Houston judge Jesse McClure appointed to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals by Gov. Greg Abbott

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Jan. 15, 2020. Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

by Emma Platoff, The Texas Tribune.

Jesse McClure, a trial judge on a criminal court in Houston, will join the state’s highest court for criminal matters in the new year.

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed McClure, a Republican, to the Court of Criminal Appeals, where he will fill a seat being vacated by Judge Michael Keasler. Keasler, 78, is departing Dec. 31 under Texas’ mandatory retirement law for judges.

McClure was appointed to his current bench by Abbott in November 2019 but lost his reelection bid to Democrat Te’iva Bell last month, in an election that saw Democrats sweep Harris County.

Previously, McClure worked as a prosecutor for the Texas Department of Insurance, as an attorney with the Department of Homeland Security and as an assistant district attorney in Tarrant County. He will serve the remainder of Keasler’s term, which lasts through the end of 2022, and then plans to seek reelection.

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McClure said he’s looking forward to joining the appellate court, where he hopes his experience on the trial bench will serve him well.

“Anyone in my position would be very grateful to the governor for putting his faith in me. I want to work hard and earn his faith … and hope to earn [voters’ faith]for a permanent term in 2022,” McClure said.

Best known for its role in death penalty cases, the court is Texas’ last word on criminal matters.

Keasler said he wasn’t involved in the process for selecting McClure, but trusts the new judge will enjoy the position as much as he did, and praised Abbott’s judicial appointments overall.

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Keasler said he plans to continue working as a judge, sitting by appointment on trial and appellate courts as needed. That’s despite having reached the state-mandated “age of presumptive senility,” he laughed.

A Texas law that requires judges to retire within a few years of turning 75 forced Keasler to step down partway through his six-year term.

In Keasler’s case, the law caused a fair bit of confusion.

Last year, two Democrats pursued the nomination to run for Keasler’s seat, expecting an election, rather than an appointment, in a misunderstanding that even the Texas Secretary of State’s Office did not escape. Ultimately, given that Keasler served through the end of the year, the seat fell to Abbott to fill, not the voters.

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Keasler said that did not influence his decision to serve through the end of the year.

“I know I’m in the fourth quarter, there’s no question about that, I just hope I’m not at the two-minute warning just yet,” he joked.