AUSTIN (KXAN) — Judge Madeleine Connor has twice been sanctioned for filing a series of bogus lawsuits in court, she’s been censured by the Travis County Democratic Party and in an odd move she’s now trying to jump ship from one district judge position to another in the same county.
If you’ve ever questioned what impact voting in the primary election has, the run for 419th Civil District Court judge — which Travis County Democrats will see on their primary election ballot this year — points right to the answer.
“The thing about primary elections … these can be very important — especially here in Central Texas where we see that the Democrats are very strong in some areas, the Republicans are very strong in some areas and we don’t have a lot of overlap between them — and because of that, the primary election is often the general election in the sense that the candidate that wins the primary is the one that may run unopposed in the fall,” Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University, said.
That’s the case in the 419th Judicial District race — and this isn’t one you want to sleep on.
Twice ruled a ‘vexatious litigant’
If you’re voting in the Democratic primary election this year, you’re going to find two judges listed under the 419th Judicial District race on your ballot — Judge Catherine Mauzy, the incumbent, and Judge Madeleine Connor.
While you may not be familiar with the two, they’re familiar with each other.
“I had known her both as an opposing party in a lawsuit and as a lawyer who appeared in my courtroom before she was elected [in 2020 to the 353rd District Court],” Mauzy said.
Connor was handed a sanction in Mauzy’s court in 2019 after a series of legal battles between Connor and the Lost Creek homeowners association were deemed to be nothing more than a personal grievance aired through the justice system, according to court documents.
The above video is the 2022 civil district judicial forum courtesy of the Austin Bar Association. Both candidates for the 419th Judicial District participated.
Connor has twice been labeled a “vexatious litigant,” once in 2018 and once in 2019, both of which she has appealed to no avail. That ruling means Connor cannot file litigation in some cases without permission from an administrative judge.
A shift of affiliation
Last month, the Travis County Democratic Party’s (TCDP) precinct chairs unanimously voted to censure Connor, citing her history running as a Republican and her vexatious litigant status.
“Madel[e]ine Con[n]or is not a Democrat,” TCDP Vice Chairs Justin Perez and Sabrina Sha said in a statement following the meeting in January.
Historical election results from the Secretary of State’s office show Connor ran for district judge for the 299th Judicial District as a Republican in 2006 where she was beaten handily by Charlie Baird, the Democratic candidate. It also shows she ran for the 3rd Court of Appeals as a Republican in 2012 where she was beaten in the primary by Scott Field.
It’s something Mauzy has pointed to as she’s run her re-election campaign, but she’s not the first to try and shine a light on Connor’s shift in party. In 2020, Connor upset incumbent Democratic District Judge Tim Sulak in the primary to take the 353rd District Court seat.
“My opponent has zero endorsements; I have received every one that has been made. My opponent has a lengthy history of voting in Republican primaries; I have voted in every Democratic primary since my 18th birthday,” Sulak posted on his re-election campaign Facebook page in March of 2020.
Still, Travis County voters pushed Connor through to the position — one she’s now looking to vacate to take the role of her counterpart just a couple of years later.
“Madeleine Connor was already successful in one campaign as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Democratic voters cannot allow that to happen again this March,” TCDP resolutions committee chair Andre Treiber said.
While Connor has not returned KXAN’s requests for comment or interview, she did participate in the Austin Bar Association’s civil district judicial forum earlier this week where moderator Patrick Keel addressed the unusual nature of Connor’s run.
“I just don’t give up,” Connor responded to the association panel’s question about why she’s now running for the 419th district. “They can throw anything they want at me and I will not give up because what we do in the 353rd needs to be extended out because we treat the lawyers with fairness, we give everybody their day in court, we follow the law.”
Connor’s term in the 353rd District Court expires in 2024, meaning should she win the race for the 419th District Court her seat would be vacated and the state would be tasked with appointing someone to fill her spot.
It’s something the Travis County Democratic Party says is a political move, one that flips a blue Travis County seat red.
“Connor is willing to let Republican Gov. Abbott appoint her replacement to the court if she chooses to vacate,” Perez and Sha wrote. “We cannot let our community and its Democratic voters in this primary go unaware of these actions. We have to take a stand against this deceitful behavior to continue bringing true progress to Travis County.”
On Connor’s official campaign website, the fact that she’s a sitting district court judge is not listed under the “experience” tab.
The candidates on why you should vote for them
“I think you should vote for me because I have the legal experience to serve as a district judge, I’ve been practicing law here in Travis County over 30 years,” Mauzy said in an interview with KXAN. She noted her greatest accomplishment during her term was navigating the pandemic and continuing to see civil dockets regardless of being virtual.
“I also have the life experience and the temperament to serve as a district judge and I think that’s been born out by my overwhelming support from lawyers in the bar poll that just came out this week,” she said.
That poll, which was sent only to members of the Austin Bar Association, showed nearly 83% of members who participated said they would prefer to see Mauzy in the 419th seat. Roughly 10% did not answer and just over 6% said they would prefer Connor.
While Connor did not return KXAN’s request for an interview, she did tell the Austin Bar Association panel that she thinks she’s a fair judge, which makes her the best candidate for the role she’s running for in 2022.
“There’s no backroom deals in my court, everybody’s treated the same and we just follow the law whether we like it or not,” Connor said in her opening remarks. “We just work hard every day. I love this job.”