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Culberson’s continued stock problems

Oopsie.

Rep. John Culberson

Two members of Congress from Texas — Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland and John Culberson of Houston — purchased stock in a company last year that is now at the center of insider trading charges against one of their colleagues, U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York.

Collins, best known as the first congressman to back Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, was indicted Wednesday by federal prosecutors and charged with securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. The indictment stems from his involvement in an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics, and it alleges he passed non-public information about the company to his son, Cameron, who then used it to purchase stock and tip off others.

Conaway and Culberson are not named in the indictment and face no allegations of wrongdoing. But they were among several of Collins’ colleagues who purchased shares of Innate last year and faced some scrutiny for it, especially after reports surfaced that Collins was seeking to convince them and other associates to invest. Collins, who has denied any wrongdoing, was already being investigated by the House Ethics Committee before the indictment was unveiled Wednesday.

Both Conaway and Culberson bought stock in Innate on Jan. 26, 2017, worth between $1,001 and $15,000, according to personal financial statements filed with the House clerk. Their purchases came two days after a contentious confirmation hearing for U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, then Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, during which he was questioned over his own investment in Innate. Conaway purchased more of the stock on Feb. 3, 2017, again valued at between $1,001 and $15,000.

Culberson sold his stock on June 12, 2017 — 10 days before Chris Collins is accused of sharing the non-public information with his son. Conaway, meanwhile, dumped all his shares in November 2017, according to a spokesperson for his office.

[…]

The fallout from the indictment could be more of a political problem for Culberson, who is among national Democrats’ top three targets in Texas this fall. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee singled out Culberson in a statement after the charges against Collins were revealed, and his opponent, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, said in her own statement that the indictment “raises serious questions.”

“Congressman Culberson must explain why he, along with a small group of Republican lawmakers, bought stock in an obscure Australian biopharmaceutical company that is at the center of an insider trading scandal,” Fletcher said. “If Congressman Culberson used his position of power, along with access to material nonpublic information, in an effort to benefit himself personally then Congressman Culberson will have confirmed he is exactly what is wrong with Washington.”

See here for some background. In a different year, with a less-hostile political environment and a non-threatening opponent, Culberson could easily shrug this off. This year, not so much. Even if you yourself are not being accused of wrongdoing, the close association with a colleague who just got busted on federal charges and a Trump administration official who resigned amid a cascade of ethical scandals is not a good look. Good luck coming up with a satisfactory explanation for it all. The Chron has more on the Culberson angle, and for more on the Chris Collins arrest see Daily Kos, Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, and Political Animal.

Culberson’s stock purchase

Interesting.

Rep. John Culberson

In a heated confirmation hearing for then-Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Democrats raised pointed questions about the congressman’s trading in stocks of companies regulated by the House committees he serves on.

One in particular, Innate Immunotherapeutics, a small Australian biotech firm, generated particular attention because it had sold nearly $1 million in discounted shares to two House members: Price and New York Republican Chris Collins, who turned out to be the firm’s biggest investor.

Amid the controversy in January, Price said everything he did was “ethical, aboveboard, legal and transparent,” though he agreed to divest himself of that and other stocks that could raise ethics questions.

Collins also denied any wrongdoing, though he is now reportedly being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics for his role in touting the stock to investors from the halls of Congress.

But the public heat did not dissuade two Texas congressmen from quietly buying into the Australian company Jan. 26, two days after the Price hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, records show. John Culberson of Houston and Mike Conaway of Midland, are among at least seven Republican House members who have invested in the company. The two Texans bought in at what was then close to a 52-week peak in the stock price on the Australian Securities Exchange. The transactions were first reported by Politico.

[…]

Culberson’s stock buy, which he valued at between $1,000 and $15,000, was particularly unusual, because by the congressman’s own account, he is not an active stock trader.

Beside his stake in Innate Immunotherapeutics, his most recent financial reports to Congress list holdings in Apple stock and some past investments in “military collectibles.”

In a statement, Culberson offered this motive for the stock purchase in the fairly obscure foreign company that works to develop treatments for multiple sclerosis: “One of my father’s best friends died of MS, and we have a family friend with multiple sclerosis, so I’m always on the lookout for breakthroughs on treating MS. This one looks promising. I rarely buy or sell stock.”

He declined interview requests this week and staffers offered no details about the exact amount and timing of his stock purchase, which coincided with that of Conaway. Nor have they explained why Culberson waited until April 6 to report the stock buy, well beyond the 30-day window required to inform the House clerk’s office.

Through a spokeswoman, however, Culberson dismissed Democrats’ accusations that he might have used non-public information.

