Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Leonila Olivares-Salazar

Petition forgery case (probably) resolved

Hadn’t seen an update on this in awhile.

An appeals court has ruled that forged signatures will keep a candidate off the November ballot, a decision the Pasadena justice of the peace hopeful said she will appeal,

But unless Leonila Olivares-Salazar gets some kind of decision from the Texas Supreme Court within days, voters will not see the Republican candidate’s name.

“I’m hoping they make the right decision for the community,” Olivares-Salazar said Thursday before referring questions to attorneys drafting emergency motions asking the state’s highest court to keep her name on the ballot while they take the time to consider the case.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart’s deadline for completing the ballot is Friday, and he said he can push that back only five days.

“I need to have a ruling by Sept. 10,” he said. The county office must comply with laws mandating when printed ballots are mailed to Harris County citizens who are overseas.

On Wednesday, Houston’s 1st Court of Appeals ruled that Olivares-Salazar’s name will not appear on the ballot because of fraudulent signatures on her party application.

She is challenging longtime Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace George Risner for the seat.

Risner, a Democrat first elected in 1987, sued Olivares-Salazar and the Harris County Republican Party in January claiming the party violated state election law, claiming hundreds of signatures were forged.

[…]

A Beaumont judge presiding over the lawsuit allowed the Republican to correct the situation, by handing in valid signatures after the deadline.

Two of the three appellate judges, all Republicans, ruled Wednesday that the law does not allow Olivares-Salazar to try again. The dissenting judge did not issue an opinion.

See here and here for the background. Olivares-Salazar had hired people to collect signatures for her, and four of them wound up going down on charges related to them faking the signatures that were turned in on her behalf, though she herself was never alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing. I have a lot of sympathy for the argument that our system of democracy is better served when all races feature at least two well-qualified opponents, which pending quick Supreme Court action will not be the case here. I have more sympathy for the judicial candidates that do the hard work of collecting signatures themselves, and I have a harder time being sympathetic for candidates that would be the beneficiaries of a fraud that has already been proven to have taken place. It is certainly true that this sort of thing could eventually befall a candidate that I like, as Olivares-Salazar’s attorney, the infamous pecksniff Andy Taylor, asserts. But if that ever happens, I won’t defend said candidate, I’ll be pissed off at him or her, because they should know better and we their supporters deserve better. Olivares-Salazar herself may be innocent of any bad behavior, but there’s nothing innocent about the behavior that would have out her on the ballot. That to me is the critical difference.

Indictments in petition forgery case

Whoa.

Four political campaign workers have been indicted by a Harris County Grand Jury in the wake of allegations of election fraud in a Harris County Justice of the Peace race, first reported by Local 2 News in January.

The suspects — two men and two women — were paid to gather signatures to place Republican candidate Leonila Olivares Salazar’s name on the ballot in the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2, Place 2 race.

[…]

The indictments, handed down Monday, come about two weeks after Salazar’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Judge George Risner, sued to have her name withdrawn from the ballot.

As first reported by Local 2, Risner obtained signed statements from three of the suspects admitting they did not actually obtain the signatures listed on the petitions.

Risner said his investigation shows that 380 of 447 signatures submitted to put Salazar’s name on the ballot were forged.

The indictments name campaign workers 57-year-old Ralph Basil Garcia, 53-year-old Annette Irigoyen, 28-year-old Iris Irgoyen and 55-year-old David Basurto. All face felony charges of engaging in organized criminal activity and tampering with a governmental record.

See here for the background. As we know, a Beaumont judge is hearing the lawsuit to determine if Risner’s opponent Salazar should be declared ineligible for the ballot. He has announced that he’s waiting till the other folks that have been indicted have turned themselves in, so they are all available to testify. Meanwhile, the County Attorney is supposed to be doing its own investigation, but no word on that yet. Campos has more.

Petition problems

Every election cycle there are fights over who really did or didn’t qualify for the ballot. This one is shaping up to be a doozy.

