Four months after withdrawing from the Republican primary over allegations of voter fraud, Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Russ Casey pleaded guilty Monday to submitting ballot petitions with forged signatures, a state jail felony.
Casey was forced to resign and sentenced to two years in jail; that sentence was suspended for five years of probation. He’s also barred from two government buildings where he had offices.
Then-incumbent Casey withdrew from the March primary ballot in January, blaming Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O’Hare for being “so biased against me that he will stop at nothing to prevent my re-election.”
Following his guilty plea Monday, Casey said in a statement:
“I apologize to the citizens of Tarrant County, the Tarrant County Republican Party, my family and friends for the way that I have ended my judicial career. Today’s proceedings have begun my transition from public to private life.”
Casey was first elected as Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3 in northeastern Tarrant County in 2007.
Casey’s fraudulent 2018 primary petition came to light after he tried to get his GOP opponents Lenny Lopez and Bill Brandt thrown off the ballot by challenging their petition signatures. When Lopez in turn reviewed Casey’s petition and saw what appeared to be forged signatures, he contacted watchdog group Direct Action Texas (DAT) to investigate.
DAT assembled a team of notaries to interview voters whose names appeared on Casey’s petition. Dozens of voters signed affidavits stating that the signatures on the petition weren’t theirs. Yet Casey had signed the petition pages, attesting that the fraudulent signatures were valid.
Armed with the results of DAT’s voter fraud investigation, Lopez sought to have Casey removed from the primary ballot. Casey then withdrew from the race.
“I believe we need to keep elected officials accountable,” said attorney Alex Kim, who represented Lopez in the case, after Monday’s hearing. “Community citizens have to step up and keep government accountable.”
DAT turned over the evidence it collected to local authorities for criminal prosecution. The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office investigated further, and the District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case.
“No one is above the law in Tarrant County,” District Attorney Sharen Wilson said.
“The people of Tarrant County put a lot of trust in their elected officials and when an elected official violates that trust, there has to be consequences,” added Assistant District Attorney Matt Smid.
But some residents question why Casey — an elected judge — received probation, while two Tarrant County women were given jail time for their recent voter fraud convictions.
Crystal Mason is a four-time felon who was found guilty last month of illegally voting while on federal felony probation. Rosa Ortega, a Mexican national, was convicted last year of illegally voting in multiple Texas elections.
Smid says both Mason and Ortega declined probation offers and opted for trials. Other sources tell Texas Scorecard that in Ortega’s case, only the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which jointly prosecuted the case with the Tarrant DA, offered probation.
Neither woman was a government official with both a responsibility to the public and a vested interest in the outcome of the election in which he admits he cheated.
Tarrant County Commissioners Court is expected to appoint Bill Brandt to serve the remainder of Casey’s term, which expires at the end of this year. Brandt won the Republican primary for the JP position and is unopposed in the November general election.
UPDATE: On May 1, Tarrant County Commissioners appointed Bill Brandt as interim Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3.