Politics & Government

Democratic runoff winner: Voter fraud lawsuit is 'pound of revenge' in race for Joe Barton's seat

Democrats Ruby Woolridge and Jana Lynne Sanchez
Democrats Ruby Woolridge and Jana Lynne Sanchez Star-Telegram archives

Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez wants an Ellis County court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging her 717-vote primary runoff win for the 6th Congressional District over Ruby Woolridge.

She filed court records saying the lawsuit filed by Woolridge — which alleges Sanchez "knowingly filed petitions with fraudulent signatures" in order to secure a spot on the March primary ballot — violates her free speech rights, comes too late and is flat out wrong.

"Ms. Woolridge hopes to use this suit to so damage Ms. Sanchez’s reputation/campaign that Ms. Sanchez will lose the general election and hesitate to run for office again," according to Sanchez's dismissal request. "The lawsuit is a half-baked recipe of a tablespoon of hearsay, a dash of rumor, a cup of speculation, and a pound of revenge."

Sanchez won the May 22 Democratic primary runoff and faces Republican Ron Wright in the Nov. 6 general election for the 6th Congressional District, which for decades has been represented by Joe Barton, an Ennis Republican.

But Woolridge claimed in a lawsuit filed this month that Sanchez "knowingly concealed the fraudulent signatures from the Democratic local authorities" and that volunteer circulators signed "forged petitions before a notary public under duress." Woolridge also asked for a special election or second runoff election to be held without Sanchez's name on the ballot.

Sanchez's legal response asks that the case — which her attorney described as an "effort to punish" her for winning the primary runoff — be dismissed.

"Losing an election can be painful, especially for someone who lost previously, too, despite a long and commendable history of civic involvement," the new filing states. "But (Woolridge) has no right to misuse the judiciary to seek revenge against an opponent who legitimately won by outworking her.

"Absent reliable proof of fraud sufficient to overcome Ms. Sanchez’s 717-vote margin in the runoff, the case should be dismissed, with attorney fees and sanctions assessed against Ms. Woolridge in an amount sufficient to discourage similar abuse of our legal system in the future."

The lawsuit was filed in Ellis County against Sanchez, as well as the Texas Democratic Party, Democratic chairmen in Tarrant, Ellis and Navarro counties and the Texas secretary of state.

'Harass' and 'punish'

Sanchez won the May 22 Democratic primary runoff election against Woolridge with 53.1 percent of the vote. Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright won the Republican Party's nomination in the May 22 runoff.

At stake is a two-year term that pays $174,000 a year representing a district that includes part of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

This district is represented by Barton, who came under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones with a female constituent. He announced in November that he would not seek another term in office.

Sanchez said this lawsuit, even if dismissed, will have a lasting impact on her.

"My name and that of my campaign now have been publicly tarnished with false allegations of voter fraud," she said in a statement attached to her request to dismiss the case. "I saw that even Governor Abbott tweeted about this, using it as an excuse to post a picture of me and reference election fraud needing to be punished more severely.

"I am aware that serious allegations of wrongdoing — such as have been made here as to voter/election fraud — are difficult to ever erase from the public’s mind, even if one is innocent and cleared of them," Sanchez stated. "Based on what has happened to date, and its lack of basis in facts and the law, I conclude that the lawsuit was designed primarily to harass me and to punish me for entering the public debate of issues, rather than because Ms. Woolridge thinks she’ll end up on the November ballot."

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley