Defeated RRISD candidate sues Texas Ethics Commission

HomeElectionsDefeated RRISD candidate sues Texas Ethics Commission

Orlando Salinas claims Texas Ethics Commission would violate his constitutional rights by forcing him to respond to a sworn complaint

The highly contentious election for five seats on Round Rock ISD’s board of trustees is over but the drama generated by the campaigns for those seats continues. The ongoing conflict involves actions by incumbent board President Amber Feller and her defeated challenger Orlando Salinas.

Salinas was one of a slate of five conservative candidates running under the Round Rock One Family banner, all of whom were defeated. At least two direct mail pieces supporting the One Family candidates were paid for by the Republican Party of Texas.

A key issue in Salinas’ campaign was the charge that Feller supported the school district’s superintendent despite allegations that he was guilty of domestic abuse and under a permanent restraining order.

To highlight that issue, in the closing days of the campaign, both Salinas and the Round Rock One Family PAC posted to their respective Facebook pages a copy of an email that Feller was said to have sent to the board of another school district that employed the victim of the alleged domestic abuse.

The Facebook posts

A screenshot of a post on Salinas’ Facebook page includes a copy of the letter that Fellers supposedly sent. The letter states the woman who alleged abuse by the RRISD superintendent had told a “fabricated story” and urged she be removed “from her position as a school leader.”

The post states, “Why did my opponent use her official email and title to send this derogatory email to the employer of (the) domestic violence victim?

“This toxic rhetoric spewed by Board President Amber Fellers is precisely the reason more victims of domestic violence do not step forward. Many victims fear that others will not believe their story, particularly when it involves someone of prominence, such as a Superintendent who makes $350,000 per year.

“Let’s end the cycle of violence and intimidation by the incumbent Board majority and superintendent.”

A screenshot of Round Rock One Family PAC’s Facebook post includes a copy of the same letter, and states:

“More breaking news. Wow! Another email exposing current Round Rock ISD Board President of protecting the Superintendent and wanting the victim to be fired….”

The post also includes a disclaimer: “The Round Rock One Family PAC received this document and in no way created the letter signed by Amber Feller nor have we had it authenticated but felt the public had a right to see it.”

Fellers issues cease-and-desist, files complaint

Cynthia Soliz

Feller’s attorney, Cynthia Soliz of Austin-based Soliz Law Group, issued a cease-and-desist letter to notify Salinas and the Round Rock One Family PAC that the email allegedly sent by Fellers was a forgery and that it must be removed from the PAC and challenger’s Facebook pages.

In addition, Feller filed a sworn complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging that Salinas had violated Election Code Section 255.005 concerning misrepresentation of identity.

“Mr. Salinas, along with the Round Rock One Family GPAC, knowingly continue to share a Facebook post to misrepresent my identity with the intent to influence the outcome of the 11/8/2022 election,” states the complaint, filed electronically November 7th.

The Texas Ethics Commission November 15th notified Salinas of the complaint by certified mail and required him to respond in writing within 25 business days.

Salinas filed lawsuit

Instead, Salinas filed a federal lawsuit December 27th against J.R. Johnson, executive director of the Texas Ethics Commission, and all board members of the commission. The suit “seeks nominal damages and injunctive relief to remedy unconstitutional restrictions on Salinas’s rights to free speech and due process protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” The pleadings also ask for costs and attorneys’ fees. (Case 1:22-cv-01371-LY)

The lawsuit challenges the Ethics Commission’s power to enforce provisions of the Election Code (sec. 255.004 and sec. 255.005) prohibiting misrepresentation of an opponent’s identity and disseminating forged documents or “deep fake” videos intended to harm their opponent. If committed with intent to injure a candidate or influence the result of an election these are criminal Class A misdemeanors.

Contacted by the Bulldog via telephone Thursday, Johnson said he could not comment and would have to defer to the TEC’s litigation counsel, who has not yet been selected.

Tony McDonald

Salinas is represented by Leander-based attorneys Tony McDonald and Garrett McMillan of The Law Offices of Tony McDonald.

Via email McDonald told the Bulldog “…the truth of her (Fellers) claims is not very relevant to our suit. Mr. Salinas had a right to comment on the letter provided by the victim. Feller has no right to criminalize commentary on that letter, in the midst of an election, even if it were a forgery (which I have my doubts about ).”

McDonald previously represented conservative lobby group Empower Texans and CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan in unsuccessful litigation against the Texas Ethics Commission.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin District, Judge Lee Yeakel presiding. The docket report for the case states, “If ordered by the court, all referrals and consents in this case will be assigned to Magistrate Judge (Susan) Hightower.”

Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful criminal prosecutions. His 2011 investigation of the Austin City Council’s open meetings violations triggered a 20-month investigation by the Travis County attorney that resulted in the mayor and council members signing deferred prosecution agreements to avoid being charged, tried, and if convicted serving one to six months in jail and forfeiting their elective offices. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].

Related documents:

Direct mail pieces paid for by the Republican Party of Texas, in support of the Round Rock One Family slate of candidates (4 pages)

Docket report, Case 1:22-cv-01371-LY (3 pages)

Original Complaint, Orlando Salinas v Johnson et al, December 27, 2022, to include copies of a letter allegedly sent by Amber Feller, a sworn complaint before the Texas Ethics Commission, screenshots of Salinas’ Facebook post, and the cease-and-desist letter, Round Rock One Family PAC’s Facebook post, and the Commission’s letter to Salinas (42 pages) (Note that pages 35 and 36 are unreadable text. McDonald’s law office has been contacted to obtain readable pages.)

Related Bulldog coverage:

Zimmerman’s lawyer threatens to sue the Bulldog…again, October 17, 2022

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