“Representative Culberson originally learned of the company through press reports,” his spokeswoman, Emily Taylor, said Thursday. “He continued his own research on their promising MS treatment, which is an issue important to him, and that led to the purchase.”

I don’t know how big a deal this is. The circumstances are fishy and Culberson’s explanation is weak, but unless Tom Price gets into a heap of trouble for his actions, I don’t see much happening to Culberson. That said, having stuff like this turn into blaring headlines seems to me to portend a rough campaign season. If nothing else, having all these candidates and a national focus on CD07 guarantees that every little thing will be news, and that’s not something Culberson has had to deal with lately. Better get used to it.

CCA turnover

Nobody is running for re-election on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

All three Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges whose terms expire in 2014 — one-third of the nine-member panel — have elected not to seek another term, setting the stage for unusually high turnover on the state’s highest criminal court.

“This is a lot leaving,” said Chuck Mallin, appellate chief in the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. “It’s always a scary proposition, because you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Judges Cathy Cochran, Tom Price and Paul Womack each confirmed that they will not run for re-election in 2014. At least eight individuals have filed forms indicating they have appointed treasurers for campaigns to fill those seats, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. Candidates don’t officially file to run for state offices until later this year.

[…]

Just how different the court — and its decisions — will be after the elections will depend on who the winners are and the judicial philosophies they bring to the bench, she said.

Mallin, who has practiced before the court since the 1970s, said that he has viewed the its decisions over the last decade as “middle of the road.” And that’s where he’d like the court to remain.

“You never know what they’re going to do when they get on the bench,” Mallin said. “There can be a major change, and I’ve seen the swing.”

“The voters don’t really pay much attention to judicial races like they should,” he said. “They’re probably some of the most important offices that citizens are allowed to vote for.”

I certainly agree with that last statement. Grits takes issue with that “middle of the road” characterization, however.

Come again? The only thing more preposterous than calling the Court of Criminal Appeals under Presiding Judge Sharon Keller “middle of the road” is for a media outlet to quote a prosecutor mouthing such an absurdity without providing a rebuttal.

As of this writing, there’s not a single “middle of the road” vote on the entire court. Instead, the spectrum runs from conservative judges who rarely side with the defense to a more knee-jerk faction led by Judge Keller who reflexively rule for the government in virtually every circumstance.

The three departing judges fall into the former group, at least occasionally providing common-sense ballast to offset the Big-Government Conservatism of Keller and Co. In any other high court in America they’d be considered part of the extreme right, but on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals they’re ostensible “moderates.” By contrast, Keller’s cohort often come off less like judges than prosecutors in robes.

What Mallin called the “middle of the road” in reality turns out to be the right-hand shoulder. And if one or two of these departing judges are replaced by Keller clones, there’s a real risk the court will just veer off into a ditch.

The best we hope for is for the voters to have real choices in the elections to replace these three judges. That means actually having contested elections in November, not just in March. The last time there were no unopposed candidates for the CCA was in 2002, an election in which these three retiring judges were all on the ballot. It’s hard to recruit for these statewide judicial races. You’re not going to raise any money as a candidate, especially not as a Democrat, but you do have to put your life and livelihood on hold while to travel around the state doing your part to represent yourself and your party. No one but the most dedicated voter will even know who you are or what you’re running for. That’s even before we discuss the long odds of actually winning as a D. But none of that matters now. If Wendy Davis really is running for Governor – and all signs point to Yes at this time – she needs a full ticket running alongside her. We need three qualified folks – seven, if you throw in the Supreme Court races – to step up and take the plunge. This is as even a playing field and as good a shot as you’re going to get. Texpatriate has more.

Meyers to challenge Keller in GOP primary

There will be a little hot judge on judge action in next March’s Republican primary.

Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence “Larry” Meyers has told colleagues that he will challenge fellow jurist Sharon Keller in the Republican primary for the court’s presiding judge position.

Keller famously fought and ultimately won a legal battle against the state Commission on Judicial Conduct last year after it issued a “public warning” for her saying, “We close at 5,” when asked about holding the court open for last-minute death row appeal. She has said she felt vindicated when no wrongdoing was assessed.

In a memo Meyers gave to the other eight members of the court on Tuesday, he never mentioned Keller’s legal fight, but instead stated that all federal appellate courts and several state Supreme Courts rotate their chief justice position.

Keller has been presiding judge for the past decade.

“Therefore, I have decided to seek my party’s nomination for this position in next year’s election — I will make a formal announcement to this effect later this week,” he said.

Meyers was elected to another full term in 2010, so this is basically a free shot for him. Win, and he inherits Keller’s position. Lose, and he stays where he is. I presume if he wins there will then be an appointment to fill his seat, with a subsequent election for the unexpired term in 2014. Before you get too excited about the possibility of Keller being taken out this way, Meyers is not the first of her colleagues to give it a try.

Tom Price, currently the court’s third most senior member after Keller and Meyers, unsuccessfully ran against her in the Republican primary in 2000 and 2006.

“I’m used to people on my court running against me,” she said.

All I know is that the Democrats better have a decent candidate lined up to take her on. Another non-campaign from JR Molina isn’t going to cut it. Grits has more.

Population and voting trends: 2004 and 2008 judicial elections

So we’ve seen how county returns changed in the Presidential election between 2004 and 2008. Obviously, there are many factors that can affect a Presidential election, even when there’s not really an active campaign going on in the state. How do things look at the judicial level, which is probably a closer reflection of party ID? To try to answer that, I compared two races for the Supreme Court, and two for the Court of Criminal Appeals: Scott Brister versus David Van Os in 2004 and Dale Wainwright versus Sam Houston in 2008; Mike Keasler versus JR Molina in 2004 and Tom Price versus Susan Strawn in 2008. My observations:

– Houston improved on Van Os’ percentage by six and a half points, going from 40.76% to 47.31%; Strawn did a bit less than five points better than Molina, 42.14% to 46.86%. (Note that both 2008 races included a Libertarian candidate, while neither 2004 race did. All percentages are based strictly on R/D vote totals only.) In doing so, Houston cut the 2004 deficit by 875,000 votes, while Strawn improved by 616,000 votes over 2004.

– One corollary to that is that Houston gained in more counties than Strawn did. There were only 28 counties in which Houston’s deficit was greater than Van Os’, with Montgomery and Parker being the places he moved backwards the most. Strawn did worse in 69 counties, adding Orange and Jefferson to the biggest loser list. Recall that there were 107 counties in which Barack Obama lost ground compared to John Kerry.

– The 20 counties in which Obama lost the most ground from Kerry differed somewhat from the counties in which Houston and Strawn combined did worse than Van Os and Molina. Counties that appeared in the former list but not the latter were:

Bowie: Obama’s deficit increased by 3436 votes; Houston gained 1303 while Strawn lost 867.
Galveston: -3082 for Obama, +2720 for Houston, and -1307 for Strawn.
Jasper: -1488 for Obama, +866 for Houston, and -656 for Strawn.
Liberty: -1416 for Obama, +1185 for Houston, and +155 for Strawn.
Harrison: -1385 for Obama, +530 for Houston, and -11 for Strawn.
Johnson: -1280 for Obama, +2745 for Houston, and +2005 for Strawn.
Henderson: -1239 for Obama, +1076 for Houston, and +427 for Strawn.
Tyler: -1094 for Obama, +501 for Houston, and -260 for Strawn.
Van Zandt: -1075 for Obama, +656 for Houston, and +178 for Strawn.
Lamar: -993 for Obama, +2185 for Houston, and +1208 for Strawn.

Obviously, the worst 20 counties for Houston and Strawn were not identical to those for Obama, but I did not find any examples where Houston and Strawn combined to lose votes while Obama gained them.

The ten best counties for Houston and Strawn:

County Brister W'wright Change Van Os Houston Change Dem net ================================================================== FORT BEND 87,872 96,887 9,015 66,748 95,069 28,321 19,306 DENTON 132,244 138,359 6,115 56,112 86,738 30,626 24,511 COLLIN 165,017 167,840 2,823 64,159 100,302 36,143 33,320 HIDALGO 39,076 32,270 -6,806 60,122 87,197 27,075 33,881 EL PASO 62,780 50,627 -12,153 93,239 118,844 25,605 37,758 TRAVIS 142,841 127,796 -15,045 190,168 228,493 38,325 53,370 BEXAR 234,526 222,471 -12,055 212,415 260,152 47,737 59,792 TARRANT 327,136 320,585 -6,551 201,026 266,375 65,349 71,900 DALLAS 328,697 280,688 -48,009 324,165 406,857 82,692 130,701 HARRIS 555,454 523,101 -32,353 464,815 577,134 112,319 144,672 County Keasler Price Change Molina Strawn Change Dem net ================================================================== WILLIAMSON 77,666 80,967 3,301 42,377 61,373 18,996 15,695 DENTON 130,850 139,868 9,018 57,294 83,774 26,480 17,462 EL PASO 58,240 53,893 -4,347 99,152 115,154 16,002 20,349 HIDALGO 35,930 33,109 -2,821 64,087 86,441 22,354 25,175 COLLIN 164,805 169,377 4,572 64,188 96,476 32,288 27,716 TRAVIS 140,473 125,335 -15,138 190,769 228,492 37,723 52,861 TARRANT 321,497 322,531 1,034 206,841 263,585 56,744 55,710 BEXAR 224,983 215,807 -9,176 220,717 267,444 46,727 55,903 DALLAS 319,890 283,343 -36,547 329,484 402,483 72,999 109,546 HARRIS 540,632 521,753 -18,879 474,278 574,945 100,667 119,546

