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Legal matters

NFL to seek at least a one year suspension for Deshaun Watson

That would count as significant.

The NFL is poised to argue for an indefinite suspension of at least one year for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson at a hearing scheduled to begin Tuesday in front of the sport’s new disciplinary officer, according to a person familiar with the case.

The league will contend that Watson, who was accused of sexual misconduct in two dozen civil lawsuits filed by women, violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and should be suspended without pay for at least the entirety of the 2022 season, that person said. Watson would have to apply for reinstatement under the league’s proposed penalty.

The NFL Players Association is expected to argue to former U.S. district judge Sue L. Robinson, the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFLPA, for far less severe discipline against Watson, perhaps seeking no suspension at all.

Robinson will make the initial disciplinary ruling, under the revised personal conduct policy put in place with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union completed in 2020.

If Robinson rules that Watson violated the conduct policy and imposes disciplinary measures, the league or the union could appeal the penalty to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him. If Robinson rules that Watson did not violate the policy, the case would be closed, with no possibility of an appeal.

Under the previous version of the conduct policy, Goodell was empowered to both make the initial disciplinary ruling and resolve any appeal. This is the first case under the new system.

It’s not clear how long the hearing will last or when Robinson will make an initial ruling. The NFL aims to have the entire case, including the resolution of any appeal, resolved before the opening of training camp, a person with knowledge of the matter previously said. The Browns, who completed a trade with the Houston Texans for Watson this offseason, have their first full practice involving veteran players scheduled for July 27.

See here for some background, which covers the reasons for why the NFL is asking for such a long suspension, and why the NFLPA disagrees so completely. I’m as pro-labor as you’ll find in these matters, but I’m fine with Watson being made to sit for a year or more – let’s not forget, he’ll mostly be paid for all that time thanks to the terms of the contract he signed with Cleveland – if only because of the magnitude of the offenses. If there’s some mitigating factor that we the public don’t currently know, then fine. Maybe the terms of the 20 settled lawsuits are available to Judge Robinson. Maybe the NFLPA’s argument that the NFL has let owners like Daniel Snyder totally skate on egregious sexual misconduct charges, as Defector’s Ray Ratto notes, will carry some weight. Whatever the case, we’ll know exactly what the NFL is asking for tomorrow, and we’ll have the judge’s answer in a couple of weeks. ESPN and Sean Pendergast, who notes that Watson appears to have been trying to negotiate a settlement with the NFL over his forthcoming sentence, have more.

Roe v Wade

You don’t need me to tell you what happened yesterday, or what is likely to come. Abortion is still technically legal for another 29 days in Texas, when the trigger law kicks in, but many clinics have already stopped providing abortions because they don’t want to get tangled up in another legal fight that they fear they’ll lose. Local district attorneys will have to handle things from there, though as I said before, if there’s even a hint that local prosecutors and/or police departments are dragging their heels, the enforcement power will be shifted to the state (or to the rabid prosecutors in other counties) so fast it will make you dizzy.

That’s only as long as the Republicans have the power to do that, of course. Governor Beto O’Rourke would be able to veto bills that tried to make that happen, while Attorney General Rochelle Garza would not act as the backup prosecutor if it came to that. We at least have the power to make those things happen. You’re mad now, as you should be. This is where to channel that. It’s our best hope.

Uvalde versus DPS

Someone’s not happy.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin on Tuesday accused state authorities of selectively releasing information about last month’s school shooting to scapegoat local law enforcement and intentionally leaving out details about the state’s response to the massacre.

New details emerged this week about the timeline of the shooting based on surveillance video from the school’s hallways and a transcript of officers’ body cameras. The records show that officers might not have attempted to open the doors of the classrooms where the gunman had holed up with victims. During a state Senate committee held earlier Tuesday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told lawmakers that law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school shooting was an “abject failure.”

McLaughlin lambasted McCraw for what he described as a selective release of information about the investigation, focusing on blaming local law enforcement and leaving out the role of McCraw’s agency during the shooting.

“McCraw has continued to, whether you want to call it, lie, leak … mislead or misstate information in order to distance his own troopers and rangers from the response,” McLaughlin said Tuesday evening.

McLaughlin said none of the entities with information about the investigation into the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School — DPS, the Texas Legislature, the Uvalde County District Attorney’s office and the FBI — have briefed Uvalde city officials about their findings.

McLaughlin said he had been asked to refrain from sharing details about the investigation while it was ongoing but said Tuesday he would now start releasing that information as it became available to city officials.

“The gloves are off. If we know it, we will share it,” he said.

McLaughlin’s comments at a special City Council meeting seemed to contradict a press release issued just hours before, in which the mayor had said city officials would refrain from commenting on the investigation “or reacting to every story attributed to unnamed sources or sources close to the investigation.”

I mean, Steve McCraw put all the blame on Pete Arredondo, so it’s not a big surprise that Uvalde’s mayor didn’t care for that. As a reminder, McLaughlin is the guy who got all mad at Beto O’Rourke when O’Rourke interrupted Greg Abbott’s press conference – you know, the one he held just before he headed out for a big fundraiser – to demand that Abbott do something in response to the massacre. This was back when Abbott and DPS were praising Arredondo and Uvalde police for their response, which is to say, back before any of the truth started coming out. McCraw, meanwhile, is a longtime hatchet man for Abbott and Rick Perry before him, and deserves exactly zero benefit of the doubt. This is a fight where you can root for both sides to lose with a clear conscience.

The real issue here is the coordinated resistance to releasing data about the police response to the mass shooting. This is the appropriate response to that.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, is suing the Texas Department of Public Safety over records related to the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary last month.

“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” Gutierrez said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

State and local Uvalde officials have fought the release of records that could provide clarity around the botched emergency response to the shooting that killed 19 children and two educators. Law enforcement responding to the shooting waited more than an hour on the scene before breaking into the classroom to kill the shooter.

Gutierrez said he filed an open records request on May 31 for documentation about police presence and ballistics at the shooting, and he still has not received a response. Per state law, DPS had 10 business days to either respond or make a case to the attorney general.

[…

Abbott’s office on Tuesday said all information related to the shooting has been shared with the public or is in the expedited process of being released. Full results of the ongoing investigation by the Texas Rangers and the FBI will also be made public, according to the governor’s office.

That same day, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said city officials have been left out of briefings related to the investigation from entities, such as DPS, the Texas Legislature, the Uvalde County District Attorney’s office and the FBI.

Sen. Gutierrez’s press release is here and a copy of the lawsuit is here. I cannot wait to see what response the defendants make to this. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police Chief Pete Arredondo has been placed on administrative leave by the district.

Where are we with the Paxton whistleblower lawsuit?

We are in the familiar position of waiting for the drawn-out appeals process to conclude. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.

Best mugshot ever

The appeals process has grown a bit longer in state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to dismiss a whistleblower lawsuit by four top agency officials who claim they were improperly fired in 2020 after accusing him of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

Paxton turned to the Texas Supreme Court 7½ months ago after two lower courts rejected his bids to toss out the lawsuit.

Last month, the Supreme Court told Paxton and the whistleblowers to provide justices with a deeper dive into the legal issues involved, kicking off a second round of legal briefing that was recently extended when the court granted Paxton’s request for an extra month to file his expanded brief.

Paxton’s brief is now due July 27, and although the court told Paxton that additional extensions aren’t likely to be granted, the move means the final brief isn’t due until Aug. 31 at the earliest.

That moves the case into election season as Paxton seeks a third four-year term against a Democrat, Rochelle Garza, who has made questioning Paxton’s ethics a campaign centerpiece. Three opponents tried the same tactic against Paxton in this year’s GOP primaries without success.

The timing also puts the case close to the two-year anniversary of when eight top officials of the attorney general’s office met with FBI agents and other investigators to relate their suspicions that Paxton had misused the powers of his office to help a friend and political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.

See here and here for the most recent updates. Paxton’s argument is that as an elected rather than appointed official, he doesn’t count as a “public official” under the Texas Whistleblower Act, so the employees who fired him have no grounds to sue. He has other arguments, but that’s the main thing that will be of interest to the Supreme Court. I’m sure you can surmise what I think, but if you want to dig deeper you can click the Texas Whistleblower Act tag link and review other posts in this genre.

Just as a reminder, we are also waiting for the FBI to take some kind of action in their investigation of the Ken Paxton-Nate Paul dealings, the State Bar complaint against Paxton for his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election should have a hearing sometime later this summer, and of course there’s the granddaddy of them all, the original state charges that Paxton engaged in securities fraud, which are now eight years old. He’s sure been a busy boy, hasn’t he?

Watson settles 20 of the lawsuits against him

Interesting.

A lawyer for several women who accused Deshaun Watson of inappropriate sexual behavior during massage sessions has said that 20 settlement agreements with the former Texans athlete have been reached.

Tony Buzbee, lawyer for women in 24 cases, said Tuesday that the accusers accepted confidential settlements in connection to the lawsuits, most of which were filed in 2021 and onward.

Buzbee cited Ashley Solis’ complaint as instrumental in the legal battle. He noted that her case is among those that have not reached a settlement.

“The truth is, without her courage and willingness to come forward, the NFL wouldn’t currently be contemplating discipline; there would be no examination of how teams might knowingly or unknowingly enable certain behavior; sports teams wouldn’t be reviewing their personnel screening processes; and this important story wouldn’t have dominated the sports headlines for more than a year,” Buzbee said.

The terms of the settlements were not disclosed. Records in the Harris County District Clerk’s Office did not immediately reflect the settlements.

It should be noted that Watson nearly came to a settlement agreement with all then-22 plaintiffs last November, as part of an effort to enable a trade to Miami. As such, the possibility of a settlement with most if not all of his accusers was always there. The timing is notable, though if this batch of agreements was finished in an attempt to mitigate the forthcoming suspension Watson will receive from the NFL, it seems that won’t matter. Per ESPN, an NFL spokesperson has said “today’s development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.” Which is to say, whatever discipline Watson was in line to get on Monday, he’s still in line to get it. But at least from his perspective he’s maybe reducing the risk of further exposure. Maybe. Sean Pendergast has more.

Fifth Circuit upholds dismissal of Methodist vaccine mandate lawsuit

Good.

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging Houston Methodist’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which last year thrust the hospital into the national spotlight as the first healthcare system in the U.S. to require the shots for its employees.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 117 Houston Methodist employees who refused to abide by the policy, was dismissed in June 2021 by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, who at the time decried arguments comparing the requirement to those made under Nazi Germany.

In its opinion, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said it affirmed the original ruling “because plaintiffs do not demonstrate any error in the district court’s judgment on the arguments made in that court but instead make an entirely new argument on appeal.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Jared Woodfill, said “this battle is far from over.”

“We believe employment should not be conditioned on your willingness to take an experimental shot,” he said in an email to the Chronicle. “During oral argument, the court indicated that one way to potentially address this case of first impression is to take it back to state court. We will pursue every legal avenue available to our clients, including taking this case to the United States Supreme Court.”

Woodfill added that a “companion case” has been filed in Harris County, though records of that lawsuit could not be found by press time.

[…]

The lawsuit brought three separate claims of wrongful termination, alleging violations of state and federal law. In their appeal, the plaintiffs “pivoted” from focusing on the federal law violations to state law, the appeals court notes in its opinion.

The plaintiffs “now even equivocate on whether federal law supports their claim,” according to the opinion. “Federal law does not, and the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiffs’ claim.”

See here for the previous update. As noted at the time, Texas state law isn’t exactly employee-friendly, so the odds of a better result for the vaccine refuseniks seems quite low. But hey, they have Jared Woodfill, Super Genius, on their side. What could possibly go wrong?

“Significant” suspension expected for Deshaun Watson

I should think so.

The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the case said Friday.

The league “probably” will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be “careful” about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: “Significant would be the proper term.”

[…]

Under a process that was revised in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial ruling on a prospective suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., after retiring from the bench in 2017.

The case would be finished, with no appeals possible, if Robinson rules that there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If she rules that there was a violation of the policy and imposes a penalty, either side could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA pushed for revisions to the personal conduct policy in the CBA after clashes, some of which spilled into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for making both the initial disciplinary ruling and resolving appeals.

It’s not clear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before making her decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and union.

The NFL’s investigation has been conducted by Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who is the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed relevant available documents. The NFL’s representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

[…]

The league has made a presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That led those on Watson’s side of the case to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s not clear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will serve as a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the league’s view said in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of the Bauer suspension could affect the public’s expectations and reaction in the Watson case, that person said.

Outside NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler has become involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s view said the league is wary that Kessler will argue for no disciplinary action at all.

Kessler declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the lack of criminal charges, although the NFL’s policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were not suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. That was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the case after first being reported by Pro Football Talk.

I think one year is the minimum. The charges against Watson are considerably greater than those against Bauer, and as such I wouldn’t mind seeing him get two years as his punishment. Maybe Robinson or Friel found Watson’s accusers to be not fully credible, or maybe the NFLPA’s argument about the lack of punishment for these miscreant owners will hold some sway, I don’t know. I just don’t have any sympathy for either Watson or the Browns. Whatever the case, the expectation is that there will be an answer by the start of NFL training camp, which is to say by late July.

Harris County GOP drops its lawsuit over election night vote dropoffs

It wasn’t getting anywhere, anyway.

The Harris County GOP on Friday dropped its lawsuit, filed on the day of last month’s primary runoff election, challenging the county’s plan for counting ballots.

Local Republican party officials argued the county’s ballot transport protocol violated state election law. The lawsuit, filed just hours before polls closed on Election Day, could have caused serious delays in counting ballots on May 24 had the Texas Supreme Court agreed with the Harris County GOP that the plan was unlawful. Instead, the court did not issue an opinion and election night ballot counting proceeded uneventfully at NRG Arena.

[…]

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s office debuted the plan in the May 7 election — deputizing law enforcement officials and full-time county staffers to deliver ballots from the polling location to the county’s central counting station.

Traditionally, the responsibility of transporting the ballots to the counting station on election night has fallen to election judges, the final task at the end of their 15-hour day. An election judge is the person in charge of running a voting location. In a primary election, each polling location has one judge from each party overseeing their own party’s voting process.

The Harris County GOP pushed back on the county’s plan, arguing only election judges are allowed to transport ballots and instructing Republican election judges to drive ballots themselves. The Election Administrator’s office notified Republican election judges they could “opt in” to the county’s plan if they wished, and at least 31 of them did so.

At a May 11 hearing with the state House Elections Committee, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria argued the county’s ballot delivery plan utilizing law enforcement officers and deputized staffers is in compliance with Texas law.

Keith Ingram, the secretary of state’s director of elections, told lawmakers in the hearing he disagreed with that interpretation and believed Harris County’s plan violated the law.

See here for the background. As noted recently, the Supreme Court never responded to the initial writ, so I assume this was just a matter of the local GOP deciding it wasn’t worth the effort to continue. With a new election administrator about to come on board, we can revisit the matter and see if there’s a consensus to be had. From what I’ve gathered from talking to people, the multiple-dropoff-locations idea, which had been Diane Trautman’s original plan, is probably the best way to go. But we’ll see what happens.

Would you believe there’s still Renew Houston litigation out there?

This hit my mailbox on Friday.

Today, the Supreme Court of Texas ruled in the City’s favor in Perez v. Turner, a challenge to Houston’s drainage fee, which provides the City with $125 million per year to pay for drainage infrastructure projects.

The Court found that plaintiff’s challenges failed because of Houston’s authority as a home – rule city to enact a drainage program.

“The City remains committed to protecting its citizens and their homes from flooding. The City’s continued ability to charge a drainage fee will allow it to do so in a fiscally responsible way and undertake essential drainage projects now and in the future,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

What the heck? Off to the Supreme Court website I scurry, and I find this.

Plaintiff Elizabeth Perez filed this case in 2015 challenging the City of Houston’s assessment, collection, and expenditure of a “drainage fee.” Perez alleged that the ordinance authorizing the drainage fee was invalid because the ordinance was premised on a faulty amendment to the city charter. She sought a variety of relief for herself and a class of similarly situated taxpayers, including a declaration of the drainage fee ordinance’s invalidity, an injunction against the City’s collection of drainage fees, and reimbursement of drainage fees already paid.

The nature of this case changed dramatically in November 2018, while the case was on appeal. The City passed a new charter amendment curing many of the defects Perez alleged in the drainage fee ordinance. Although the parties’ briefing is less than clear about the effect on this case of the 2018 charter amendment, Perez conceded at oral argument that the passage of the new charter amendment significantly truncated her original claims. As we construe what remains of this case after the November 2018 amendment, Perez has two ongoing claims—one for reimbursement of the drainage fees she paid prior to 2018, and one for a narrow prospective injunction against the future expenditure of fees collected prior to 2018. As explained below, we affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of these claims, but we remand the case to the district court to allow Perez to replead in light of intervening events.

What follows was a longish and very technical opinion that my non-layer brain could not quite wade through. I remember the re-vote on Renew Houston in 2018, which became a likelihood after SCOTx ruled in 2015 that the original 2010 ballot language “obscured the nature and cost of the drainage fee”. The case was sent back to the district court, which then voided the referendum. The re-vote was subsequently held to address those issues. One of the original plaintiffs filed another lawsuit after that 2015 ruling to get back the money she had paid in drainage fees and to compel the city to refund anything they had previously spent from ReBuild; this ruling was an outgrowth of that later litigation, which I either didn’t notice at the time or didn’t follow. I think the bottom line at this point is that it’s very unlikely that any new challenges to Renew/ReBuild Houston will succeed, but the plaintiff is welcome to try her luck again in the district court, and maybe in another five years or so we’ll get a final ruling on that.

Too much Deshaun Watson news

The lawsuit counter ticks up again.

The official number of lawsuits pending against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will indeed increase to 26.

Attorney Tony Buzbee tells Josh Voight of WEWS in Cleveland that two more women will be suing Watson.

Buzbee said that one of the plaintiffs came to him via a referral from a lawyer in Atlanta. The other plaintiff saw last month’s feature regarding the allegations on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

So how many more will there be? Last week, Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times reported that Watson got massages from at least 66 women in a 17-month period. The 24th lawsuit against Watson, filed last week, contends that Watson received more than 100 massages from “random strangers” he found on Instagram.

