UNITED WE VOTE
Judge who handed down a 5 year prison sentence to a woman who cast an improper provisional ballot once made a similar election related mistake himself--and that's just the start of the hypocrisy in the Crystal Mason case.
In the case of Texas vs. Crystal Mason, Tarrant County, Texas prosecutors and Judges are coming dangerously close to violating the federal law which is designed to protect ordinary citizens from voter intimidation. According to the Cornell Law School Web site, 18 U.S. Code § 594 specifically states:
Whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, at any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing such candidate, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
Judge Ruben Ruben Gonzalez, who sentenced Crystal Mason, a Rendon, TX resident, to 5 years in prison for casting a provisional ballot while she was under court supervision has first hand knowledge of how easy it can be to make an election related mistake. He did so himself on a campaign finance report that he filed with the Texas Ethics Commission in 2013 (Report number 581493). In the amended report, Judge Gonzalez states that the reason for the correction is that:
.......The oversight is lack of understanding of how the reporting program operates. The balance of the account is $16,416.30.
Well, if a "lack of understanding" is enough to keep Judge Gonzalez from going to jail for voter fraud, what gives him the right to sentence Crystal Mason to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot that was never counted?
According to the Huffington Post and various other news accounts of her ordeal, nobody --not even the poll workers-- specifically told Mason that her status as a convicted felon who was still under court supervision made it illegal for her to vote.
Although Judge Gonzalez reportedly offered no explanation for the harsh 5 year sentence for Mason, one possible explanation is Sharen Wilson, the District Attorney of Tarrant County, who according to various news accounts, had been pushing for harsh sentences for convictions of voter fraud.
It seems, however, that Ms. Wilson made a rather serious election related boo-boo of her own. Apparently, nobody ever told the Tarrant County District attorney that it might not be legal to shake down the employees of the District Attorney's office for campaign donations.
According to The Fort Worth Star Telegram, District Attorney Wilson obtained the personal email addresses of the employees of the DA's office under the pretext of "updating the personnel files" then sent an email out to all of her subordinates inviting them to a "fundraiser" which would set them back anywhere from $100 to $1000.
Maureen Shelton, the Wichita County district attorney who was assigned to conduct an inquiry into the case, concluded that there was "insufficient evidence" to charge Wilson with criminal wrongdoing. She must not have looked very hard.
Publicly available campaign finance reports show that in 2016 alone, there were an unusually high number of campaign contributions from employees of the Tarrant County DA's office to the Sharen Wilson campaign. Further, Maureen Shelton never even bothered to type her campaign finance reports -- she submitted them in handwritten form -- a very unusual format.
Another very troubling aspect of this case is the wavering testimony of J. Warren St. John, Crystal Mason's FIRST Attorney. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, at the time of the original trial St. John, had told the court:
"I find it amazing that the government feels she made this up," ..... "She was never told that she couldn't vote, and she voted in good faith. Why would she risk going back to prison for something that is not going to change her life?"
Further St. John then told NPR in a March 31, 2018 interview
"She didn't understand!"....."She was never told she couldn't vote. Not by a district judge. Not by anyone at the half-way house where she lived after she got out. Not by the probation officer."
But then, again according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, when Mason appeared in the same Fort Worth Court in front of the same judge (Ruben Gonzalez) in a hearing for a retrial on May 25,
[St. John] testified Friday that he told her she would lose certain rights if she were convicted.
One of those rights was her right to vote.
But flip-flopping testimony by her original attorney is only one reason why Crystal Mason's rights to effective counsel have been violated in this case. According to publicly available campaign finance reports, St. John has contributed at least 5 times to the political campaign of Sharen Wilson, the District Attorney charged with prosecuting Mason with voter fraud and reportedly pushing for as harsh of sentence as possible.
Click on the images below to view the full reports
Tarrant County Election Filings dated on or before 07/17/2017
Tarrant County Election Filings dated after 07/17/2017
Page 3 / 5th entry down
(Looks like a report dated 07/14/2019 was filed here in error)
Another troubling aspect of Sharen Wilson's campaign finance filings is that she accepted campaign donations from bail bondsman (see "Just Bail Bonds" 11/12/2013 for example). While that may or may not be a violation of Texas law, since it is part of most criminal district attorney's responsibilities to recommend the amount of bail, it at the very least, gives the appearance of a conflict of interest .
The real question here is why should there be two sets of rules when it comes to elections -- one for the connected and another set of rules for the rest of us? If Tarrant County's intent in the Crystal Mason case is to "protect the sanctity of elections," they should clean up their own act first.
Crystal has set up a gofundme page so that Tarrant County's violation of the federal voter intimidation law does not totally destroy her life. Any help that you can give would be greatly appreciated.