When 118th District Judge Timothy Yeats recently found out a complaint had been filed against him with the Texas Ethics Commission regarding alleged campaign finance violations committed during his 2010 bid for the bench, the freshman judge was surprised, to say the least.
What Yeats would later find out, however, was he wasn't alone.
Since the complaint against Yeats became public, so have complaints against numerous other district judges across the state of Texas, all of them compliments of the Texas Ethics Advisory Board, a political action committee (PAC) located near the Houston area.
According to advisory board spokesperson William B. Elmer, the PAC is made up primarily of Republicans with ties to the Tea Party community and spends much of its time auditing campaign finance reports from all around the state looking for mistakes and violations.
âObviously, we can't look at them all, but we look at a lot of them,â Elmer said with a laugh from his home in Huntsville, Texas. âWe primarily focus on campaign finance reports from Democratic candidates because those are the ones most likely to contain the kind of big spending we're targeting. In Judge Yeats case, however, we know he's a Republican, but as a judge we hold him to a higher standard.â
The complaint filed against Yeats â which is signed by advisory board member Jim Doyle of Conroe, Texas â makes two allegations, the first being he misidentified several of the contributors to his campaign as âself employed,â although the individuals do, in fact, own their own businesses. The second allegation â and the more serious â claims Yeats converted campaign funds to personal funds.
Yeats denies both allegations and said he expects to have his response submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission by the end of the week.
âThe first complaint alleges that I failed to properly identify contributors,â Yeats said. âI listed the name and address of every contributor. On several occasions, I described the occupation of an individual who owned their own business or law firm as 'self-employed.' The complainant contends that I should have listed the name of the business or law firm instead of designating the individual as 'self-employed.' I do not believe that my answer was inaccurate or misleading. If the ethics commission believes that my answer was incomplete, I will be happy to provide additional information.
âThe allegation which has garnered the most attention is the allegation that I converted campaign contributions to personal use. This allegation is simply false. I properly reserved the right to reimburse myself for campaign expenditures from personal funds.â
Elmer declined to comment regarding the second allegation, however, Doyle said the question has never been whether or not Yeats checked the box, but how the money was spent.
âTexas law says you have to provide all of the details regarding the expenditure, not just check a box,â Doyle said. âIf, for example, you stopped and filled up with gas, you would have to report the address of the gas station, how many gallons of gas you used, how much it cost ... you would have to provide all of the information.
âIn the end, all of this will have to come down to the TEC. Once Yeats has turned in his response to the complaint, they will go over the facts in the matter and decide where to go from there.â
According to Elmer, the Texas Ethics Advisory Board has approximately 70 complaints currently pending against district judges across the state, and not all of the judges are handling the accusations with the same level head as Yeats.
Upshur County district judge Lauren Parish, who is also the target of a Doyle-filed complaint, launched back at the group, calling them âtea party extremistsâ this week.
âAs a result of these ridiculous allegations made by tea party extremists, elected officials such as myself have to sacrifice their job duties and obligations we have to our constituency in order to spend the time necessary to respond to such absurdities," Parish said.