in Houston, Texas

Influence from behind the scenes: State Sen. Tommy Williams aided lawyers filing voter fraud complaint in Woodlands residency case

Thursday, Aug 23, 2012, 10:02AM CST
By Steve Miller
state Capitol

State Sen. Tommy Williams played a key role as attorneys tied to the Woodland Road Utility District pushed for voter fraud charges against seven Woodlands residents who sought to usurp the sitting board of the district.

In an email on Sept. 15, 2010, Williams provided a step-by-step guide on filing a complaint to James Stilwell, the lawyer for three ousted board members, who accused the Woodlands residents of violating state residency laws to skew a vote in the district to remove them.

“A few moments ago, I concluded a conference call with the attorney general’s office on the voter fraud in the 23 June township election,” Williams said in an email to attorney Stilwell and Bruce Tough, a local lawyer and a Woodlands Township board member.

Both Tough and his father, Coulson, are political donors to Williams, a Republican who represents The Woodlands.

Williams personally shepherded the complaint to the AG’s office, email records show.

While Williams asserted that it was a case of voter fraud, at the time of the September email, no charges of voter fraud had been announced.  In a December 2010 email between Ann McGeehan, director of elections at the Secretary of State’s office and Clete Buckaloo, director of law enforcement at the AG’s office, McGeehan refers to them as “alleged illegal voters.” By then, in an email to Williams’ office, Stilwell was referring to the case as the “RUD criminal investigation.”

The charges were announced with the indictment in March.

Tommy WilliamsTommy Williams

Williams in the September exchange offered the use of his legislative director, Jason Baxter, in “making sure this is handed off to the right person,” offering that Baxter could “walk it over and put it in the right person’s hands at the SOS office.”

On the same date, Stilwell emailed Williams, advising him that he had sent a package of documents to him and to state election officials regarding the voter fraud allegations.

“Many thanks for all your help…” Stilwell signed off. It was five days after Stilwell sent his complaint to the Secretary of State’s office.

Williams, along with state Attorney General Greg Abbott, has received tens of thousands of dollars in political donations from Schwartz, Page, & Harding, the law firm that handles day-to-day legal matters for the road utility district.

The accused voters were among 10 who registered at a hotel within the district north of Houston in order to vote in the May 8, 2010, election for the RUD board.

The coup was initially successful with the incumbents voted out, but a state district judge later ruled that the 10 voted fraudulently and handed the election to the incumbents.

Williams was also in possession of court documents generated in the case, according to the state Senate Secretary’s response to an open records request.

Among the items provided to Texas Watchdog were the original request for voter information for the 10 from lawyers for the ousted board members, court reporter transcriptions from hearings in a lawsuit filed by the temporarily unseated board members of the district against the newly registered voters, and the brief filed by the incumbent board members with the state appellate court that is part of the appeals file.

Several of those indicted earlier this year on voter fraud charges have alleged that Williams was working with the utility district to prosecute them.

A lawyer for one of the indicted individuals said the involvement of Williams, if true, shows that “big business is running the show.”

“That has been our concern all along,” said Kelly Case, who is representing Adrian Heath, who spearheaded the move to register at a hotel in the utility district after reading a Texas Watchdog story about voters registered to a vacant lot and a federal building. “We had thought that Williams had been pushing this along.”

Case said that “it seemed odd” that the attorney general’s office would take up the case “on his own.”

Williams declined to comment.

“We support the vigorous enforcement of our elections laws,” he wrote in the Sept. 15, 2010, email, to lawyers for the board members.

Stilwell did not return phone calls.

The next hearing in the case is schedule for November. The charges are a third-degree felony.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of Texas state Capitol by flickr user Phil Ostroff, used via a Creative Commons license.

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