With forgery accusations looming, Tarrant County judge drops re-election bid

Tarrant County Republican officials will decide whether Justice of the Peace Russell Casey can keep his name on the primary ballot.
Tarrant County Republican officials will decide whether Justice of the Peace Russell Casey can keep his name on the primary ballot. Getty Images/Brand X

Embattled Justice of the Peace Russ Casey ended his re-election bid Wednesday afternoon, after claims emerged that he had turned in fake signatures to secure a place on the March 6 primary ballot.

As Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Tim O’Hare was reviewing a request to remove Casey from the ballot, Casey — who was reprimanded last year for having an “improper sexual relationship” with a former clerk — decided to instead withdraw his candidacy, ending his re-election bid.

“It has become apparent to me that Mr. O’Hare is so biased against me that he will stop at nothing to prevent my re-election,” Casey, who represents Precinct 3 in Northeast Tarrant County, said in a written statement given to the Star-Telegram. “I no longer have confidence that a fair election can actually be held while he remains chairman. I do not feel it is in the best interest of the party for me to remain a candidate.

“As such I hereby give notice to the Tarrant County Republican Party and to the Tarrant County Elections Administrator of my withdrawal as a candidate in the 2018 Republican Primary for Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3.”

His statement follows days of speculation about what would happen with the claim filed by Casey challenger Lenny Lopez that included dozens of sworn affidavits by voters who said their signatures were on Casey’s petition — but they didn’t put them there.

Earlier, Casey himself filed a lawsuit asking that his GOP challengers, Lopez and Bill Brandt, be thrown off the ballot for an invalid number of signatures.

‘A good thing for Tarrant County’

The formal deadline for candidates to remove their names from the ballot has passed, but candidates can still suspend their political campaigns at any time. O’Hare has decided to remove Casey’s name from the ballot because of the challenge by Lopez.

“It is another interesting perspective of Mr. Casey’s that somehow, when one of his opponents challenges his ability to stay on the ballot, that is my fault,” O’Hare said. “It appears Mr. Casey has much bigger fish to fry than me and should concentrate on those issues.

“But in the end, having Mr. Casey not be on the ballot is a good thing for Tarrant County Republicans and residents.”

No Democrat is seeking this Precinct 3 post, which covers much of Northeast Tarrant County, including Southlake, Colleyville and North Richland Hills. That means the winner of the GOP primary election would essentially win the post, barring any third-party challenge in November.

At stake is a four-year term that pays $125,911.76 annually.

Casey, reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, was first elected in 2007 and is serving a term that expires in January 2019.

‘Garbage doesn’t take itself out’

To run for a judicial post in Texas, candidates must have at least 250 voters sign a petition. Casey turned in petitions with 305 signatures.

If 56 signatures are invalid, Casey would fall below the 250 signature threshold and would be ineligible to be on the primary ballot, local lawyer Alex Kim wrote in a letter submitted with Lopez’s challenge earlier this week.

“We are doing this because the garbage doesn’t take itself out,” Kim said before Casey withdrew his candidacy.

Direct Action Texas, a political advocacy group, worked with others over the weekend to track down voters whose names were on the Casey petition to see if they actually did sign the form.

Patricia Runte said she learned that her name, and her husband’s name, were on the Casey petition when a Direct Action Texas worker showed up at her house and asked about it.

“I don’t even know (Casey) personally,” the 70-year-old North Richland Hills woman said. “All I know is that he lives down the block from me. I’ve never really met him and I have no idea why my name would be on the petition.”

She said she’s never voted for Casey and neither she nor her husband signed the petition.

“I don’t know how honest the guy is if he does something like that,” Runte said. “I would never vote for him.”

Casey’s lawsuit

Casey last week filed a lawsuit against O’Hare, claiming his challengers shouldn’t be allowed to stay on the March 6 primary ballot.

His lawsuit says O’Hare failed to declare ineligible Republicans William “Bill” Brandt and Leonard “Lenny” Lopez “due to an inadequate number of valid signatures on their petitions that accompanied their application on the ballot.”

The case was withdrawn from the 67th District Court in Tarrant County and refiled with the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth.

All the Second Court of Appeals justices recused themselves from the case. They asked the Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice to transfer the case to another court of appeals.

Casey said late Wednesday that he will drop the lawsuit.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley