With early voting in the primary election just weeks away, a judge ruled Monday that Texas Senate candidate Dr. Carrie de Moor can move forward with a trial challenging the eligibility of her establishment-backed opponent Brent Hagenbuch, denying a motion by Hagenbuch’s lawyers to dismiss the case.
That means Hagenbuch will be required to testify under oath about claiming residency in Senate District 30.
The judge also denied de Moor’s request to keep Hagenbuch from campaigning in the Republican race for the open SD 30 seat while the litigation proceeds.
De Moor says Hagenbuch, who resigned as chairman of the Denton County Republican Party to run for the office, is not eligible because he does not reside in the North Texas district as required by state law.
In a statement Monday, de Moor said retired Court of Appeals Justice Lee Gabriel had “ordered the parties to move forward with depositions, subpoenas and a trial to determine whether Brent Hagenbuch can run for state senate in a district in which he is constitutionally ineligible to serve.”
The order followed a hearing Friday in a Denton County courtroom that featured new testimony from the property manager of the office building Hagenbuch claimed as his residence on his sworn candidate application.
Hagenbuch has yet to appear in court.
“Hagenbuch will be required to testify under oath in a deposition about the tangled web of lies he has concocted in an attempt to deceive the voters of Senate District 30,” said Mike Alfred, one of de Moor’s lawyers. “It is clear he has lied to voters, and we look forward to deposing him.”
Challenging Hagenbuch’s Residency in Senate District 30
Residency challenges from de Moor and the two other candidates in the SD 30 senate race—Jace Yarbrough and Cody Clark—began because Hagenbuch’s home is in Senate District 12.
Yet in mid-November, Hagenbuch swore on a voter registration form and his candidate application that he had moved to the address of his business in Denton—a commercial building within SD 30 that contains no living space and is not approved by the city for residential use.
State law prohibits registering to vote at a commercial address or at a place a voter has not inhabited or uses temporarily “without the intention of making that place the person’s home.”
The law also states that voters “may not establish residence for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.”
Hagenbuch changed his residency address again at the end of November to an apartment building across the street from his office, but state law requires senate candidates to reside in the district for one year before General Election Day (in this case, November 5).
“Mr. Hagenbuch tried to defraud his way into a senate seat,” de Moor’s attorney said Friday in court. “There has to be a remedy for that. The law has to mean something.”
The property manager of Hagenbuch’s office building testified Friday that the commercial lease for Hagenbuch’s business NEAT Enterprises specifies the corporate office space is for “general office use and for no other purpose whatsoever.”
He also testified he had never seen the “corporate apartment sublease,” which Hagenbuch’s lawyers produced just hours before the last hearing on January 2, until it was made public during the case.
NEAT CEO Craig Bishop signed the sublease as the “sublessor.”
The property manager said any sublease would have to be approved by the landlord, as would any modifications to the office space to make it habitable. He said neither of those things happened.
Bishop dated the sublease October 3, 2023—tracking with Hagenbuch’s claim on his candidate application that as of November 16 he had continuously resided in the district for “1-1/2 months.”
But the company didn’t apply for a certificate of occupancy until October 12, and the application made no mention of residential use. The certificate was approved October 23—meaning that it would have violated city code to occupy the space prior to that date.
Following the witness testimony, de Moor’s lawyer argued that a “totality of circumstances” demonstrate that Hagenbuch did not reside within Senate District 30 on the November 5 deadline.
He said Hagenbuch “saw an opportunity” to run for an open senate seat rather than challenge a friendly incumbent in his own district “and grabbed it.”
“The question now is, is he able to cheat or is there a remedy?” he said.
Hagenbuch’s attorney Andy Taylor argued in court Friday that because Hagenbuch listed an address within SD 30 on various documents, he is eligible to run in the district—even if he doesn’t actually reside there.
“Whether your paperwork is correct versus whether you are eligible to hold office if elected are different,” Taylor told the judge.
He said the evidence “goes both ways,” so de Moor could not “conclusively” prove that Hagenbuch did not reside in the district by the statutory deadline.
He also argued that the state Senate has “exclusive jurisdiction” to decide who is qualified.
“You can get indicted with a criminal case and you can still run for office,” Taylor added, arguing against de Moor’s request to keep Hagenbuch from campaigning.
The judge’s ruling Monday agreed with the argument that Hagenbuch should not be temporarily enjoined from campaigning, but denied his lawyers’ motion to dismiss de Moor’s lawsuit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act or TCPA, also known as an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) law.