Seems to me we can’t answer that question just yet. Not until we know what the total number of women who could plausibly sue him is. And that number, no one (except maybe Watson himself) has any idea what it is.

Speaking of which, Watson could certainly do more to make this all stop, if he wanted to.

“I just want to clear my name,” Watson said, explaining that he wants to let the facts come out in a court of law. This means that, for now, he intends to keep fighting these cases. All of them. The 24 already filed. The two more to come. And any others that may eventually be filed.

The process will take time. None of the cases will go to trial until after March 1, 2023. And, without settlements, 26 trials will take a lot of time. The cases likely will linger into 2024. Depending on the final number of cases filed, the trials might not end until 2025.

Watson also was asked about the contention (not a report, but a contention) from one of the lawsuits that he offered $100,000 to each of the plaintiffs last year.

“There was a process that was going on back in November with another organization,” Watson said, without specifically addressing whether settlement offers were made to resolve the cases so that he could be traded to Miami. However, his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, already has said publicly that the Dolphins wanted the cases to be resolved before a trade would happen, and that an effort was made to do so.

Watson was asked whether he stands by his statement from March that he has “no regrets” about what happened.

“I think that question kind of triggered a lot of people,” Watson said, explaining that he was saying he never assaulted, disrespected, or harassed anyone. He acknowledged that he does regret the impact of the existence of the various cases has had on “many” people.

And what of the report from the New York Times that Watson received massages from at least 66 women in a 17-month period? Is that number accurate?

“I don’t think so,” Watson said, before deferring to his lawyers.

I don’t know what happened between Deshaun Watson and all these women. I do know that it’s impossible to believe that nothing untoward happened.

At some point, the NFL needs to decide what it believes.

Last month, Deshaun Watson‘s lawyer said they expect to hear something from the NFL in June. As of tomorrow, June is already halfway over. And there’s no indication that the league is ready to do anything.

Then again, there rarely is any such indication of what the league will do, until the league does it. If the league will be trying to suspend Watson without pay to start the 2022 season, time is of the essence.

Remember, it’s a three-step process. First, the league office proposes discipline. Second, the Disciplinary Office (retired judge Sue L. Robinson) evaluates the case, conducts a hearing (if she deems it necessary), and makes a decision. Third, unless Judge Robinson decides to impose no discipline at all (which would end the process), the Commissioner handles the appeal. His decision is final.

It will take time for the second and third steps. At the latest, it needs to be resolved before Week One. Ideally, the Browns will have an answer before the start of training camp. (Then again, the Browns can’t complain about the current uncertainty; they made this bed.)

With two more lawsuits to be filed, pushing the total to 26, and with no indication as to what the final tally will be, it’s making more and more sense for the NFL to press pause on Watson’s career via paid leave, letting him focus on putting these 26 cases (and counting) behind him for good.

That is a thing the league could do. I’m sure the league would like to see these stories end.

I will say again: The longer this goes on, the worse it looks.

A Houston police detective testified this week that she believed Deshaun Watson committed crimes after investigating 10 criminal complaints against him, according to a pretrial deposition transcript obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

The detective, Kamesha Baker, said she expressed her opinion to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. But she wasn’t called to testify before the grand jury in Harris County, Texas, and doesn’t know why the grand jury didn’t indict the Cleveland Browns quarterback on criminal charges. She said she believed Watson committed criminal indecent assault, sexual assault and prostitution in cases where money was exchanged and there was consensual sex.

“Did you feel confident that you had the evidence needed to pursue those charges?” Baker was asked in the deposition.

“Yes,” Baker said.

“And was there any doubt in your mind as the investigating officer that a crime had occurred?”

“No,” Baker said.

Baker testified in a pretrial deposition for the civil litigation against Watson in Houston, where he has been sued by 24 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. Eight of those women also filed complaints with Houston police about Watson’s conduct, in addition to two other women who filed police complaints who have not sued Watson in civil court.

That one of the detectives involved believed this is perhaps not surprising. It doesn’t mean it’s true. The point is, there is still a lot we the public don’t know about these cases. And like I said, the more we find out, the worse it all looks. Sean Pendergast has more.

Two redistricting lawsuit updates

Legislators involved in the most recent redistricting effort can be made to sit for depositions.

The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to block the deposition of Texas lawmakers in redistricting suits.

Mum as to whether there were any dissents, the order from the justices keeps in place a lower court ruling that will force Republican lawmakers to appear for depositions in suits claiming that Texas’ redistricting plans are discriminatory. Per their custom, the justices also did not offer any explanation for their ruling.

The United States subpoenaed three Texas lawmakers at the beginning of the month to testify in a challenge to the state’s 2021 congressional and state House redistricting plans. The Department of Justice and voting rights groups claim the new maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by intentionally discriminating against minority voters in West Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Representatives Ryan Guillen, Brooks Landgraf and John Lujan tried to limit their testimony to matters in the public record, but a federal judge denied their motion and their attempt to block the testimony altogether. Likewise the Fifth Circuit refused to enter a stay pending appeal that would block their testimony.

In their application to the high court, Texas lawmakers claim they have the privilege and immunity to avoid testifying in the suits.

“The legislators’ depositions will probe the very innerworkings of the legislative process, examining the legislators’ thoughts, impressions, and motivations for their legislative acts,” wrote Taylor A.R. Meehan, an attorney with Consovoy McCarthy representing the lawmakers.

He also warned that lawmakers would have to answer questions in full the “proverbial ‘cat is out of the bag.’ And the twin safeguards of legislative immunity and privilege — older than the country itself — are no safeguards at all.”

The Justice Department said the depositions were routine.

“Courts, including this Court, often rely on such testimony both in assessing the motive and justification for districting choices and in considering the ‘totality of circumstances’ relevant to minority voters’ electoral opportunities, as the VRA directs,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the government’s opposition brief.

The government notes that Lujan has a particularly weak claim to legislative privilege since he was not in the Legislature when the redistricting plans were passed.

“Representative John Lujan, does not have even an arguable claim of legislative privilege with respect to the challenged districting plans because he was not in the legislature when the plans were passed — a critical fact that applicants do not mention,” Prelogar wrote.

