HOUSTON — The gloves are off in two Harris County political races, with Republican and Democrat candidates for judge suing to get their opponents thrown off the ballot.
In the 281st civil district court, sitting Democrat Judge Christine Weems claims her Republican challenger Michelle Fraga filed a ballot application with dozens of invalid signatures, leaving her short of the 250 legitimate signatures required to run for office.
“We found name after name where there's not a date of birth, not a voter ID number, it's dated improperly, it's notarized on a different date, just multiple problems,” said Kent Schaffer, attorney for Judge Weems.
Schaffer and attorney Shawn Johnson said the problems reach the level of fraud, pointing to a page of voter signatures on the Fraga ballot application that is identical to one filed by another Republican candidate for judge, in a different race, on a different date.
“The names are the exact same names in the exact same order, which would be statistically impossible for people to show up to separate (signing) rallies, six days apart, in the same exact order,” Schaffer said. “Something there is fraudulent.”
A spokesperson for Michelle Fraga denied the allegations.
“There’s no merit to the lawsuit,” Lloyd Kelley said. “You have to have evidence, you can’t go on speculation, the signatures are valid.”
The Harris County Republican Party and its Chair Cindy Siegel are also named in the lawsuit.
“There may be duplications, but there are enough signatures that that gets her over the requirement, and therefore we think that you know, that it'll be decided in our candidate’s favor.”
In another race, Siegel and Republican judicial candidate Tami Pierce fired off a lawsuit against Democrat DaSean Jones, claiming the incumbent 180th criminal district court judge should be thrown off the ballot for not signing his own ballot application.
“We've put someone in charge of the criminal courts that can’t even sign their own application for candidacy,” Siegel said. “You know, that's pretty egregious.”
The attorney for Judge Jones said his client did sign the application in front of a notary but did so in the wrong spot on the form.
“He signed, it's just higher up and it was signed under oath, that's all that’s required,” said attorney Oliver J. Brown.
“I believe this is nothing more than a political tactic coming from the Republican party,” Brown said.
The two races heating up are an indication of more fireworks to come according to KHOU 11 political analyst Bob Stein.
“It would seem campaigns are in the trenches looking for every possible way to unseat incumbents or prevent challenges to incumbents,” Stein said.
“Removing a candidate from the ballot before voters get a chance to cast a vote is obviously a lot easier than just defeating your opponent at the ballot box,” he said.
The case against Judge Jones is pending in the Texas First Court of Appeals.
A visiting judge in the case filed by Judge Weems denied a motion for a temporary restraining order Monday and will consider a request for expedited discovery and expedited trial.