Williamson was Houston’s eleventh-best county, with a net gain of 18,502, while Fort Bend was Strawn’s eleventh-best county, with a net gain of 13,574. Not much variance on this end, in other words.

– Finally, I said in my previous entry that if 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas would be a tossup state at the Presidential level. That’s true, but all else being equal, the Republican candidate would still win Texas by a bit more than 200,000 votes. That same level of improvement would be more than enough to win both of these judicial races, however. Sam Houston would win by more votes in 2012 than he lost by in 2008, while Strawn would win by about 150,000 votes. Given that even Republicans think the political landscape in Texas could be quite favorable to Democratic candidates, we may see as much interest in Supreme Court and CCA nominations as we saw in Harris County this year for district and county benches. All standard disclaimers apply, of course, but keep that in the back of your mind.

Next in the series will be a closer look at the 2002 and 2006 judicial elections, which will be done in two parts. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

The case against Keller

Rick Casey reads through the Judicial Conduct Commission case against Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Sharon Keller, and finds that her actions were worse than even I had thought.

We already knew that Keller and the other judges were aware of the Supreme Court decision. We didn’t know that the court’s general counsel, Edward Marty, had started drafting a proposed order in anticipation that Richard’s lawyers would file a request for a stay .

Nor did we know that Judge Tom Price had drafted a dissenting opinion and circulated it to the other judges, including Keller. Nor that all the judges were notified about 2:40 p.m. that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office had reported that Richard’s lawyers were planning to file a request.

The Supreme Court decision was so much on the court’s mind that Judge Cathy Cochran forwarded to all her colleagues a copy of the Kentucky Supreme Court decision that was being challenged.

Under court procedures, Judge Cheryl Johnson was the designated judge who was supposed to receive all messages regarding Richard’s case. She and Marty planned to stay at the office to receive any messages until Richard was executed.

Chief Judge Keller went home early and was called shortly before 5 p.m. by Marty. Richard’s lawyers were having computer problems and wanted the clerk’s office to stay open until 5:20 or so to receive their filing. Rather than forward the message to Johnson as policy required, Keller instructed Marty to tell the lawyers no. The lawyers made attempts up until 6 p.m. to deliver the filing but were told nobody was there. Richard was executed at about 8:20 p.m.

Two days later, the Supreme Court stopped all executions by injection based on the same arguments Richard’s lawyers made. Richard was the only convict executed until six months later, when the Supreme Court OK’d lethal injection as constitutional.

Here’s the stunner: The morning after Richard’s execution, the nine judges had their weekly conference. At the end of it some of the judges expressed surprise that Richard’s lawyers hadn’t submitted a filing.

Cochran even raised the question — hypothetically, she thought — of what would happen if the lawyers showed up after the clerk’s office closed. She said the court should accept the filing anyway. According to witnesses, Keller said, “The clerk’s office closes at 5 p.m. It’s not a policy, it’s a fact.”

Keller lacked the decency or the courage to tell her colleagues about the call she had received.

What a thoroughly despicable human being. Burka thinks the end is near for her tenure on the bench – one way or another, he says, she’s going to go away. All I can say is that’s great if true, and long, long overdue.

Of course, she has two weeks to respond to the charges, and she’s got herself a defense attorney, who I’m sure will zealously represent her interests at the public trial she’ll get.

Keller will be allowed to present evidence, raise objections, and call and cross-examine witnesses in a forum that will resemble many civil court trials, said Seana Willing, executive director of the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

“The judge can put on her case and we can put on our case,” Willing said.

Can’t wait to hear what she has to say for herself. One thing I’m sure of is that her defense attorney will do a far better job for her than the attorneys for some of the appellants who have appeared before her ever did for them. Not that she cares, of course.

One last thing, from the Chron story:

The proceedings against Keller will take between six and 18 months to complete, Willing has said.

So I may have to wait that long after all. Alas.