This is from the LULAC lawsuit, which is now consolidated with most of the other federal lawsuits. The order is from a couple of weeks ago, as the depositions were set to begin the week of May 24. SCOTUS just never took up the defendants’ motion, so they did not get an order to protect them from being deposed. This is not going to change the overall trajectory of the litigation, but it ought to lead to some interesting facts for the eventual hearings. Lujan as noted was not a legislator when the maps were passed in the special session, so who knows what he thinks he has to keep quiet about, while Guillen was still a Democrat when this was all happening. Should make for some fun questions, if nothing else.

The other federal lawsuit, which was not combined with the LULAC et al complaint, is the one filed by the Justice Department. That one survived a motion to dismiss:

A federal judge has ruled that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland can proceed with voting and civil rights claims against Texas over a state law passed last year to address purported voter fraud.

State officials had asked U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez to dismiss the case, arguing that federal officials did not have standing to sue them. They argued that local election officials — not state ones — were charged with implementing the new law.

The George W. Bush appointee disagreed in an order Tuesday, finding the U.S. attorney general has “broad constitutional power to protect the right to vote” and is “congressionally authorized” to go after voting rights violations.

The federal government had a “significant stake” in protecting “the general welfare of its citizenry,” Rodriguez wrote. He found the U.S. government had plausibly alleged that Texas law would “disenfranchise eligible Texas citizens who seek to exercise their vote,” including those with disabilities, limited knowledge of English and “members of the military deployed away from home.”

[…]

In November, the U.S. attorney general’s office intervened, expressing an interest the [LULAC et al consolidated] case and urging Rodriguez not to dismiss the claims. Voting lawsuits brought by private groups were necessary, the filing argued, due to the “limited federal resources available for Voting Rights Act enforcement” and because states with histories of voter restrictions no longer had to seek federal preclearance for voting changes following the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Later that month, the AG’s office also filed suit against the Lone Star State. In a strongly worded complaint, federal officials argued that Texas already had some of the “strictest [voting] limitations in the nation” and that SB1 would “impermissibly” restrict and disenfranchise voters.

Texas’s “history of official voting-related discrimination against its disfavored citizens is longstanding and well-documented,” the complaint said. “Federal intervention has been necessary to eliminate numerous devices intentionally used to restrict minority voting in Texas.”

This lengthy and complex legal battle, involving a variety of parties, led up to Tuesday’s order. Over the months, Texas officials have tried numerous avenues to dismiss the case.

Among other things, state officials zeroed in on the state’s new voter ID and mail-in ballot requirements. Because the state allows voters to “cure” their ballots, they argued, the law did not deny the right to vote.

Rodriguez rejected this argument and others, writing that a voter’s opportunity to cure their ballot “does not necessarily mean” that SB 1 did not violate the Civil Rights Act. The law does not allow state officials to “initially deny the right to vote…as long as they institute cure processes,” he wrote. Instead, it bars these actions altogether.

He also found that, while local elections officials may be in charge of implementing the law, SB 1 was in fact “traceable” to state officials, and therefore they could be sued. Since the law has so far been in effect for the state’s primary elections, the U.S. government had also alleged an injury, he found.

Rather than issuing an injunction preventing enforcement of parts of SB 1, Rodriguez’s order instead simply allows the U.S. government to continue with its lawsuit. It remains to be seen how the case will play out, including whether controversial aspects of SB 1 will remain in effect for the 2022 midterm elections later this year.

There’s a long road ahead for this litigation, and at the end awaits a US Supreme Court that is extremely hostile to voting rights. But you have to start somewhere, and who knows, maybe the landscape will change by that time.

SCOTx answers the Fifth Circuit’s questions

Some late-breaking SB1 lawsuit news.

The Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday on the term “solicit” as it pertains to the state’s new election code.

[…]

Of three main issues, one raised several questions pertaining to the definition of “solicit.” The questions arose after the plaintiff, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, argued the vagueness of the term. In one argument, Longoria’s attorneys requested that the term “solicit” be tethered only to vote-by-mail applications sent to those ineligible voters.

State justices rejected that request.

“The statute does not prohibit solicitation merely of those ineligible to vote by mail. Its text leaves no doubt that the prohibition extends more broadly to the larger universe of persons who ‘did not request an application,’” the opinion read.

In a second request, Longoria’s team argued that “solicitation” in its broad definition could include terms that are less forceful in nature, including “encourage” or “request.

The defendant, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s team, said it defined “solicit” as beyond encouragement, but more so “importuning or strongly urging.” Paxton said that stating “please fill out this application to vote by mail” would constitute solicitation.

While justices refrained from defining “solicit,” stating they were not requested to, they agreed with Paxton that “solicit” is not limited to demands that a person submit an application to vote by mail, but includes statements such as “please fill out this application to vote by mail.”

But justices did find that telling potential voters they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots does not constitute solicitation.

“The Legislature intended to distinguish between merely informing Texans of the option to vote by mail and soliciting them to submit an application to vote by mail when they have not requested one,” the opinion read. “Without expressing an opinion as to any particular statement plaintiffs may wish to make, we conclude that (the law) does not include broad statements such as telling potential voters that they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the opinion. As noted in the previous update, by this time both sides had agreed that Volunteer Deputy Registrars (VDRs) were not public officials and (I presume) not covered by SB1, and that the Attorney General did not have enforcement power for SB1 (not clear to me if District Attorneys might, however). I expect this means that the Fifth Circuit will rule that plaintiff Cathy Morgan, who is a VDR, has no standing to sue.

On the three-part question that SCOTx did have to answer, my reading is that under SB1 it would be illegal for a county elections administrator to pre-emptively send a vote by mail application to everyone who is eligible to vote by mail, as Chris Hollins did in 2020. Such applications can only be sent to people who ask for them. Providing general information about the vote by mail process, including how to apply, would not be barred. I still think the whole thing is a ridiculous over-reaction to what Hollins did in 2020, and that we should be making it easier to vote by mail in general, but all things considered, compared to where we were before SB1, this isn’t a major setback.

