In May 2009, a former assistant attorney general in Greg Abbott’s office sued the Office of the Attorney General in Dallas County court, claiming she’d been fired for refusing to lie under oath about a Dallas County judge. Five years later, the Dallas-based Fifth Court of Appeals has ruled that Ginger Weatherspoon can go forward with her lawsuit.
The AG’s office has spent years trying to get the suit tossed, claiming, among other things, that Weatherspoon didn’t make a “good faith” effort to blow the whistle to the right links in the chain of command. A three-justice panel disagreed, and issued an opinion Monday written by Justice David Evans that said Dallas County Judge Martin Hoffman did the right thing last year when he refused to grant the AG’s office its request for summary judgment.
Weatherspoon’s initial filing in 2009 garnered media attention because of its explosive content: She claimed she refused to sign a “false affidavit” filled with “a number of misrepresentations and mischaracterizations” about David Hanschen, who, at the time, was a Dallas County family court judge involved in a pretty nasty tussle with the Abbott’s office over child support.
Long story short: Hanschen was letting men take DNA tests to determine whether kids at the center of child-support battles were actually theirs. As the judge told the Dallas Observer in April 2008, “In my court, the truth does not have a statute of limitations.” But Abbott’s office disagreed, and would file emergency court orders in attempts to stop the DNA tests. Megan Feldman wrote that “supervising attorneys within the office’s Child Support Division launched a concerted campaign to collect affidavits from nearly a dozen staff lawyers — in some cases exerting pressure on them — with the apparent goal of filing a complaint alleging judicial misconduct against Hanschen” and another family court judge.
Weatherspoon said she was among those being pressured into signing an affidavit critical of Hanschen. The problem was, she “never witnessed Judge Hanschen treat an AAG adversely in court or issue a prejudicial ruling against an AAG,” said her lawsuit. She also said that “Judge Hanschen never threatened the AG’s office,” despite what the affidavit alleged.
“A managing attorney with the OAG, Paula Crockett, told her they intended to use the affidavit as evidence to have the judge recused from hearing cases involving the OAG,” says the recap issued by the appeals court Monday. “The affidavit was also going to be used to support a judicial misconduct complaint against the judge. Weatherspoon refused to sign the affidavit stating that she believed it misrepresented various facts regarding her conversation with the judge and mischaracterized the tone and nature of the conversation.”
Weatherspoon continued to refuse to sign the affidavit, despite mounting pressure from regional attorneys in the AG’s office. And in the end, she says, that’s why she was fired.
You can see the full opinion at the link above. Gotta admit, I hadn’t heard of this before, but it sure doesn’t sound good for Abbott, especially when he’s made a big deal about ethics and transparency.
We can think of lots of good reasons why everyday, ordinary Texans should know whether a plant in their neighborhood has stockpiled enough chemicals to blow out a crater and flatten homes and schools. Topping the list: the decided allergy that state leaders have about regulating industry — even when such industry poses a possible threat to the lives of state leaders’ own constituents.
That’s why we have trouble understanding the reasoning behind state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s abrupt decision to refuse to give the public key information about where plants stockpiling ammonium nitrate are located. More than a year after fire at the West Fertilizer Co. ignited a huge supply of ammonium nitrate that killed 15 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes, schools and a nursing home, the attorney general suddenly says the Texas Homeland Security Act forbids the state’s health agency from any longer releasing inventory reports on such facilities because the fertilizer might be used to make bombs.
Supposedly, this will deter terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh, who legally got ahold of some 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, which he detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and destroying the structure, payback for the federal government’s role in the Branch Davidian siege near Waco in 1993.
Ordinarily, we’d agree with the attorney general’s logic on why the location and amount of such explosives should be kept secret. The problem is the state’s dread of regulating and enforcing regulations ensuring people are safe. Even now, our state lawmakers hem and haw over whether they should regulate dangerous chemicals where people live, work and play. Amazing.
Not surprisingly, all this undermines the intent of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986, which allows citizens to access information on what chemicals are stored and used in their neighborhoods. The act — signed into law by President Ronald Reagan — was designed to help the public be proactive after a deadly mix of gases escaped a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killing thousands. Happily, for the moment federal trumps state, allowing local residents to gain such relevant information from the Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management.
The attorney general’s decision is definitely at odds with growing efforts to prevent another West, including last month’s federal task force report, prompted by the 2013 explosion. It concludes that “communities need to know where hazardous chemicals are used and stored, how to assess the risks associated with those chemicals and how to ensure community preparedness for incidents that may occur.” If the state of Texas continues to balk at ensuring such plants are safe, the public needs to know more, not less, to better protect itself from devastating possibilities.
Did I say something about transparency? Yeah, maybe not. And if you think that Governor Greg Abbott would support stronger regulations on fertilizer plants, well, I’ve got a load of fertilizer to sell you.
In a scolding order, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., told the state of Texas on Wednesday to pay almost $1.1 million in legal fees to lawyers who represented Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and several minority rights groups in a case challenging district boundaries drawn by the Republican-led Legislature.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s order criticized lawyers in state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office for submitting a legal brief that devoted more effort to complaining than it did to answering the legal issues in the fight over lawyer fees.
“Texas basically ignores the arguments supporting an award of fees and costs,” Collyer wrote, noting that state lawyers instead presumed the request to be frivolous and expressed “indignation at having to respond at all.”
“This matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs,” said Collyer, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
In her order, Collyer found that lawyers’ fees are “uncontested and reasonable,” and Davis’ attorneys are entitled to $466,680 and other lawyers should get more than $600,000.