North Texas Daily

Ken Paxton Sues Denton ISD for Civil Injunction, Nonprofit Litigation Firm Moves for Criminal Investigation

March 14, 2024

(North Texas Daily)—Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit on February 5 against Denton ISD because of emails two principals sent to school staff he is calling “illegal electioneering,” according to his press release.

Paxton said in the release that emails sent from their school accounts by these principals qualify as electioneering because they used “taxpayer-funded resources to stump for specific candidates during an election.”

The principals’ names are Lindsay Lujan, who works at Alexander Elementary School, and Jesús Lujan, who works at Borman Elementary School. The Denton Record-Chronicle reported that they are married.

Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson and all seven members of the district’s Board of Trustees were also named in the suit.

Julie Zwahr, chief communications officer for Denton ISD, provided the North Texas Daily with a statement that said the district annually trains its teachers on election ethics. The statement also emphasized its educators’ passion for their students and community, and said the district has to operate on a deficit because “the state has not increased the basic allotment per student since 2019, despite inflation being well over 15 percent and the state sitting on a record $32.7 billion surplus.”

Due to a 2021 decision in the case State v. Stephens in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the attorney general cannot move forward on his own with a criminal case against the principals, UNT Dallas law professor Natalie Brandt said in an email to the North Texas Daily. At this time, there is only a civil case being brought against Denton ISD in the form of a temporary injunction to stop electioneering in the district, Brant also said.

An injunction is a way for the attorney general to stop anything further from happening until the court makes a decision, Brandt said.

“Paxton essentially appealed [State v. Stephens] by asking for a re-hearing,” Brandt said. “In 2022, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied his request. The holding will stand, and it’s already been cited 28 times so far. Paxton has no means by which to force the Court to overturn their ruling.”

The potential criminal punishment in Texas for electioneering is a misdemeanor A charge, Dean McGee, an educational freedom attorney with the Liberty Justice Center, said. The Liberty Justice Center is a nonprofit litigation firm that “challenge[s] the latest and greatest threats to liberty across the country,” according to the firm’s website.

Misdemeanor A carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in prison and a $4,000 fine in the state of Texas, according to the LJC’s website.

The section of the Texas election code that Paxton cited in his lawsuit prohibits a “state agency” employee from distributing political advertisements from their work email, Brandt said.

“Two things here: one, a “state agency” is defined in the statute, and an independent school district is not included,” Brandt said. “In fact, it’s specifically limited to higher education, which is post-12th grade; and two, it makes violations of the statute a misdemeanor, which means criminal, not civil. We know the AG cannot bring criminal charges independently. The two Education Code clauses the lawsuit cites – 11.169 and 45.105(c) – both seem to be a stretch.”

In the state of Texas, if two registered voters submit affidavits to their county’s district attorney’s office that allege “criminal conduct in connection with the election,” it will launch an investigation through the district attorney’s office, according to Texas Election Code Sec. 273.001.

The LJC reached out to Denton voters to find people who were concerned with the alleged electioneering and helped them fill out their affidavits, McGee said. They then sent them in a letter to the Denton County district attorney.

However, the law does not say exactly when the Denton DA will be required to launch an investigation, McGee said.

“I would say it would be the proper reading of the law to investigate something promptly if they have an obligation to investigate it,” McGee said.