It should be noted that there’s still a lot of room for future disputes here, which likely will remain the case even after a final ruling in this lawsuit. From the opinion, on the matter of the definition of the word “solicit”:

The Fifth Circuit next asks whether “solicits” is “limited to demanding submission of an application for mail-in ballots (whether or not the applicant qualifies).” 2022 WL 832239, at *6. Plaintiffs suggest that the ordinary meaning of “solicit” includes speech that lacks the insistence normally associated with a demand. According to Plaintiffs, the term’s ordinary meaning includes speech that is far less forceful. Indeed, under their view, solicitation includes all the following: “requesting, urging, encouraging, seeking, imploring, or inducing.”

Paxton argues that the Legislature could not have intended to sweep so broadly. He argues, for example, that “solicits” cannot include mere encouragement of an action because the Legislature has used both “solicits” and “encourages” in many statutes, indicating that they have different meanings. See, e.g., TEX. EDUC. CODE § 37.152(a) (“A person commits an offense if the person . . . solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid another in engaging in hazing . . . .”); TEX. PENAL CODE § 7.02(a)(2) (holding a person criminally responsible for another’s offense if the person “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense”); cf. TEX. ELEC. CODE § 13.031(a) (stating that the purpose of appointing VDRs is “[t]o encourage voter registration”). Paxton urges us to define “solicits” to exclude mere encouragement and to require “importuning or strongly urging.” But Paxton also concedes that stating “please fill out this application to vote by mail” would constitute solicitation.

Whether a particular statement constitutes solicitation for purposes of Section 276.016(a)(1) will, of course, be informed by the precise words spoken and by surrounding context. We therefore do not endeavor to articulate today a comprehensive definition of “solicits” as the term is used in Section 276.016(a)(1). Nor do we express an opinion as to whether any of the general categories of statements Plaintiffs say they wish to make constitutes solicitation. We will leave for another case, with a more developed record, the task of defining the term’s outer reach. For today, we believe it is sufficient to hold that, for purposes of Section 276.016(a)(1), “solicits” is not limited to demands that a person submit an application to vote by mail. As Paxton acknowledges, “solicits” includes statements that fall short of a demand, such as “please fill out this application to vote by mail.”

So Isabel Longoria is arguing that SB1 is super-restrictive on this point, while Ken Paxton is saying, nah, not really. The Court is saying they don’t want to get involved just yet, better to see what happens in the real world rather than rule on hypotheticals, and work with a more complete set of facts. If the parties’ arguments seem backwards to you, the Court addressed that in a footnote:

In a criminal prosecution (or civil-enforcement action), one ordinarily might expect the government to take a broad view of the statute’s application and the defendant to take a narrow view. But to establish (or defeat) a plaintiff’s standing in a pre-enforcement challenge, the plaintiff has an incentive to argue that the statute does apply to her, while the government has an incentive to argue it does not. The unusual dynamic present here contributes to our reluctance to make wide-ranging proclamations on the issues of state law presented.

In other words, at this point in time before the law has really been applied to anyone, the plaintiffs want the Court to believe that the law is vast and (they claim) over-reaching and must be struck down, while the defense wants the Court to think that the law is more modest and thus not a threat to anyone’s Constitutional liberties. Needless to say, when the law is eventually enforced by someone, those arguments will be reversed.

So it’s now back to the Fifth Circuit. I wish there had been more coverage of this – I grant, the opinion dropped on Friday afternoon and some people have lives – but so far all I’ve seen is this story from a site in Greenville (?) and one from a partisan site; I also found paywalled stories at Law.com and Bloomberg Law, but couldn’t read them. Maybe next week one of the regulars will have something, which I hope will include a bit of analysis from someone with actual law knowledge. Until then, this is what I think I know.

Running the Sandy Hook playbook against the Uvalde gun manufacturer

I sincerely hope it works.

Will the attorney who won a $73 million settlement from Remington for nine Sandy Hook families use the same playbook in his legal dealings with the company that made the AR-15-style rifle used in the Texas massacre last month?

Yes and no.

“Of course you look at the precedent, but in any complicated case as grievous and shattering as this, you have to keep your toolkit wide open and look at everything,” said Josh Koskoff, a Bridgeport attorney who last week made national news by calling on rifle maker Daniel Defense to provide “information about its marketing, especially to teens and children” and about the gun company’s communications with the Uvalde shooter. “The Sandy Hook playbook is part of it, but you don’t want to start out with tunnel vision because you can miss what’s right in front of you.”

[…]

Koskoff and a team of Texas lawyers who are representing the parents of a slain Uvalde fourth-grade girl in many ways drew the battle lines last week for a legal fight with Georgia-based Daniel Defense. The parents’ lawyers called on the company to turn over information “relevant to your marketing of AR-15 style rifles to teens and children; to your incitement and encouragement of the assaultive use of these weapons; to your on-line purchase system; and to your communications, on any platform, with the Uvalde shooter; and to your awareness of the prior use of AR-15 style rifles in mass shootings.”

Those fighting words, released to the press, produced scores of headlines across the country that the lawyer who won the historic settlement in Connecticut with the one-time gun-making giant Remington was following the same battle plan in Texas on behalf of grieving parents.

Koskoff cautioned on Tuesday that he was not rushing with a predetermined mindset into anything.

“No matter how a case appears from the outside, you don’t bring a lawsuit until you have as much information as you can get to build the case,” Koskoff said.

In Connecticut, where nine families sued Remington for unlawful marketing of the AR-15-style rifle used in the Sandy Hook massacre, Koskoff attorneys were seeking Remington’s internal marketing documents right up to February, when the defunct manufacturer’s four insurance companies offered to the families all they had left after two Remington bankruptcies — $73 million.

In Texas, Koskoff’s June 3 letter to Daniel Defense served as a legal warning for the company to preserve data and records of “all potentially relevant information” regarding advertising, market studies, and purchase records, as well a legal request for the company to turn over marketing materials to the lawyer team representing the parents of the slain girl.

“We ask you to begin providing information to us now, rather than force (the parents) to file a lawsuit to obtain it,” the letter read.

See here for the background. My best guess is that Daniel Defense will do as little as possible to actually cooperate, though they will claim that they are. I don’t see any way that this doesn’t become contentious, and honestly that’s fine by me. Let’s have a big fight over this, which one hopes culminates in a judgment against or settlement with the manufacturer. There needs to be accountability, and that includes them.

