The Texas Supreme Court on Friday overturned sanctions against former Austin city council candidate Laura Pressley and her attorney, finding a Travis County district court abused its discretion in 2015 when it found an election challenge she filed was frivolous.

After she was defeated by socialist candidate Greg Casar in a 2014 city council race, Pressley filed an election challenge asserting violations of state election laws and other irregularities by Travis County elections administrators cast doubt on the result of the election. An Austin district court dismissed the challenge and sanctioned Pressley and her attorney, David Rogers, $100,000 to compensate Casar for his attorney’s fees. The Austin Court of Appeals upheld the sanctions in a 2016 opinion.

Pressley had complained, amongst other violations, that Travis County’s use of paperless electronic voting machines did not comply with state elections laws, that election officials failed to print zero tapes on the election machines, that officials blocked poll watchers from observing a recount, and that seals on voting machines had been inappropriately broken.

While the Supreme Court found that Casar’s 2018 reelection rendered Pressley’s challenge moot, and thus the court could not reach the merits of her case, they expressly found her allegations were not frivolous.

The election activities that Pressley complains about could create a perception of impropriety, and such impropriety might make the election results unknowable, which is precisely her argument. Her evidence might not have been strong enough to win on the merits, but she had at least some evidence and legal basis for her claims. For that reason, the trial court abused its discretion in sanctioning Pressley and Rogers for making these non-frivolous arguments, and the court of appeals erred in affirming the sanctions.

The Court did not give any opinion on whether any of Pressley’s claims were winning arguments, as it would have been inappropriate to do so given the case was moot.

In an email regarding the ruling, Pressley thanked supporters for their prayers and financial support, thanked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for an amicus curiae brief he filed in the case, and thanked the Supreme Court for its unanimous decision.

“Praise the Lord for this wonderful case and for justice that has prevailed,” wrote Pressley.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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