Hagenbuch was also represented in court by former Texas Secretary of State John Scott and State Rep. Richard Hayes (R–Hickory Creek), who is a past Denton County Republican Party chairman like Hagenbuch.
On Monday, Hagenbuch’s campaign declared the judge’s ruling a win.
Campaign consultant Allen Blakemore said in a statement that Hagenbuch had won “the final round in court,” despite the judge’s order that the case proceed to trial.
Blakemore also said his candidate is heading “back to the campaign trail,” although it’s not clear he ever left. Hagenbuch’s lawyers claimed in one filing that he was too busy campaigning in the district with retiring State Sen. Drew Springer (R–Muenster) to show up in court to testify.
In Monday’s statement, Hagenbuch touted his endorsements from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and a “growing list” of senators, sheriffs, and local leaders. The list of senators endorsing Hagenbuch still only includes fellow clients of Blakemore, a longtime advisor to Patrick.
One endorsement is from State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), who authored the stricter residency requirements that Hagenbuch is accused of skirting. Notably missing from the endorsement list is Springer.
“Law enforcement, firefighters, and business groups all know I am the right person to represent this District in the Texas Senate,” Hagenbuch added.
Campaigning Heats Up
All four candidates in the SD 30 race appeared at a forum Friday night hosted by the Denton Republican Women’s Club.
When asked if they resided in the district, the other three candidates said “yes.” Hagenbuch said, “I have every right to run for this office.”
“I’m the front-runner with all these endorsements,” Hagenbuch added, claiming that’s why his opponents are challenging his residency.
During another question, Hagenbuch struggled to identify the Texas GOP’s legislative priorities, saying he didn’t know them “off the top of my head.”
“Of course he couldn’t name any,” responded Rachel Horton, the elected State Republican Executive Committeewoman for SD 30. “During his time as chairman, he was opposed to the Texas GOP having legislative priorities because he claims the sole purpose of the Republican Party is to ‘support our elected Republicans.’”
“Integrity is everything,” de Moor said during the forum. “If people will lie to you now, they’ll lie when they get to Austin.”
She added, “The government doesn’t have money or power. It belongs to us, and we loan it out to the people we elect.”
De Moor is endorsed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Campaigning in the race appears to now include “dirty tricks.”
This week, Yarbrough said a fraudulent donation was made in his name to House Speaker Dade Phelan. He called it “an attempt to smear me with our party’s grassroots.”
Yarbrough filed a mandamus petition to have Hagenbuch declared “administratively ineligible,” but the Second Court of Appeals denied his petition.
On Friday, de Moor’s attorney told the judge, “I urge you to tell Mr. Hagenbuch—and everyone else who is doing this—no.”
He said if Hagenbuch “had just cheated the right way to begin with”—by claiming a valid residential address within SD 30 by November 5—“we wouldn’t be here.”
Candidates and officeholders often skirt state residency requirements by renting an apartment or using the address of a second home or other property they own in the target district.
The attorney noted that courts have been reluctant to rule candidates ineligible, but he said this is “not one of the ordinary cases.”
I commend him on his desire to serve, but Mr. Hagenbuch doesn’t think the rules apply to him … He took advantage of an opportunity thinking he wouldn’t get caught. But he did.
The question is whether the law allows him to slide into a candidacy the way he did.
A trial will shine a light on the question, which de Moor has maintained is a matter of election integrity.
Her attorneys cited a precedent for their request to permanently restrain Hagenbuch from campaigning for the seat if he is found ineligible to hold it:
Concerning content-based, statutory restriction on political speech. “Despite the strong protection for political speech under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that a state interest in preventing fraud ‘carries special weight during election campaign when false statements, if credited, may have serious adverse consequences for the public at large….’ A State indisputably has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process.”
De Moor said Monday, “Brent can end this right now and testify under oath about how he lived in an office building before he received a certificate of occupancy and how he apparently violated his corporate lease for his business with his landlord … or he could tell the truth that he still lives in Little Elm on the lake with his family in SD 12.
“You can continue to deny, delay, and deceive but the facts still remain—your residence is in SD 12,” she added. “If you want to run, do it the right way.”
Senate District 30 covers 11 counties.
Early voting in the March 5 primary election starts on February 20.
Previous coverage of the Senate District 30 primary race: