Ethics

Shocking Video – School District Electioneers at Early Voting Parties

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“A joint investigation by Direct Action Texas and Empower Texans reveals Lancaster ISD employees advocated for a tax rate proposition at “back to school” parties inside polls.”

Article by Erin Anderson of Empower Texans

“A North Texas school district used controversial, and possibly illegal, tactics to help ensure passage of a property tax rate proposition that will result in more tax revenue for the district and higher tax bills for taxpayers.

A joint investigation by Direct Action Texas and Empower Texans took a look at “back-to-school” parties for parents held inside campus polling locations in Lancaster Independent School District. The parties were on the same day, at the same time, and at the same schools as the early voting polls.

Lancaster ISD used what’s called “rolling polling” during early voting for its August 25 tax ratification election, moving polling locations to different district campuses each day.

Early voting began on August 8, the day after district teachers and staff returned to campus. Back-to-school parties coordinated with early “mobile voting” sites were held August 13-18.

Tony Ortiz of Empower Texans and Robert Montoya of Direct Action Texas visited three campuses during their rolling polling parties — Rosa Parks Millbrook Elementary, George Washington Carver, and Lancaster Middle School — and recorded what they saw on video.

School employees in the video admit the parties were held to get parents to vote. The parties gave free food to parents. The parties were held at schools, on taxpayer-funded government property. At each polling location visited, multiple school employees said on video to vote for the tax rate proposition.

State law makes it illegal for school districts to use taxpayer resources for electioneering. And government employees at work are prohibited from telling voters how to vote in an election.

The video shows what look like violations of both statutes:

 

And no person in Texas can electioneer to voters inside a polling location. They must be 100 feet away from the entrance to the building where the poll is located.

School employees appear to have violated those limits as well. They electioneered inside the polls and on the taxpayer’s dime.

The district’s questionable tactics paid off. Lancaster ISD voters approved the tax swap 62-38 percent, with a dismal 2.5 percent voter turnout. In-person early voters, including those who cast ballots at the early voting parties, voted for the tax swap proposition by a 269-65 margin. Election Day voters, who cast ballots at a local library, were more closely divided, 124-100.”

Another Judicial Candidate in Hot Water, Again

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The spotlight is on Kimberly Fitzpatrick, candidate for District Judge, once again, for violating the law. This time it is for illegally accepting $2,000 in campaign contributions from a corporation.

Last month Direct Action Texas filed a complaint on Fitzpatrick with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct concerning an illegal endorsement. We also filed a complaint on Probate Court Judge candidate Catherine Goodman, this time with the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). Our complaint was affirmed, Goodman took an improper donation of $10,000 from a husband and wife. Then, just yesterday, we called attention to Patricia Cole, candidate for Probate Court Judge, for her reporting of a campaign contribution from a corporation. Now we have found that Kimberly Fitzpatrick has violated Texas Election Code 253.091 as well.

On her May 15 filing, Fitzpatrick lists an in-kind Contribution of $2,000 from Chamas Do Brazil, otherwise known as HLQ, Inc., a corporation. Section 253.094 of the Election Code lists this offense as a third-degree felony. Punishment for a felony of this type is 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Former Mayor and Attorney Kimberly Fitzpatrick did not know the law or ignored it. Either way, is this someone that should be the next Tarrant County District Court Judge for District 342? The District 342 Court handles civil cases with judgements that can reach up into the millions and higher. The judge for that court must be someone with integrity and an attention to detail, not someone who has come under legal scrutiny twice during her campaign.

We must hold our judges and judicial candidates to a higher standard. We must know that our judges have the utmost integrity and would not violate the law for financial gain, to win an election, or for any other reason. We must also know that our judges are knowledgeable. There is no room for error when people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line. Tarrant County deserves judges that take the time to study the law and not make potentially criminal mistakes. Tarrant County has a chance to choose on May 22nd. Choose wisely.

TEC Rules In Favor of DAT’s Complaint Against Catherine Goodman

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The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) has affirmed Direct Action Texas’ complaint against Catherine Goodman, former candidate for Tarrant County Probate Court 1.  DAT filed the complaint when we noticed that Goodman had accepted $5,000 over the limit set by the Judicial Fairness Act from a married couple. (For the original article on the complaint click HERE.)

The married couple in question are Dyann and Jere McCully. Dyann McCully is an attorney and a partner at the Blum Firm.  According to their website, they are “the largest estate planning firm in Texas and the largest boutique firm in the United States solely dedicated to estate planning.” McCully and her firm would certainly benefit from a friendly Probate Court Judge.

In her Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, Goodman admits to accepting the contributions, but “swore that she did not accept the contributions knowing they were in excess of the limits.” Goodman also claims that her first knowledge of the violation was DAT’s article. This may be true, but ignorance of the law is not a good habit for a lawyer, and especially not someone seeking to become a judge.

Goodman has allegedly returned the $5,000 contribution and the TEC will not assess a civil penalty. Goodman’s former opponents could still pursue civil damages, however.

Once again DAT has illustrated the importance of constant vigilance. The limitations of the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act are well known but the TEC will not act unless someone files a complaint. Candidates as well as elected officials must be held accountable.

Probate Court Candidate Goodman’s Fuzzy Math

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Catherine Goodman is using some fuzzy math to manipulate the results of the Tarrant County Bar Association (TCBA) Survey to declare herself the highest rated candidate. Goodman is the candidate for Judge, Probate Court 1 that almost didn’t make it on the ballot. She had to withdraw her application for a place on the ballot and reapply. Inside sources say this was due to problems with her petition signatures. Goodman has also struggled with her campaign finance compliance, as reported by Direct Action Texas. Now it looks like Goodman has chosen to manipulate the results of the TCBA Survey to boost her chances.

The Tarrant County Bar Association asked its members to rate each candidate as well qualified, qualified, or not qualified. If they didn’t know the candidate, they were instructed to answer, “No Opinion.” At first glance, Mark Sullivan has the highest rating with 25% well qualified versus Goodman’s 23.1% well qualified. If you look at the raw number of votes, Sullivan is still ahead with 151 well qualified to Goodman’s 139.

Goodman would like you to throw out the “No Opinion” votes and recalculate the percentages. That would skew the numbers in her favor, giving her 54% for well qualified to Sullivan’s 51%. However, that method is statistically insignificant. Remove the “No Opinion” vote and you are suddenly comparing apples to oranges. The results cannot be compared when there is now a different number of people voting in each candidate’s survey. If you wanted to properly discount the “No Opinion” voters you would have to compare the categories individually, as shown here. Those numbers still put Mark Sullivan on top.

Perhaps the more interesting numbers are not those of Goodman and Sullivan, but those of Patricia Cole. With 117 votes for “Not Qualified,” no matter which way you calculate it, she has the highest number in that category.

Catherine Goodman had difficulties following the law when applying for a position on the ballot, disregarded campaign finance laws, and is now manipulating results to show them in her favor. On the campaign trail she says she writes the law and that she knows the law, but can she follow the law?

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