Lee files suit against Pate over campaign signs

Marilyn Tennissen Jun. 11, 2007, 2:00pm

Beaumont Councilman W.L. Pate

He has already filed an informal complaint with the state election commission, and now local activist Allen Lee has filed a lawsuit against one of his opponents in the May 12 Beaumont city council election.

The complaints are not over campaign finance issues or election irregularities, but over one small word that Lee says W.L. Pate omitted intentionally from his campaign signs when running for council member at-large.

According to Lee's suit, filed in his own behalf on June 7 in Jefferson County District Court, Pate implied he was an incumbent for the council seat by leaving off the word "for" on campaign signs.

Pate's campaign signs read "Elect W.L. Pate city council at-large."

Lee was one of eight candidates seeking two at-large spots on the council. None of the candidates were incumbents.

The seats were won by Pate, with 6,244 votes or 28.14 percent, and Gethrel Williams-Wright, with 6,152 votes or 27.72 percent. Lee came in fourth, with 1,408 votes or 6.34 percent, behind Charlie Foxworth, who had 6,017 votes or 27.11 percent.

Lee first complained to the ethics commission about a month before the election, citing Section 255.006 of the Texas Election Code, "Misleading Use of Office Title."

The code states that a person commits an offense if the person knowingly enters into a contract or other agreement to print, publish, or broadcast political advertising with the intent to represent to an ordinary and prudent person that a candidate holds a public office that the candidate does not hold at the time the agreement.

And a candidate may not represent that they currently hold an office and make it clear that they are seeking election rather than reelection by using the word "for" to clarify. An example given by the Texas Ethics Commission for a non-incumbent campaign sign is "Vote John Doe for Attorney General" or "John Doe for Attorney General."

That is to avoid confusion with the implication of wording such as "John Doe - Attorney General."

Lee claims that Pate knowingly omitted the word "for" from his signs, and cited several television and newspaper interviews in which Pate was made "aware" of the matter.

"I feel confident that everything that we did met the letter of the law," Pate said in a telephone interview Monday. "It is unfortunate that in a situation like this that we have to take up the court's time."

He said as of Monday he had not received any notice of legal action by Lee.

Lee's suit requests that Judge Donald Floyd, who has been assigned the case, "void said election and require a new election be held as provided by law" or declare that Pate "was in violation of the Election Code ... and the candidates with the two highest vote totals be declared the winners of the election."

He is also seeking court costs and "such further relief to which he may show himself entitled."

Case No. E179-450

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