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Paxton finds another way to be in trouble

Like fleas to a dog, trouble just follows this guy around.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Remember that historic Supreme Court ruling last year? The one that ended decades of discrimination against same-sex couples who wanted to get married?

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton surely does because it’s probably still causing him headaches, in addition to his legal woes. The Lone Star State’s top lawman is accused of securities fraud.

We just learned that on January 29, the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, appointed by Texas’ Supreme Court, decided not to dismiss a grievance against Paxton filed with the State Bar Chief Disciplinary Counsel for an alleged violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct, which means the Texas State Bar has been ordered to continue a disciplinary investigation into the alleged violation.

That whole defying the Supreme Court thing is good for television spots, but, not so good in reality.

You can see a copy of the complaint embedded in the story. Amazing, right? I looked in my archives and found that somehow, this had fallen entirely below my radar – I have no posts that mention this, as far as I can tell. So off to Google we go, and our first stop to get up to speed is this Trib story from July 3.

Roughly 150 Texas attorneys have signed on to a letter threatening to file a complaint with the State Bar of Texas against Attorney General Ken Paxton for his response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

“It seems to us that your edict to encourage Texas clerks to violate a direct ruling of the United States Supreme Court violates” the State Bar’s rules requiring attorneys to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the letter states.

After the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, Paxton issued an opinion telling Texas clerks they did not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it violated their religious beliefs — though he suggested that they could face litigation.

On Friday, Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said the attorney general’s legal opinion was “a nonbinding interpretation of the law,” one that “emphasizes the importance of protecting religious liberty while enforcing the Supreme Court’s expanded definition of marriage.”

If Paxton doesn’t change his direction to county clerks in the coming weeks, Steve Fischer, a former director of the State Bar of Texas, said he plans to file a complaint he anticipates hundreds of other lawyers will sign onto.

“I think he could very easily be disbarred,” said Fischer, who wrote the letter sent to Paxton’s office Friday. “He violated his oath to specifically uphold the United States Constitution.”

Note the reference at the end of this story to a complaint that had already been filed by then by former State Rep. Glen Maxey. This Courthouse News story covers that.

Glen Maxey, a member of the Texas Democratic Party executive committee and the state’s first openly gay legislator, filed a grievance with the State Bar of Texas on June 30.

It came two days after Paxton issued a nonbinding advisory opinion urging county officials not to issue the licenses if they have personal religious objections, but warned that if they did so they would probably be sued.

Paxton’s letter came after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26 that struck down several states’ same-sex marriage bans.

Maxey said it is “irresponsible” for an elected official and attorney to tell other elected officials to break the law.

“He’s misleading county and state officials based on a false premise that they can discriminate against same-sex couples,” Maxey said in a July 3 statement. “This past Friday, the Supreme Court was clear with their decision to let same-sex couples marry. Paxton took an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. He must comply with the court’s decision.”

You can find a copy of Maxey’s complaint here. The grievance for which all those attorneys’ signatures were collected, which is the one referenced in the first link above, was eventually filed later in July. (The Trib, my usual source for this kind of political esoterica, oddly had the story about the complaint being filed in their subscription-only Texas Weekly section.) Why the wait? Steve Fischer, the former State Bar director, explains his reasoning.

Maxey, however, is not a lawyer and didn’t allow Paxton the 25-day implementation period, as provided by U.S. Supreme Court Rule 45 and in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals mandate, which specified a July 17 compliance deadline.

Attempting to steer clear of politics, Fort Worth lawyer Brian Bouffard and I sent a warning to the attorney general that he must comply with the law. We posted on Facebook that we would collect attorney signatures, but quit after receiving about 300 in two days. If a grievance becomes necessary, we will have many more.

We allege the Texas attorney general has violated several of the State Bar Disciplinary Rules, most of which are found in Section 8.04 a (4) obstruction of justice, and 8.04 (a) 12 that he has violated his attorney oath to uphold the law of the United States. As the state’s top legal officer, he can’t be offering county clerks any legal ammunition to circumvent the law when it’s clear, to most legal analysts, they would be “shooting blanks.”

The State Bar of Texas, the licensing authority for all Texas lawyers, is 100 percent nonpartisan. When a complaint is filed it goes to State Bar disciplinary counsel and if they find grounds, Paxton would be required to file an answer. If his answer is insufficient, he would be given the choice of appearing before a grievance panel of a few lawyers and perhaps one nonlawyer or having his case heard in district court.

The penalties range from a reprimand to license suspension, and in the most egregious cases, disbarment. Usually, these cases are private and confidential; however, the bar has made an exception for public interest cases.

Many believe the State Bar does not go after its own, and it is accurate to say most complaints against lawyers are dismissed. The reason, however, is that the vast majority of filings are rancorous, rambling rants that do not allege a specific violation.

We hoped Paxton would take a deep breath and proclaim that although the Supreme Court decision violated his personal and religious beliefs, he would follow the law.

We know how that turned out. Which brings us back to today. Towleroad has an excerpt from the Board of Disciplinary Appeals’ ruling.

On January 29, 2016, the Board of Disciplinary Appeals appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas considered the appeal from the dismissal from the above grievance by the Office of the Chief Disciplinary counsel of the State Bar of Texas. After reviewing the grievance as filed with the sState Bar Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s office and no other information, the Board grants the appeal, finding that the grievance alleges a possible violation of Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 1.02(c).

The Board of Disciplinary Appeals will now return the case to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for investigation and a determination whether there is just cause to believe that the attorney has committed professional misconduct. The Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel will notify both parties of each step of the process, including asking the attorney to respond to the complaint. For information concerning the handling of the case from this point forward, please contact the Austin Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

And here’s the Trib story, and the Chron story, which recap everything we’ve discussed here in a much more concise fashion. The one bit of information mentioned in the Trib piece that I haven’t covered here is that the complaint was initially dismissed by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s office; it was the appeal to the Board of Disciplinary Appeals that brought us to this point. I can hardly wait to see what comes next. Trail Blazers and Daily Kos have more.

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One Comment

  1. PDiddie says:

    What happens next is that we will soon have a disbarred attorney for an attorney general, and even that apparently won’t stop him from continuing to “serve”.