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Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability

Lawsuit filed to get Paxton records from State Securities Board

From the Lone Star Project on Wednesday:

Sen. Ken Paxton

Today the Texas Coalition for Lawyer Accountability (TCLA) filed suit against the Texas State Securities Board to obtain documents linked to Republican attorney general candidate Ken Paxton’s admitted felony violation of state securities law.

“Ken Paxton’s actions define corruption. Paxton has not only disqualified himself to serve as Texas attorney general, but to even practice law,” said Matt Angle, Lone Star Project director. “Current AG Greg Abbott’s silence on the Paxton felony is deafening and reflects his tolerance for corruption and his own lack of character and ethics. Both Paxton and Abbott are hiding out and hoping the press will ignore admitted criminal behavior. TCLA is responsibly working to assure that doesn’t happen and properly demanding accountability for the legal profession,” he added.

Despite the Securities Board’s own ruling that Paxton broke the law, slapping him with a Disciplinary Order and fine, it has refused to make documents related to their investigation available to the public. On August 21, TCLA requested that the board provide records pertaining to its investigation of Paxton and the illegal solicitations he made in exchange for kickbacks from long-time friend and partner-in-crime Frederick Mowery.

Not only did Paxton admit on record to committing a felony, as an attorney who defrauded his clients, he now must contend with the possibility of disbarment. On August 5, TCLA filed a disciplinary complaint and narrative with the State Bar, seeking the revocation of Ken Paxton’s law license, citing “multiple acts of serious Professional Misconduct in violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.”

As the Lone Star Project recently reported, Paxton is hiding behind his staff, refusing to answer questions by the media or speak with the public. The Board’s records are therefore “important evidence” in the TCLA complaint with the State Bar, and are directly relevant to unveiling the secrets Paxton has fought so hard to hide.

See here for the background, and here for the TCLA’s statement and explanation of their action. The Texas Politics blog has picked this up, but beyond that I haven’t seen any news coverage. As Iain Simpson commented on my previous post, there are reasons to be wary of self-appointed watchdogs springing into action like this in the middle of an election. On the other hand, I’m not sure what the value of the Securities Board keeping their documents secret is. According to the Statesman, some of the documents were withheld under state confidentiality requirements, but the Texas Securities Act, however, allows a court to order documents to be released for good cause. Which the plaintiffs naturally say they have. Anyway, it’s another little mess of Paxton’s own making that will have to be cleaned up in the unfortunate event that he gets elected.

State bar grievance filed against Paxton

It’s getting to be hard to keep track of all of the complaints and legal actions being filed against the man who would be the state’s top lawyer. This one is a grievance filed with the State Bar of Texas by another watchdog group.

Sen. Ken Paxton

In its grievance, the Austin-based Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability requests that the state bar investigate whether Paxton broke at least four rules involving the disclosure of conflicts of interest.

“Like every other Texas lawyer, Mr. Paxton must comply with the legal ethics rules that govern the legal profession,” the coalition said in a news release.

Once a grievance is filed with the state bar, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s lawyers review it to see whether it actually alleges violations of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. If it does, it becomes a complaint that can lead to an airing of the issue in district court or before a panel of state bar lawyers from across Texas. If sustained, the complaint can result in the suspension or disbarment of an attorney.

Anthony Holm, a spokesman for the Paxton campaign, called the grievance “yet another political stunt” by a group with Democratic ties, pointing out the acting executive director does not have a law license. “Frankly, it’s a bit silly,” Holm said in a statement.

The coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but in announcing the grievance said it aims to hold lawyers accountable regardless of their political affiliations.

As you may recall, a criminal complaint was filed in July, and a complaint with the SEC was filed in May. I didn’t recall hearing about the Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability before, but I did note the complaint they filed in 2011 against Ken Anderson, John Bradley, and Mike Davis over the Michael Morton case. As a reminder, to myself as much as to you, they are “a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating the public and advocating the public interest to hold the Texas Legal profession accountable to its statutory, constitutional, and ethical obligations”. Their origin story is that the TCLA was established in 2010, initially to provide input from the public perspective on the proposed amendments to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Here’s a letter they sent to then-Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson outlining their concerns. They eventually won a victory over this issue in 2011, when the proposed changes were voted down by the bar members.

Anyway. They’re definitely on the do-gooder side of things, but I wouldn’t dismiss their track record. Here’s their statement on the grievance, which outlines the basics of Paxton’s admitted and alleged bad deeds, the complaint narrative, which is the long version of the story, and the actual complaint form that they filled out. Any lawyers want to weigh in on this?

Grievances filed over Morton case

Interesting.

The Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability (TCLA) announced that its Executive Director, Julie Oliver, is today filing disciplinary grievances against prosecutors in the Michael Morton case: current Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley; former Williamson County District Attorney (and current District Judge) Ken Anderson; former Williamson County Assistant District Attorney Mike Davis.

Published reports indicate that those lawyers may have violated several of the ethics rules that govern Texas lawyers.  The apparent violations had tragic, horrific consequences—including the wrongful imprisonment of Michael Morton for 25 years, and the undermining of public confidence and trust in the criminal justice system in Williamson County.

Collectively, Anderson, Bradley, and Davis appear to have violated one or more of the following ethical standards governing the conduct of Texas lawyers (the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct).

In 1987, a jury convicted Michael Morton of murdering his wife, Christine.  Morton was sentenced to life in prison.  After serving almost 25 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit, Mr. Morton was released in October 2011 after DNA testing exonerated him.  Published reports suggest that the Morton prosecution team withheld key evidence from the defense during the murder trial, misrepresented the testimony of certain key witnesses during closing arguments, and failed to comply with a court order.

All of these actions likely caused Mr. Morton’s wrongful conviction—and kept the true murderer on the street.

“What is clear is that the prosecution in the Morton case dramatically failed to meet the burden imposed by court rules, statutes, and the Constitution, to disclose evidence tending to negate guilt,” said Julie Oliver, Executive Director, Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability.  “In Texas, for far too long disciplinary enforcement against prosecutors who engage in unethical conduct has been lax or non-existent.”

Article 2.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure best states the critical message of this case: “It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done.”  This disciplinary case, if investigated thoroughly and prosecuted vigorously, can help make that critically important ethical rule a functional reality in our criminal justice system.  Justice in Texas requires no less.

 “We are filing these grievances today so that public scrutiny of the investigation will be assured, vigorous, and ongoing,” said Julie Oliver.  “Effective lawyer discipline requires such public vigilance and involvement.”

The Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability (TCLA) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating the public and advocating the public interest to hold the Texas legal profession accountable to its statutory, constitutional, and ethical obligations.  Coalition members include the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Public Citizen, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), Texas Watch Foundation, and the Texas Housing Justice League (THJL).

I’ve no idea how likely it is that this will go anywhere, but as long as we let prosecutors who break the rules get away with it unscathed, there’s no incentive for them to not break the rules. Someone needs to be made an example of why you shouldn’t break those rules. This would be a good place to start. Grits and EoW have more.