The Denton Record-Chronicle completed background checks on all the candidates in the March 4 primary elections, including incumbents and those who are running unopposed.
The newspaper searched criminal records, civil court records, publicly filed liens and tax records using a 10-year cutoff point.
The Record-Chronicle did not find criminal histories for any candidate. Some candidates’ financial records showed items such as tax liens, bankruptcies or credit card debt in excess of $10,000. One had a fine from the Texas Ethics Commission.
At least nine candidates paid at least one property tax bill late in the past 10 years, although most of those were resolved within a few months with the payment of penalties and interest ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred or more.
At least four candidates had multiple late tax payments, which were later paid, including interest and penalties.
According to the Denton County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office, less than half of all Denton County property owners had paid their property taxes by Dec. 31 the past two years. Taxes are due and payable on that date but, by law, taxpayers have until Jan. 31 to pay the annual bill without incurring any interest or penalties. Beginning Feb. 1, interest and penalties begin accruing.
By Jan. 31, more than 80 percent of Denton County property owners had paid their property taxes, officials said.
During the Record-Chronicle’s review of records, Denton County refused to release the payment records for property taxes of several candidates in the Republican primary, asking instead for an attorney general’s opinion whether the payment records are included in a law that shields the home addresses of certain law enforcement and judicial officials from public disclosure.
The request from the Record-Chronicle — for tax payment histories but with home addresses redacted — was part of the newspaper’s review of hundreds of pages of public documents involving all candidates.
State law allows the home addresses of law enforcement officials and judges to remain private for security reasons, but the Record-Chronicle noted in its written request that it was not seeking to violate security and wanted only to know if the candidates had paid their taxes on time without incurring penalty or interest.
Each of the nine candidates whose tax payment records were withheld was given the option by the district attorney’s office to release them.
Of those, six agreed to release the payment records to the Record-Chronicle — Country Criminal Court No. 1 Judge Jim Crouch, County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Robert Ramirez, Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace James DePiazza and Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Joe Hollard, all of whom are unopposed, and District Attorney Paul Johnson, who is facing GOP challengers Karen Alexander and Hank Paine in the March primary.
Four candidates — 367th District Court Judge Margaret Barnes, County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Kimberly McCary, County Criminal Court No. 3 candidate George Mitcham and Precinct 5 justice of the peace candidate Michael Sweet — declined to release the records. Barnes and McCary wrote letters urging the attorney general to rule in favor of withholding the information.
The Record-Chronicle reviewed candidate backgrounds on a case-by-case basis in terms of impact on the respective elected positions. Here are results of the those checks:
Federal tax liens
In 2009, the Internal Revenue Service placed a federal lien of $21,554.37 on the Flower Mound residence of Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads for unpaid federal taxes from 2006.
The lien was prepared on April 24, 2009, and filed the following week, records showed.
Eads said that he and his wife were paying the taxes on an installment agreement and both the lien and its release were recorded about a week apart. Court records show the lien was released May 13, 2009. Eads is unopposed in his re-election bid.
In 2005, the IRS placed a federal lien of $7,950.80 on the home of Juli Luke for unpaid federal taxes from 2003. The lien was prepared on Jan. 19, 2005, against both Luke and her ex-husband after, Luke said, her ex-husband withdrew money from an IRA, which had tax implications.
The IRS released Luke from her portion of the lien in April 2008 when she paid her half of the tax bill. When her ex-husband didn’t pay his half to release the lien, she paid the rest of it.
The lien was fully released in May, county records show. Luke is running for county clerk against D’Lynne Shelton.
Texas Ethics Commission fine
Alex Mendoza, a Democratic Party candidate for state representative for District 65, faces $22,000 in fines from the Texas Ethics Commission for the late filing of two campaign finance reports in a previous run for the same seat, according to state records.
Fines are set by statute, with some late filings carrying a penalty of $100 per day. The Texas Attorney General’s office filed an abstract of judgment with the Denton County Clerk to secure its interest in collecting the fine. Mendoza did not return a call for comment.
Both Hank Paine, a GOP candidate for district attorney, and Emy Lyons, a Democrat who is running for state representative for District 64, have filed voluntary bankruptcy petitions in recent years as they managed more than $100,000 in liabilities, including attempts at collection by creditors in local courts.
Lyons filed in February 2007 for personal bankruptcy under Chapter 13.
Her case was closed in January 2013 after she paid off her creditors. Lyons, a nurse, said she struggled to find day care for her son, who has special needs, so that she could work.
For several years, she said, she tried to piece together agency work and help from family and friends, but she couldn’t keep up.
Now that her son is older, and with help from a Medicaid waiver, she can pay for the kind of care he needs while she is able to work full nursing shifts, she said.
“But we still struggle with it,” Lyons said.
Paine filed in June 2011 for personal bankruptcy and is currently working under a Chapter 13 plan established in August 2013 that provides for monthly payments to pay off creditors by June 2016. Paine said that his daughter got cancer and he had to make some tough financial decisions.
“If I had to do it again, I would do it again,” Paine said. “I had to take care of my family.”
Civil court actions
Harris Hughey, a GOP candidate for Precinct 4 justice of the peace, was sued by Citibank South Dakota in July 2009 for nonpayment of more than $18,000 in credit card debt and associated fees.
Hughey said the matter had been taken care of before the lawsuit was filed, but the bank still filed it. Records showed the lawsuit was dismissed in 2010 for failure by the bank to proceed with the suit.
Johnny Hammons, who is running for Precinct 1 constable, and his wife got behind on their house payments on their Krugerville home in 2008.
The bank took steps toward foreclosure, but Hammons said it never got far enough that they were served with foreclosure papers. Court records show an order for foreclosure was dismissed in 2011 for want of prosecution.
Staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe was the lead researcher on this article.