News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As Election Day looms, judge weighs disqualifying constable candidate from general ballot

The Tom Vandergrill Civil Courts Bldg
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
The Tom Vandergriff Civil Courts Building is on 100 North Calhoun Street.

Is it reasonable to believe a person has lived in a home without running water for more than a year?

That was one of dozens of questions posed March 1 to 48th District Judge Chris Taylor during a civil trial whose outcome lawyer Jason Smith described as “fundamental to a representative democracy.”

At issue is the true residence of a candidate for Precinct 8 constable. The incumbent constable, Michael Campbell, filed a lawsuit alleging his Democratic primary opponent, John Wright, doesn’t actually live in Precinct 8 and should be declared ineligible for office.

The trial concluded after four hours. Taylor will determine whether Wright, if victorious in the primary election, can be certified for the general ballot. Taylor indicated he may wait to make a decision until after Election Day, March 5. Winners must be certified within a week. If Wright wins the primary but is deemed ineligible, the Tarrant County Democratic Party’s executive committee will choose a new nominee.

Wright has claimed a homestead exemption for a home on Fiddleneck Street in far north Fort Worth. Homestead exemptions are a type of property tax break people can get only on their primary residence. Campbell also hired a private investigator who said before the lawsuit was filed, he saw Wright only at the Fiddleneck home — not the Precinct 8 address on Raphael Drive that he put on his campaign forms.

But Texas election law takes both presence and intent to live somewhere into account when determining residency. The Raphael Drive home belonged to Wright’s mother, and Wright and his wife said they intend to downsize and move there — “Hopefully, very soon,” Wright said on the witness stand Friday.

Wright already lives part time at the Raphael address, he and his attorney argued. His driver’s license and voter registration, which was updated in February 2023, both list the Raphael address.

He started staying there during his mother’s illness, when she was convinced her home had burned down, and he’d stay overnight with her to make her feel better, Wright said. After she died in 2020, he continued staying there, spending half his time at Raphael, he told the court. Wright’s wife, kids and mother-in-law still live at the Fiddleneck address.

“It has a deep meaning to me and I wanted to move over there,” Wright said in a deposition. “It gives me comfort because that was my mom’s house.”

Smith, the lawyer representing Campbell, worked to cast doubt on Wright’s claims. He showed photos of the Fiddleneck home, with a refrigerator stocked to the brim, multiple pieces of furniture, a ping-pong table and a workout room. Then he showed photos of the Raphael home. The refrigerator held only three items — water bottles, a jar of barbecue sauce, and a bowl of apples.

Each piece of furniture in the Raphael home, Smith said, belonged to Wright’s mother, not Wright himself. The one exception was a Pittsburgh Steelers poster.

“A Pittsburgh Steelers poster does not establish intent to live somewhere indefinitely,” Smith told the judge.

Doug Ray, the lawyer representing Wright, pushed back on Smith’s assertion that the perceived quality difference between the two homes means anything. Just because the Fiddleneck home is more expensive and has more groceries, he said, doesn’t mean Wright isn’t living there.

“The amount of food in your refrigerator does not determine residency,” Ray retorted.

Smith and Ray also argued over whether Wright could credibly claim to live in a home without running water. In an interview under oath Feb. 20, Wright told Smith he moved to the Raphael address in late 2020. Water service was not turned on at the Raphael address until January 2024 — after Campbell filed his lawsuit contesting Wright’s residency.

Wright said on the witness stand that he’d turned off the water after the house flooded. While the water was off, he said, he brought in his own gallons of water and used a device to heat them for showers.

Residency challenges don’t often succeed, according to election experts, because the definition of residency in Texas is squishy. The intent to live in a district has counted as residency.

That’s how former state Rep. Frank Corte Jr. listed a vacant lot in northwest San Antonio as his district address while running for reelection in 2008, and won. He told the San Antonio Express-News he once had a home on the lot, and he intended to build a new one.

“As long as I intend to return — that’s my residence,” Corte said.

Some parts of Texas election law have changed since Corte’s win. Smith referenced a law passed by Texas lawmakers in 2021 that forbids people from establishing residency somewhere for the sole purpose of influencing the outcome of an election.

Wright previously ran for constable in Precinct 5 in 2020, using a third address — one he told Smith was his grandmother’s property. Smith asked the judge to consider the likelihood that it was just a coincidence Wright changed his address from Fiddleneck ahead of both the 2020 and 2024 elections.

“His testimony is not credible,” Smith said of Wright.

Ray said there’s no direct evidence to support Smith’s claim that Wright moved to influence the election. Instead, he told the judge to focus on the tried and true elements of establishing residency — presence and intent.

“It’s a fairly simple case,” Ray said.

Attorney Steve Maxwell, who is representing the Tarrant County Democratic Party as a third party in the lawsuit, said determining residency restrictions in light of the 2021 law is important, and will doubtless come up in future elections.

“I’m all in favor of making it clear how that works,” Maxwell said. “And that’s my main interest here.”

He is strongly against any laws that make voting harder, Maxwell said, but those reservations don’t apply in the case of laws clarifying rules for candidates.

“Any opportunity we get to make this a better functioning system, we need to take it.”

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.


Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.
Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative journalism. Reach her at for more stories by Emily Wolf click here.