And the dirt hasn't exactly been distributed evenly across the race. Incumbent Judge David Crain and indigent defense attorney Chantal Eldridge are both Democrats, though they are far apart in their status within the Travis County party establishment, and in their opinions of the responsibilities of a felony judge.
Eldridge has spent her campaign arguing for a heightened focus on mental health dockets in the felony court, has lobbied for indigent rights, and attacked Crain for resting on his laurels after 35 years of experience on three benches, an accusation Crain rejects.
Austinites saw these arguments play out on television over the past few weeks; Eldridge invested big money into second spots during Olympic broadcasts. Concurrently, in the Statesman, Eldridge got hit with two pieces alleging serious problems with her character, one of them criminal in nature. Last Thursday, the daily reported details of a suspended Austin Police Department investigation, dating from , into accusations by a year-old Brazilian foreign exchange student that Eldridge seduced him while he was living with her and her 8-year-old son.
According to the boy's account, Eldridge asked the boy to teach her how to play poker. After 30 minutes she asked to play strip poker, and after she'd stripped naked, the two moved to the boy's bedroom, where they continued to play until he was also naked, then began to have sex.
Reached in Brazil, the man, now 27, told the Statesman that he and Eldridge got into an argument after he expressed "discomfort" with what had happened. Breaking News The story is the fourth in a string of negative reports against Eldridge that began in during her campaign for judge of the th District Court. She lost to Brad Urrutia. The first was a news story on the Chronicle site, on Feb. Fliers distributed during the course of the campaign dogged Eldridge for briefly representing Looper in a civil suit he'd filed before his trial.
Five days after our story went online, the Statesman in a race preview teased news of a arrest Eldridge incurred for obstructing her mother's arrest — a case that was dismissed and has since been expunged.
Urrutia campaigned hard on both events, referring to them regularly at campaign forums. He ended up winning the race by six points. And for the first time Crain has retained noted political consultants GNI Strategies, the same group that worked on Urrutia's campaign. The group, led today by Katie Naranjo, has enjoyed an illustrious run in local politics, having recently managed successful campaigns for officials like Urrutia, Mayor Steve Adler, Sheriff Sally Hernandez, state Rep.
Gina Hinojosa, and state Senator Kirk Watson. But GNI also has a reputation within the local campaign community for utilizing tough tactics, and is currently facing a pending complaint from fellow politico Mike Lewis, who believes GNI sabotaged his campaign for chair of the Travis County Democratic Party by registering three attack websites www. She's currently entangled in a race with Dyana Limon-Mercado.
Lewis pulled out, making him the second potential candidate to withdraw from the race for chair. Naranjo's longtime friend and ally Rick Cofer was the first; the former assistant county and district attorney withdrew in late October after word got out about a history of chauvinistic behavior in his past. He currently runs a criminal defense practice.
That was followed within five days by news of the alleged sexual assault. Negative news is common in local elections, but there's been more to these stories than what has been presented, and we've been privy to tips about each one. In , the obstruction charge was the most salacious, and Urrutia clung to it through his campaign: Eldridge was arrested for obstructing the arrest of her mother.
But her mother, 62 at the time, was herself arrested because her dogs had gotten outside the yard "dogs at large" was the official charge , and Eldridge says her mother emerged from the arrest with a pair of broken glasses and bruises on her back and arms. Eldridge said she called the Cookeville Tenn. Police Department the next day to ask how to file a complaint of excessive force against the arresting officer, and was told to come in at a certain time. She did, and upon her exit was met by the same officer who had arrested her mother; he told her that she too would be arrested.
A grand jury indicted Eldridge, but the state dismissed the case, and she said the officer was assigned to desk duty. The Zamarripa story came, to us at least, on Thursday, Feb. Eldridge's camp had known it was coming, and on Monday, Feb.
Zamarripa has completed 10 years of deferred adjudication, she said, and "met every condition required of him for the last 27 years. Martinez told us Zamarripa had disclosed his history and provided countless hours of volunteer time doing data entry and blockwalking. He never had a problem with Zamarripa during that time.
Eldridge said that to deny Zamarripa another chance would be contrary to the principles of her campaign. The circumstances are somewhat complex: Last August, a women we'll identify as R. A report notes R. She told deputies that at one point during an official visit Zamarripa touched her hands and arms to inspect for cuts. Eldridge told us that she hired defense attorney Charlie Baird to look into the allegations to recommend whether she should terminate Zamarripa's employment, and that Baird currently represents Zamarripa on the misdemeanor charge.
A pretrial hearing is currently set for March Baird told us on Tuesday that the R. My encounter with [Zamarripa] was definitely exaggerated. I do not agree to any allegations against him.
Due to the my [sic] mental state at the time I was susceptible and wrongfully convinced to act on something I did not want to do. The coordinator could not confirm Baird's assessment of the case's circumstances, or provide details of the new complaint, but said it's possible that charges have been brought for both incidents, and also possible that charges have only been brought for one. The court's records on the case are not subject to the Public Information Act.
Just as the dust was settling on the Zamarripa story, the Statesman reported on the exchange student's allegations. The boy said he alerted the organization that placed him at Eldridge's house after the two had sex, and was promptly moved to a new home in Cedar Park. The organization, which is not named in the Statesman's report, also alerted APD, which launched a three-month investigation that brought no case to a grand jury — a conclusion both the Statesman and current District Attorney Margaret Moore reviewing the case file attributed to the boy's returning to Brazil and concerns over a physical abnormality on Eldridge's body that Moore said "could not be resolved.
She elaborated on Facebook the next day, calling the story "false" and "debunked by a doctor who documented 'a very readily noticeable' feature on my body which my accuser could not identify. She filed an open records request on Feb. Reached by phone on Friday, Moore cited two provisions of state law that would prevent the report's release, unless the alleged victim in the case approved having them unsealed after he turned Primary Sources The Statesman does not reveal their source for the police report, but two people have confirmed to the Chronicle that it came to them through Mark Walters.
Walters, a former personal trainer and currently a law student, is a peripheral member of the Austin political scene. He told the Chronicle he's been trying to place the story in a local outlet since Eldridge campaigned against Urrutia.
He claims his reasons are apolitical, and that he's known of the allegations against Eldridge since they were first raised; Jodie Goldberg, a former workout client, was a host mother in the program, and took the boy into her home after he left Eldridge. He stayed there for two weeks before moving on to another family. Walters would not explain how he came into possession of the report, but he too carries a legal history.
He spent five years in prison for violating a probation sentence stemming from a obstruction or retaliation felony conviction; he took a woman's camera and threatened to share nude photos stored on it. He was also indicted for credit card fraud in the same case. He was charged with criminal mischief and making abusive calls to in two separate incidents in , and is currently facing indictment for tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, a third degree felony, stemming from a incident.
He showed up at APD headquarters with what police believed to be a doctored medical report, wearing a neck brace, medical boot, and plastic cast, and signed an affidavit alleging he was the victim of an assault, despite the fact that residents at the apartment complex where he lived told investigators that he had been seen "without crutches or braces.
She also denied using the information specifically to help Crain; her motives were personal. Both contest Eldridge's characterization of the boy as being resistant to authority. It wasn't until Eldridge ran against Urrutia and Goldberg drove past a campaign sign that she contacted Walters and asked if he knew how to get word out about the suspended investigation.
Walters dropped those efforts when Urrutia won the primary, but after seeing a new sign this year, Goldberg again contacted Walters, who this time had more success placing the story.
Walters insists he does not work for any political group, but he is at least tangentially related to GNI Strategies. And on Sunday when we spoke, Goldberg mentioned that Walters has been in communication with Rick Cofer. Responding to a call asking him to confirm Goldberg's assessment, Cofer emailed: The juvenile victim in this case requested the relevant offense report, as the law allows.
The statute of limitations on the offense has not expired. The page document details Det. The boy told the program that placed him with Eldridge, which placed a call to APD. After Rogers and the boy met to go over cursory details including any abnormalities or skin markings on Eldridge, which the boy could not recall , Rogers recommended that they plan a pretext phone call a recorded phone conversation between the victim and the suspect involving him and Eldridge.
The boy agreed, but when they called Eldridge she did not pick up. Rogers and the boy made plans to try again on Nov. He made multiple calls yet never established contact, and through an intermediary double-checked with the boy to ensure that the number was correct. Rogers staffed the case with Assistant District Attorney Dayna Blazey, who advised not to follow through with a pretext call. Rogers made an appointment, and met with Eldridge on Dec.
She told him that she and the boy did play poker, but never strip poker, and she denied having an intimate relationship with him. She said that one time while vacationing in South Padre Island she got out of the shower and looked in the mirror to see the boy "standing behind her with a cup of coffee," and that he left the room when she turned around. Rogers asked if she would take a polygraph and she consented, if Blazey would put "in writing that no charges would be filed if she passed.
The report notes discrepancies between Eldridge's description of the size of her bodily abnormality and what a doctor observed it "may not be as noticeable as she described," wrote Rogers , but that the boy also "indicated" that he "observed" the area where the abnormality was located "for some time before he became naked and they had sex.
The case remains open. There is no statute of limitations to the prosecution of such a case. Cofer says the boy, now 27, has expressed a willingness to come back.
He passed along a statement, which reads in part that the boy reported Eldridge's "sexual conduct because I needed help, I was sixteen and couldn't deal with the situation. If she is prosecuted I will provide truthful information that I personally witnessed because she is not suited for such a powerful position. John Zamarripa will continue to work for Chantal Eldridge, barring a ruling in JP court; he embodies what she believes rehabilitation from crimes should be.
The case remains expunged; much ado about nothing, should you ask us. As for Low Tax, he died in prison; 20 years later, Eldridge believes she was right to represent him before his trial. Today through Tuesday Austinites will go to the polls and vote. They won't know for sure what happened with that boy.
They'll just know the law and the facts, and what has happened with this race.