BELTON — A judge on Wednesday afternoon dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Killeen city councilwoman and ordered her to pay thousands of dollars in fees and sanctions to the defendants.
Debbie Nash-King, who represents District 2, on Oct. 24 filed suit against Mellisa Brown, Holly Teel and Phyllis Jones to seek a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction after Teel filed a petition with the state to recall the results of the 2017 election, according to court documents and testimony. Brown is running against Nash-King in Killeen’s May 4 municipal election.
Brown’s petition did not get enough signatures for the state to consider a recall election.
Nash-King dropped her lawsuit against Jones about a week before the hearing on Wednesday, so Judge Mickey Pennington only had to consider testimony and arguments pertaining to Brown’s and Teel’s cases.
Pennington was brought the 169th Judicial District Court after Judge Gordon Adams recused himself because the case had implications in the local election. Pennington usually presides over the 38th Judicial District Court in Uvalde County.
After a two-hour hearing, Judge Pennington dismissed the lawsuits against Brown and Teel and ordered Nash-King to pay just over $5,800, including attorney’s fees and a sanction amount of $1,500.
“I can honestly say that I’m disappointed in the outcome but the judge’s decision was based on the law and evidence,” Nash-King told the Herald after the hearing. “I’m glad I had my day in court and I hope this election is based on the issues and not on attacking me. I’m glad it’s over so I can focus on the residents and the campaign ahead.”
Brown, who along with Will Baumgartner is facing Nash-King for the District 2 seat in the May election, also expressed a sense of relief after the judge made his ruling.
“I’m glad to have it over with and that the judge agreed that citizens should have a right to petition their government,” she said.
Nash-King’s attorney, Scott V. Allen, said the recall petition was filed as a political maneuver.
“The result of requesting a recall petition was for a strategic advantage in the 2019 election,” Allen said in his closing arguments. “If they had succeeded, she would have been removed from a term already completed, and it was done to defame her.”
If the petition had enough signatures, Nash-King would have appeared on the ballot as a candidate and a recall candidate, which she said would have damaged her chances of winning, according to court testimony.
“The subliminal message (to voters) would have been that I was on the City Council illegally, when I have done nothing wrong,” Nash-King said, in her testimony.
Teel said she filed the petition because another candidate had changed her district, but the city did not process the paperwork properly.
Robert Notzon, who represented Brown and Teel, said the lawsuit was meant to be a silencing tactic.
“We intend to show the court that their actions are constitutionally protected and protected under the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act,” he said in his opening statement. “We’re seeking sanctions to ensure that (Nash-King) does not violate the TCPA again.”