Amongst the stack of campaign literature that showed up in my mailbox on Saturday, two fliers caught my eye. One featured photograph of a smiling, competent-looking Tammy Kemp, a top administrator in District Attorney Craig Watkins' office currently running for judge in the 204th Criminal District Court. The other showed incumbent Lena Levario glowering from the bench.
"All you have to have is enough money to have the right attorneys with the right relationships to control the outcome of a court case in any courtroom, including mine," the accompanying quote reads.
The first mailer was paid for by the Kemp campaign. The second says explicitly that no candidate or campaign was involved in its production but was produced by an independent third party, Lone Star Project Nonfederal.
The Lone Star Project is a liberal political group founded by Democratic activist Matt Angle almost a decade ago. It's spending most of its energy right now pushing Wendy Davis for governor and trolling Greg Abbott. LSP Nonfederal is the arm of the group that backs candidates in state and local races.
Levario, a lifelong Democrat, would seem an odd target for a PAC that's dedicated itself to thwarting Republicans. Why waste resources on a Democratic primary? No one from the GOP bothered to enter the race.
A quick glance at Lone Star Project Nonfederal's campaign finance reports provides a possible answer. The PAC's leading contributor, according to the Texas Tribune, is Dallas attorney Lisa Baron Blue. She has donated $185,000 since October 2012, about a quarter of the group's total during that period. The $50,000 she chipped in on January 17 is the only contribution the PAC recorded on the report it filed 30 days before the March 4 primary.
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Blue, it's safe to assume, is not a Levario fan. Levario is the judge who decided that Blue had improperly influenced Watkins to bring charges against Al Hill III, Blue's opponent in a separate legal dispute, and held Watkins in contempt of court. When Blue was called to testify at a hearing, she invoked the Fifth Amendment.
It's also stands to reason that Blue, a longtime Watkins patron, would prefer to have an acolyte of his on the bench rather than an adversary.
As for that quote in the Levario attack ad, it should be viewed with skepticism. It comes from an affidavit filed by a Dallas County employee, the same one that quotes Levario saying she will serve Watkins "on a silver platter to the FBI." The judge supposedly made these remarks in May 2013 while eating lunch with the worker, a mid-level IT employee, at Subway, though they didn't come to light until Watkins' attorneys introduced them in their attempt to have Levario removed from the case.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.