Restraining order given in latest lawsuit to stop DFPS investigations

Good.

An Austin judge has temporarily stopped the state from investigating many parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. The state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against one family under investigation, but at least eight more cases remain open.

Travis County District Judge Jan Soifer issued a temporary restraining order Friday in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three families and members of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group that claims more than 600 members in Texas.

Brian K. Bond, executive director of PFLAG National, applauded the decision to stop what he called “invasive, unnecessary and unnerving investigations.”

“However, let’s be clear: These investigations into loving and affirming families shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” Bond said in a statement.

[…]

This new lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, seeks to block investigations into all parents of transgender children who belong to PFLAG.

During Friday’s hearing, Lambda Legal’s Paul Castillo revealed that the state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against Amber and Adam Briggle, who were under investigation for providing gender-affirming care to their 14-year-old son.

The Briggle family, outspoken advocates for transgender rights, once invited Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton over for dinner. Five years later, they ended up at the center of a child abuse investigation that stemmed, in part, from a nonbinding legal opinion that Paxton issued in February.

While their case has been closed, many others remain ongoing. Castillo said one of the families involved in the lawsuit was visited by DFPS investigators Friday morning.

“I do want to highlight for the court that every plaintiff in this case has illustrated the stress and trauma of even the potential of having a child removed, merely based on the suspicion that the family has pursued the medically necessary course of care that is prescribed by their doctor for gender dysphoria,” Castillo said.

See here for the background, and here for an account from Lambda Legal. The investigation into the Briggle family had apparently been dropped before the hearing, but as noted the others were still active. The judge has directed the lawyers to schedule a hearing in the coming days, at which time we’ll see if the order gets extended. While DFPS had restarted investigations following the Supreme Court’s lifting of the statewide injunction, the investigation of the family from that original case is still paused, so most likely these families will get the same relief. It’s just a shame that they have to go to such lengths to get it.

I would encourage you to read this Twitter thread by DMN reporter Lauren McGaughy, who live-tweeted the hearing. It’s obvious from the way the state argued the case and responded to the judge’s questions that they know they’re on extremely shaky ground – they’re minimizing the Abbott/Paxton order at every turn, and just not engaging the questions as much as they can. That’s not a guarantee of success for these or other plaintiffs going forward, and the next Legislature could enshrine these orders as law if the Republicans remain in control, but it’s important to see the lack of faith in their own case. The Chron has more.

Texans to be added as defendants to some Watson lawsuits

On and on we go.

Attorney Tony Buzbee said Wednesday that he plans to add the Texans as defendants in some of the 24 civil lawsuits women have filed against Deshaun Watson.

Buzbee said the franchise facilitated the former quarterback’s massage sessions at a local hotel, enabled his pursuit of massages away from team facilities by providing equipment and a non-disclosure agreement and “knew or certainly should have known” about his alleged sexual misconduct.

Buzbee said he decided to add the Texans to some of the lawsuits after a deposition with Houston Police Department detective K. Dawn Baker, who helped present the special victim unit’s criminal case against Watson to the Harris County district attorney’s office. Court records show that Baker was interviewed at 1 p.m. on Tuesday at Buzbee’s office. Two grand juries — one in Harris County and one in Brazoria County — declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.

“What has become clear is that the Houston Texans organization and their contracting ‘massage therapy company’ facilitated Deshaun Watson’s conduct,” Buzbee said in a statement. “In many of these cases, the Texans provided the opportunity for this conduct to occur. We believe the Texans organization was well aware of Watson’s issues but failed to act. They knew or certainly should have known.”

Buzbee said the Texans provided rooms for Watson at The Houstonian Hotel for his massages. Three women who filed suit against Watson said massages occurred at the hotel. In one lawsuit, Watson informed one of the women he had a private suite where the session could take place.

Watson acknowledged the Texans arranged for him to have “a place” at the hotel, according to a deposition obtained in a New York Times report that said the franchise enabled their star quarterback’s behavior. Watson said his access to the property wasn’t under his name, according to the Times, and a woman who gave Watson a massage at the hotel said the room was registered to a member of the Texans’ training staff.

Buzbee said the Texans also provided massage tables, although the franchise had its own training resources, which supported Watson’s pursuit of massage therapy away from the team’s facilities. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, has attributed the quarterback’s frequent pursuit of independent appointments to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Times, Brent Naccara, a former Secret Service agent who is the Texans’ director of security, also gave Watson an NDA form after one of the women posted text messages, Watson’s phone number and his Cash App receipts on Instagram in early November 2020 along with the message, “I could really expose you.”

See here for the background. We’re still waiting for the NFL to decide what to do about Watson, and it seems to me that question needs to be expanded to include what to do about the Texans. I really wish I lived in a world where nobody acted like Deshaun Watson, and nobody acted to make life easier for people like Deshaun Watson. Sean Pendergast has more.

New lawsuit filed to stop DFPS “investigation” of trans kids and their families

From the inbox:

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU of Texas, along with Texas-based law firm Baker Botts LLP, today filed a new lawsuit in Texas state court on behalf of PFLAG National and three Texas families. The suit requests that the court block state investigations of PFLAG families in Texas who are supporting their transgender children with medically necessary health care.

The lawsuit names Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who issued a February directive stating that health care that is medically necessary for treating gender dysphoria should be considered a form of child abuse. The suit also names Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Commissioner Jaime Masters and DFPS as defendants.

“For nearly 50 years, PFLAG parents have united against government efforts to harm their LGBTQ+ kids. By going after trans kids and their families, Gov. Abbott has picked a fight with thousands of families in Texas and across the country who are united as members of PFLAG National,” said Brian K. Bond, Executive Director of PFLAG National. “Loving and affirming your child and empowering them to be themselves is the highest calling of any parent, no matter your child’s gender. If it takes a court ruling to ensure that the law protects families who lead with love in support of transgender Texans, so be it.”

PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQIA+ people, their parents and families, and allies. With a nationwide network of hundreds of chapters—including 17 in Texas—PFLAG National works with families, schools, and communities to build safety and support for transgender youth.

