The Lion

Legal Group Demands DA Investigation of Alleged Denton ISD Election Law Violations

February 28, 2024

(The Lion)—A public interest law group is demanding a district attorney investigate claims that officials at the Denton (Texas) Independent School District engaged in illegal electioneering.

The Liberty Justice Center (LJC) sent a demand letter to the Denton County DA with enough affidavits by voters to trigger a mandatory investigation pursuant to Texas Election Code Sec. 273.001, said LJC.

“Denton County school officials illegally used public resources to further a politically motivated electioneering scheme,” said LJC attorney Dean McGee. “In an attempt to sway the election, they abused their positions to pressure employees into voting against candidates who support school choice. This is a blatant violation of state law, and we are proud to join registered voters throughout Denton County in demanding that the District Attorney promptly investigate this matter.”

McGee told The Lion that he has no idea why the local district attorney hasn’t said anything about investigating the case, but his organization’s letter, combined with the affidavits, will require an investigation by the DA into the electioneering allegations.

The demand comes after Denton ISD officials sent an email instructing district employees how to vote and who to vote for in a GOP primary.

The Lion previously reported that Sec. 255.003(a) of the Texas Code prohibits “an officer or employee of a political subdivision” from “knowingly spend[ing] or authoriz[ing] the spending of public funds for political advertising.”

People who violate subsection (a) are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, said LJC.

It’s a serious crime. People found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor are subject to punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000, or both, under Texas law.

Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Denton ISD, asking for a temporary injunction against the district’s school board, the superintendent and two district employees, reported local NBC News 5.

“It is absolutely improper for publicly funded entities like school districts to engage in electioneering as Denton ISD has done,” said Paxton, according to the local TV news station. “State law prohibits government officials—including school district personnel—from using either their positions of authority or taxpayer resources to influence the outcome of elections.”

In a statement to the local NBC news affiliate, the school district acknowledged its activity, but refused to say it wouldn’t do it again.

In fact, the district seemed to imply the actions of its public officials were “routine” and a “civic duty.”

“Denton ISD has been in conversation with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and we agree that election laws should be followed,” said the Denton ISD statement. “In fact, our Board of School Trustees adopted board policies in 2018 and 2021 regarding elections and campaign ethics, and we train all trustees and administrators on these policies annually… Denton ISD strives to create a culture of routine voting, and we believe that participating in the democratic process is every citizen’s civic duty.”

Paxton previously said he believed the district violated electioneering laws, but the “Court of Criminal Appeals incorrectly decided that the Texas Attorney General cannot prosecute criminal election offenses,” so prosecution is up to the local district attorney.

Paxton’s comments led school reform activist Corey DeAngelis to publish the contact information for the Denton County District Attorney Paul Johnson, a Republican.

DeAngelis called for a criminal prosecution of district officials, telling the New York Sun that this type of electioneering has been going on in Texas “for years without any consequences for school districts.”

McGee agreed, telling The Lion that in the process of collecting affidavits, his organization has been told by some affiants that public education officials in Denton have been electioneering for years, but they’ve never been caught in such a “black and white” case.

DA Johnson has yet to say anything publicly.

His silence was what led the public interest law group to collect “affidavits from registered voters in Denton County alleging criminal conduct,” said the LJC letter to Johnson

“We respectfully submit that your office is now required to investigate this matter pursuant to Election Code Sec. 273.001.6,” the demand letter concluded.