Justice of the Peace convicted of tampering with a government record
Former Justice of the Peace Russ Casey walked out of a Tarrant County courthouse this week with a gift: He got a five-year, probated sentence after consciously trying to manipulate the electoral process.
Casey's plea deal looks even sweeter when compared to two other election fraud cases recently prosecuted by the Tarrant County District Attorney's office. In those two cases confused — or at the very least misguided — women got prison sentences for voting violations.
Forcing Casey to surrender his office — and his $126,000 salary — may be seen as a just penalty.
It's not enough.
This Editorial Board thinks prosecutors and the public need to ask themselves if the scales of justice are out of balance. It offends our sense of fair play to see this kind of inequality. In the one case where an election was in real jeopardy, the guilty guy skates.
Let's look at the cases.
Casey was accused of forging dozens of signatures on petitions needed to get his name placed on the March 6 primary ballot. Casey, who represented Precinct 3 in Northeast Tarrant County, eventually withdrew his candidacy after the forgery allegations were made. On Monday, Casey pleaded guilty to tampering with a government document and was sentenced to two years in jail, only to see his sentence probated in a plea deal.
Last month, Crystal Mason didn't get such a soft landing. A judge sentenced Mason to five years in prison because, as a felon she was prohibited from voting in the 2016 presidential election. She was on supervised release after a 2011 conviction for filing false federal tax returns. Mason claims she didn't know it was illegal for her to vote and it wasn't made clear at the polling place.
Last year, Rosa Maria Ortega got eight years in prison for illegally voting. Born in Mexico, but a longtime U.S. resident and green-card holder, Ortega said she didn't know she couldn't vote. She had received a voter card in Dallas County. But, after moving to Tarrant County, she tried to register to vote and was arrested for voter fraud.
Both women are appealing their convictions.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson's office defends its handling of the three cases by saying all of the defendants were offered probated sentences, but that Mason and Ortega declined to take the deals. Casey did, so he walks.
But if the district attorney is really interested in polling place purity, she shouldn't have offered Casey probation in the first place. Unlike Mason and Ortega, he knowingly committed a crime each time he wrote in someone else's name on the petition.
"I think it is a despicable state of affairs when such disparities can take place," said Clark Birdsall, the attorney who represented Ortega. "This JP clearly put his own interest above others and every time he forged a signature he made a decision to break the law.
There is a need to protect the election process. Spend more money on protecting our election machines from being hacked. Crack down on shady operators working to steal votes through absentee ballots. Better safeguard the voter registration process.
Casey walked out of the courthouse Monday after receiving a good deal. If anyone deserved some time behind bars he did. He tried to rig the system, the women didn't.