Three lawsuits over alleged ballot irregularities involving Harris County judicial candidates will be heard by a Beaumont judge, officials said Thursday.

State District Judge Bob Wortham was appointed to preside over the cases a day after the Harris County Attorney’s Office said it is reviewing documents filed by all local judicial candidates.

“We have a reasonable suspicion there are several instances that we need to look into,” said Terry O’Rourke, special assistant to County Attorney Vince Ryan.

O’Rourke and other officials appeared in a Harris County court Thursday for a hearing on a temporary restraining order request by longtime Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace George Risner.

[…]

Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill said the party was not made aware of the allegations until after the five-day window to investigate inaccuracies that followed the Dec. 9 filing deadline.

Instead of ruling on Risner’s request for a restraining order to stop the county from printing or mailing any more ballots, including absentee ballots, for the March 4 primary, state District Judge Randy Wilson said it would be more appropriate for a judge from outside Harris County.

“This could affect a lot of judges here,” Wilson said. “I’m a candidate on that ballot.”

He noted that Risner’s case is similar to two other recently filed cases involving Republicans and Democrats in judicial races and said administrative Judge Olen Underwood would assign the cases, including the hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday, to Wortham.

Wortham is expected to have a hearing on Risner’s request for a temporary restraining order on Tuesday.

Moving the case to another jurisdiction makes a lot of sense, for the reason noted by Judge Wilson. The Thursday Chron had a preview of what was to come, with some more detail about the instigating case.

The allegation first was raised by longtime Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace George Risner, who is suing the Harris County Republican Party, claiming it violated state election law by placing candidate Leonila Olivares-Salazar on its party ballot even after being told her application included hundreds of falsified petition signatures.

[…]

Olivares-Salazar “has publicly admitted to hiring a company to collect the required number of valid signatures (250) to qualify her for the ballot,” the petition states. “There were at least four circulators that gathered signatures for Olivares-Salazar who were employed by the company Olivares-Salazar hired, who falsified signatures on Olivares-Salazar’s petitions.”

Risner, a Democrat first elected to his post in 1987, and Olivares-Salazar are running unopposed in their parties’ respective primaries, meaning they would face each other in the November general election.

Risner said he was suspicious about the validity of the 456 signatures his opponent submitted after some of his “friends and campaign workers looked them over,” and decided to go door-to-door to see whether people whose names appeared on the petitions actually had signed them.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of them told me no,” he said. The petition claims 380 signatures were falsified.

Anyone who is active in politics has signed judicial petitions. The parties hold events designed to help judicial candidates get the petition signatures they need, and anyplace where candidates and voters gather there will be clipboard-toters seeking signatures. One of the things about signing such a petition is that you promise not to sign any petitions for a candidate from another party, and you promise not to vote in another party’s primary or participate in another party’s candidate selection convention. I suspect that is what may have tipped off Risner – if his Republican opponent’s petition had a bunch of signatures from known Democrats on it, that would be odd. If Risner then got some sworn statements from these folks attesting that they never signed Olivares-Salazar’s petition, that’s pretty strong evidence. Plus, the universe of people who sign these petitions for either party is pretty small, and heavily partisan. Most names are likely to appear many times, for the reasons cited above. Seeing mostly unrecognizable names on the petition, and following up to determine that they mostly have no primary voting history, would also be a clue that something unusual was happening.

Anyway. I can’t wait to see what the Beaumont judge makes of all this. There are also rumors that the County Attorney’s investigation may turn up other instances of invalid signatures. That’ss the party’s job to check, and HCDP Chair Lane Lewis is quoted saying his team did do a thorough review of all their petitions. We’ll see how that goes. The other two lawsuits involved a Republican challenger to a Republican incumbent judge who was denied a spot on the primary ballot, and an allegation by Democrat Julia Maldonado that her opponent, Sandra Peake, did not turn in enough signatures. Campos (twice) and Lisa Falkenberg have more.