Sunday, June 1, 2008

Judge grants restraining order against critic of Denton mayoral candidate

By LOWELL BROWN - Denton Record-Chronicle - Sat., May 31, 2008

Denton mayoral candidate Mark Burroughs asked a judge Friday to stop a vocal critic from printing more ads attacking his campaign.

A state district judge granted Mr. Burroughs a temporary restraining order against the Watchdog Society of Denton and its leader, political activist Bob Clifton. A hearing to consider extending the order was set for June 12 – two days before the runoff election between Mr. Burroughs and incumbent Perry McNeill.

Mr. Clifton, who lost a mayoral bid in 2006, denied any wrongdoing.

He also criticized the restraining order, signed by visiting Judge Monte Lawlis.

"It's such a blatant violation of First Amendment rights it's unbelievable," Mr. Clifton said. "This is political desperation, because what he is doing is trying to stifle the truth."

The Watchdog Society funded two mailers before the May 10 election questioning Mr. Burroughs for alleged conflicts of interest. Mr. Burroughs, 50, a lawyer and former City Council member, said the mailers violated state laws that govern reporting of campaign spending.

"The intent [of the restraining order] is to prevent similar flaunting of the election laws," Mr. Burroughs said.

The Watchdog Society had not registered a campaign treasurer with the city secretary's office as of Friday afternoon. The state election code prevents political committees from spending or accepting more than $500 unless they file a campaign treasurer appointment.

Mr. McNeill, 72, a retired professor and engineer seeking a second term as mayor, said he was unaware of Mr. Burroughs' lawsuit and couldn't comment in detail.

Mr. Clifton has been working against Mr. Burroughs for months as part of a campaign against officials backed by former Mayor Euline Brock, Mr. McNeill's predecessor.

In April, Mr. Clifton sued unsuccessfully to keep Mr. Burroughs, Mr. McNeill and another candidate off the ballot for alleged violations of the city's term limits. A judge allowed the candidates to stay on the ballot, but the lawsuit over their eligibility is pending.

Later, the Watchdog Society funded two mailers questioning Mr. Burroughs over his law firm's government contracts. His firm, Sawko & Burroughs, collects delinquent taxes for many local governments, including the city of Denton, which some called a potential conflict of interest.

Mr. Burroughs has repeatedly said the contracts aren't a conflict because of how his firm is paid. The money comes from fees levied on taxpayers' past-due amounts, not from government coffers.

The judge's order Friday prevents the Watchdog Society from raising funds or distributing any materials related to the mayoral race. It also bars Mr. Clifton from collecting money or distributing political materials "without first complying with all applicable election laws."
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

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