone, Madison, McLennan, Navarro, Robertson, Somervell and Walker.
Before being elected to the 10th Court of Appeals, Gray worked as a private practice attorney in Corsicana and Dallas. A graduate of Sam Houston State University, he received a Master of Business Administration degree from Texas A&M University and a law degree from Baylor University. Prior to entering law school, he was an accountant in Houston.