Dallas-based lawyer Bree West will be challenging Judge Tammy Kemp for her spot presiding over the 204th Judicial District Court.
West announced her intention to challenge Kemp in the Democratic primary earlier this month. No other candidate entered the race, so the winner of the March 1 primary between Kemp and West will win the spot on the bench.
West is one of Dallas’ most well-known lawyers. She has been a private defense lawyer for the past five years, but before that, she spent seven years as a prosecutor for Dallas County. Her father-in-law is longtime State Senator Royce West.
West’s campaign website states that she is running for the position because she understands “the unique importance of the role that balance plays in our system,” citing her work as both a defense attorney and prosecutor.
The website also states that her career working on both sides helped her gain “a greater understanding of how unbalanced our system is” and a deeper appreciation of the need for “judges who are fair, balanced, and serve with compassion.”
Her platform expresses support for working “with mental health organizations to expand access to citizens” accused of committing a crime and suffering from mental illness. Her platform also states support for overhauling the current cash bond system and her commitment to having diverse representation across the criminal justice system.
Judge Kemp is seeking her third term as the judge for the 204th District Court. She has been presiding over the court since 2015. She won the election to her second term in 2018, gathering 77% of the vote in the Democratic primary in a race that also saw no Republican challenger.
Before being a judge, Kemp had two stints as an assistant district attorney for Dallas County. First from 1994-1999, then from 2006 until she got elected as Judge in 2014. The gap between her time working for Dallas County was because she left to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Kemp’s most prominent case as a judge was the 2019 trial of Amber Guyger, a police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his apartment. Guyger claimed she mistakenly went to the wrong apartment and believed she was in her own unit. Guyger was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Following the trial and away from the jury, Kemp reportedly hugged Guyger and gifted her a Bible. Kemp’s actions received national scrutiny from some who thought such behavior from a judge was unethical. Others believed that a judge showing compassion and mercy was praiseworthy.
West told the Dallas Morning News that “the hug” was also one of the reasons she is challenging Kemp for her spot on the bench.
“It is beyond inappropriate for a judge that presides over a murder trial, in the beginning, in the middle, in the end, when it’s over, whenever, to step off of their bench and physically hug a person that’s just been convicted of murder,” West said.
Kemp, for her part, has defended her actions since the criticism ensued following the Guyger trial. She told the Associated Press that she usually tries to console people who have been convicted, but no one had ever asked for a hug before. She told the AP that Guyger had requested twice to be hugged.
“Following my own convictions, I could not refuse that woman a hug. I would not,” said Kemp, “so when she asked the second time, I hugged her… and I don’t understand the anger.”
Kemp said she offered the Bible because Guyger had mentioned that she did not own one in the trial.
“If she wanted to start with the Bible, I didn’t want her to go back to the jail and to sink into doubt and self-pity and become bitter,” she said, “even given the fact that she murdered someone, God still loves her.”
The deadline to register to vote in the March 1 primary is January 31.