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CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

MARBLE FALLS — At the height of the Republican primary campaign season, candidates for the 424th District Judge’s race have traded accusations regarding residency requirements and campaign donations.

Incumbent District Judge Dan Mills and his challenger, Evan Stubbs, are vying for their party’s nomination for the position that handles criminal and civil cases in Burnet, Blanco, Llano and San Saba counties.

On Feb. 13, Stubbs questioned his opponent’s ethics at a campaign rally in Marble Falls, citing Blanco County civil cases that involved attorneys who donated to Mills’ campaigns in 2010 and 2013.

“I can’t prove that he solicited bribes, but I can prove he took money,” said Stubbs of case documents and campaign finance reports showing attorneys gave $1,000 each to the Friends of Dan Mills campaign fund. “It definitely looks like rulings are for sale.”

EVAN STUBBS
EVAN STUBBS

The first case involves an easement right-of-way dispute known as The Real Lighthouse case in Blanco County.

Campaign finance reports from the Texas Ethics Commission and 424th court records show that, in the midst of a series of hearings for the Lighthouse case, a defendant’s attorney donated $1,000 to the Friends of Dan Mills fund Oct, 19, 2010.

Stubbs tied the donation to what he believes was a favorable “ruling” for that attorney.

In a phone conversation, Mills countered the accusation, citing the final outcome of the case.

“He’s distorting what happened. I didn’t rule. They entered into an ‘agreed judgment’,” Mills said. “The parties elected to settle it amongst themselves.”

A final order dated March 9, 2011, outlined the agreement, signed off on by Mills, between the plaintiffs and the defendants in the case.

“The outcome of that case has nothing to do with a campaign contribution,” he said.

Stubbs made a second accusation involving a donation made to the Mills campaign by an attorney and a potential witness in a case involving a deed restrictions dispute for Byrd Ranch Estates in Blanco County. Court proceedings occurred Dec. 3 and 4 in 2013.

A Dripping Springs attorney named in the case as a potential witness donated $1,000 to Mills’ campaign on Dec. 4.

“Not only does he contribute it, (but) Mr. Mills accepts it on the same day he takes the case under advisement,” Stubbs said.

The outcome of the case is pending.

“There is no ruling or favoritism,” Mills said. “I didn’t live my life to sell out for $1,000 or any other sum of money.”

Just days before Stubbs’ campaign finance allegations, Mills distributed letters to potential voters questioning Stubb’s residency.

In an election flier postmarked Feb. 11 and signed by Judge Dan Mills, he raises questions about “voter fraud, bank fraud and falsifying governmental records.”

Mills said the accusations are tied to information Stubbs provided about residency since 2011 on documents including voter registration, a homestead exemption request, Lampasas County Tax Appraisal documents, bank affidavits and a deed of trust.

Stubbs, who has a law practice in Lampasas, previously resided in that city and served as a city councilman until June 28, 2011.

According to the Texas Election Code, a candidate must live in the judicial district two years before the upcoming general election for that person to be eligible to run.

In Stubbs’ case, he would need to show proof of residence in Burnet County on or before Nov. 4, 2012.

On June 28, 2011, Stubbs resigned from the Lampasas City Council, stating his family “was able to purchase some property a few miles outside of town, and we are hopeful to be moving in the very near future.”

Bank records show construction on his Burnet County home was complete on Dec. 12, 2012, several weeks past the Nov. 4, 2012, deadline to represent Burnet County.

However, Stubbs maintains that, in the interim, he resided with a friend in the 3400 block of CR 105 in Burnet County and his wife and three small children lived at their Lampasas residence while their home was being built. On Oct. 30, 2012, Stubbs signed a statement of residence, listing his current residence on FM 1478 in Burnet County that was under construction at that time, documents show.

“I meet my residency requirements. I changed my residence to my family friend’s (residence) well before the deadline because I knew, at the point, we changed our residence, we had land purchased in Burnet County and we were going to be building a house,” Stubbs said. “We didn’t know when the house was going to be completed, so I went ahead and changed my residence well in advance of the deadline simply to be on the safe side.”

He said he had aspirations to run for office in Burnet County but had not decided for sure.

“I didn’t want there to be any questions,” he said.

Mills accused Stubbs of creating a “subterfuge” about his residency.

“The Texas Constitution requires you to have a two-year residency,” Mills said.

“If you are seeking a position as an elected judge, I would except a higher level of integrity.”

During the campaign rally hosted at Riverbend Convention Center in Marble Falls, Stubbs primarily fielded questions and accepted comments from supporters of his campaign and accepted some questions from three media outlets, including DailyTrib.com.

The question-and-answer session, guided by Stubbs’ campaign supporters, lasted about an hour and focused on accusations of ethics violations and perceived illegal or corrupt behavior directed at Mills.

“Everybody gets to make your own determination about what it really means, but I can tell you that, if I’m paying a lawyer to represent me in a case, and I find out that the lawyer on the other side or a party on the other side is contributing while the case is pending, it sure doesn’t seem fair to me,” Stubbs said. “The most important thing that a judge can do is remain impartial.”

Early voting is Feb. 18-28. The primaries are March 4.

connie@thepicayune.com