The Republican Primary Runoff election in Odessa is getting heated, with one candidate for State District Judge, Cindy Weir-Nutter, making legal threats to file lawsuits for defamation against several members of the Ector County Republican Party, and going after her opponent’s position on the Republican Party Platform. 

Two candidates are facing off in the May Republican Runoff election for the 244th State District Court, including former Ector County Attorney Cindy Weir-Nutter, and local attorney Lori Ruiz-Crutcher. 

The court is one of five of the state’s top trial courts serving Ector County and handles the highest felony cases as well as major civil litigation.

The comments arose after a local Republican Precinct Chair, Tim Harry, commented on a Facebook post regarding “Cindy Days” – a reference to an issue during Nutter’s term as County Attorney where in 2012 the Grand Jury investigated whether Nutter was legally allocating paid time off to the employees in her office. 

“This right here is why you don’t vote for someone because they are “a nice person” or “they are my friend”. You vote for the person capable of handling the job,” Harry wrote, and proceeded to tag both Nutter and Crutcher’s campaign pages in the post. 

Nutter then made a series of responses on Harry’s post, first saying the allegations regarding her misuse of paid time off were not true and accused the local GOP leadership of only backing candidates they can control – but then attacked Crutcher for taking a publicly neutral position on the GOP platform as a judicial candidate. 

“I told Jason (Moore) to view the courthouse videos to see which offices stayed open; which ones had people working late, etc. Many would simply leave and not document the time at all. He declined… and instead used tactics he could manipulate. All of this was done because He and his group were mad that when they came to my office with their list of demands in order to have their “support”, I declined and said I would continue to follow the law and do what was right. I opened my office to a full investigation, and of course was cleared. I’m not commenting any further on this. Tim (Harry) is in that little group and this is all they have to try to harm me. They are supporting a candidate (Crutcher) who won’t even support the Republican platform,” Nutter wrote, ending, “This is more response than they deserve.”

In addition, Nutter messaged two Republican Party Precinct Chairs, Jolene Hawkins and Tim Harry, threatening to file a defamation suit against both relating to comments the chairs made regarding the past Grand Jury investigation. 

“When false allegations were made against me last election, we did not pursue legal action,” Nutter wrote, continuing, “the things you have been saying about me are false, and I was cleared after a thorough investigation. If you want to say negative things about me, go for it. But they need to be the truth.” 

Nutter then added that both were on notice for a defamation lawsuit. 

“Fair notice that we will be pursuing legal action this time for defamation. This petty harassment against candidates you can’t control needs to stop. It’s embarrassing for the (Republican) Party, and since the public is now wise to these malicious tactics, it actually hurts your candidate. That’s between you and her – but the defamation is between you and me, and it won’t be tolerated.”

The “Cindy Days” issue from Weir-Nutter’s time as county attorney was investigated by both the Texas Rangers and the Texas Attorney General’s Office and was ultimately presented to an Ector County  Grand Jury for review.

The Grand Jury conducted an investigation, and in conclusion took the highly unusual step of issuing a rare public statement regarding the Jury’s findings. 

Odessa Headlines obtained a copy of the Grand Jury statement that had been circulated online after it was issued. 

“After full consideration of the allegations and the entirety of the investigation, we find that the allegations do not warrant a criminal prosecution, however, the Grand Jury does feel that the allegations, having been previously made public through media outlets, and this Grand Jury’s decision regarding the allegations, are serious enough to warrant this public statement,” the statement reads.

While the Grand Jury announced they had decided against indicting Nutter on criminal charges, the Jury took an unusual step in condemning the way compensatory time was being used in the County Attorney’s office and stated that the process “was not consistent” with county rules and the Texas Penal Code but added that their declination to indict was based in part on the lack of a criminal mental state or intent by Weir-Nutter. 

“This Grand Jury finds that the actions of Ms. Nutter under allegation, the use of compensatory time internally referred to as “Cindy Time,” “Cindy Days,” or some other notation, was not consistent with the requirements of Ector County’s Employee Handbook. This Handbook, having been enacted and adopted by past Ector County Commissioner’s Courts, has the force of law in Ector County, under the Texas Penal Code. However, we find that the deviations arose more from lack of knowledge and understanding and not from a criminal mental state. We also find that Ms. Nutter’s misunderstanding was primarily, but not entirely, of her own doing. In this regard, it would not be justice for her to be charged with a criminal act.”

Odessa Headlines spoke with both Harry and Hawkins regarding the warning of legal action by Weir-Nutter against them. 

Harry said he stands by the public comments he has made regarding “Cindy Days” and told Odessa Headlines that the Grand Jury report speaks for itself. 

Hawkins on the other hand said she was perplexed regarding why she received the threat from Nutter, saying she cannot remember posting anything online about the ordeal or anything else negative. 

Odessa Headlines also spoke with Ruiz-Crutcher regarding Nutter’s accusations that Crutcher “Won’t even support the GOP Platform.” 

Crutcher responded citing several provisions in the Texas Judicial Canons of Ethics that prohibit both judges and judicial candidates from endorsing certain political party platform planks. 

“I would like to start with a clean slate of following the law,” Crutcher said in a phone interview, adding further that Republicans value an independent judiciary and jurists who understand, follow, and apply the laws as written. 

Opinion 250 by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct specifically addresses the question of whether a Judge or Judicial Candidate may “answer questions propounded by a political party regarding the judge/candidate’s position regarding specific planks of the parties’ platform.”

In the opinion, the Commission wrote that, “[n]o, Judges are prohibited under the code of judicial conduct from answering such questionnaires,” and further elaborated that in the event that a candidates does answer such questions, they might be subject to recusal on the issues in the future.

“In the event a judge answered such questions, in addition to violating the code of judicial conduct, the judge might be subject to being recused from any case dealing with the subject matter of the question.”

Opinion 250, Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct

Odessa Headlines also reached out to Weir-Nutter for comment, who responded by maintaining her prior comments regarding being cleared on the Grand Jury investigation and added to her allegations against Crutcher’s position on the GOP Platform by pointing out that several of Crutcher’s yard signs are presently in Judge John Smith’s yard – suggesting that the signs were an indication that Crutcher’s neutrality on the Party Platform isn’t motivated by adherence to judicial ethics. 

“She has a large sign and 2 small ones in the yard of Judge Smith – do you really think judicial ethics are the reason she won’t support the Platform?  Candidates running as Republicans should be able to support that Party’s Platform,” Weir-Nutter wrote, adding,  “As a Judge, we must follow the law. I haven’t made this a big deal, and don’t intend to. The Party published the responses. I was responding to a direct question about this. The Party also knows how much past involvement we have, or haven’t had, supporting the Party. I’m just leaving these issues to the voters.”

Matt Stringer is a journalist from Odessa, Texas.