In an earlier lawsuit brought by the ACLU, Lambda Legal, ACLU of Texas, and Baker Botts, the Texas Supreme Court upheld part of an appeals court order preventing DFPS from investigating parents who work with medical professionals to provide their adolescent transgender children with medically necessary health care. That case, Doe v. Abbott, is still pending.

While the Texas Supreme Court emphasized that neither Attorney General Ken Paxton nor Governor Abbott have the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate the provision of essential and often lifesaving medical care for transgender youth as child abuse, the court limited the order blocking all investigations to the specific plaintiffs who filed suit.

“It is indefensible for any state leader to repeatedly attack trans Texans and weaponize the child welfare system against the loving families of transgender kids and teens.” said Adri Pérez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas. “We will continue to fight against these baseless attacks on our community. Transgender kids deserve to have life-saving gender-affirming care in Texas, so that they might live safely to grow up to be transgender adults. During this Pride Month, we must take a stand against government leaders that are hellbent on stoking fear, and trying to criminalize transgender young people and their families.”

“Notwithstanding the clear language in the recent Texas Supreme Court ruling that Attorney General Paxton and Gov. Abbott do not have the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate loving families who are providing medically necessary care for their transgender adolescents as child abuse, the agency seems determined to target these families and threaten to tear them apart,” Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Paul D. Castillo said. “With today’s filing, we are joining with PFLAG in working to protect all Texas families who simply want to make sure their children are safe, happy, and healthy. It is unconscionable that the state wants to interfere in that relationship.”

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit, filed on behalf of two anonymous families plus the Briggle family. With the resumption of these investigations by DFPS, this is the only way for these folks to protect themselves. Based on what has happened so far I would expect them to get their restraining orders, and after that we’ll have to see what happens with the original case and its eventual appeals. Until we can get a better government in place, I hope we see more of these lawsuits, enough to cover everyone who will need it. The Trib has more.

The NYT takes a closer look at the Deshaun Watson situation

It’s even worse than it looks.

It is time, Watson and his representatives say, for everyone to move on.

Yet a New York Times examination of records, including depositions and evidence for civil lawsuits as well as interviews of some of the women, showed that Watson engaged in more questionable behavior than previously known.

The Times’ review also showed that Watson’s conduct was enabled — knowingly or not — by the team he played for at the time, the Houston Texans, which provided the venue Watson used for some of the appointments. A team representative also furnished him with a nondisclosure agreement after a woman who is now suing him threatened online to expose his behavior.

Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lawyer, said his client “continues to vehemently deny” the allegations in the lawsuits. He declined to respond in detail to the Times’ questions, but said in a statement, “We can say when the real facts are known this issue will appear in a different light.”

The Texans did not respond to specific questions about Watson’s use of team resources. They said in a statement that they first learned of the allegations against him in March 2021, have cooperated with investigators and “will continue to do so.”

Watson has said publicly that he hired about 40 different therapists across his five seasons in Houston, but the Times’ reporting found that he booked appointments with at least 66 different women in just the 17 months from fall 2019 through spring 2021. A few of these additional women, speaking publicly for the first time, described experiences that undercut Watson’s insistence that he was only seeking professional massage therapy.

One woman, who did not sue Watson or complain to police, told the Times that he was persistent in his requests for sexual acts during their massage, including “begging” her to put her mouth on his penis.

“I specifically had to say, ‘No, I can’t do that,’” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her family’s privacy. “And that’s when I went into asking him, ‘What is it like being famous? Like, what’s going on? You’re about to mess up everything.’”

[…]

Since the first wave of suits were filed against Watson last year, the main allegations against him have become familiar. Women complained that Watson turned massages sexual without their consent, including purposely touching them with his penis and coercing sexual acts.

It’s not clear when he began looking for so many different women to give him massages. Hardin has said his client needed to book appointments “ad hoc” when the coronavirus pandemic began, though Watson began working with numerous women before then.

Not all of the women who gave Watson massages between October 2019 and March 2021 have detailed their interactions with him. Some who have shared their experiences say they had no problems with him. Others describe troubling — and similar — behaviors.

The 66 women are:

— The 24 who have sued him, including two who filed suits within the last week. In the most recent suit, the woman said Watson masturbated during the massage.

— A woman who sued but then withdrew the complaint because of “privacy and security concerns.”

— Two women who filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him.

— At least 15 therapists who issued statements of support for Watson at the request of his lawyers and gave him massages during that period.

— At least four therapists from Genuine Touch, the massage therapy group contracted with the Texans.

— Five women identified by the plaintiffs’ lawyers during the investigation for their civil suits.

— At least 15 other women whose appointments with Watson were confirmed through interviews and records reviewed by the Times.

A deeper look at the lawsuits, including a review of private messages entered as evidence, shows the lengthy efforts by Watson to book massages and the methods he used to assure women that he could be trusted.

It’s a long story and worth your time to read. Here’s a brief Twitter thread from the story’s author, if you need more of a preview. Remember that the NFL still has not said what its investigation has revealed or what its discipline for Watson will be, and please note as Sean Pendergast pointed out, there could still be more criminal charges against Watson, as the most recent accusers were not part of the original grand jury hearings. Every day this story gets worse, and we’re not finished with it yet. Defector has more.

Is he Elon Musk’s lawyer now?

Someone please explain this to me.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday he is investigating Twitter over its reporting of how many accounts on the platform are from bots and fake users, saying the company may be misrepresenting the number to inflate its value and raise its revenue.

Twitter has claimed in its financial regulatory filings that less than 5% of its daily active users are spam accounts. But Paxton on Monday alleged that spam accounts could make up as much as 20% of users or more.

“Bot accounts can not only reduce the quality of users’ experience on the platform but may also inflate the value of the company and the costs of doing business with it, thus directly harming Texas consumers and businesses,” Paxton said.

False reporting of fake users could be considered “false, misleading, or deceptive” under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, he said. Paxton sent Twitter a civil investigative demand, requiring the social media company to turn over documents related to how it calculates and manages its user data.

Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment on the investigation.

The investigation comes as Tesla CEO Elon Musk is also raising questions about the number of fake accounts on Twitter. Musk, who is in negotiations to buy the social media company, threatened to walk away from the deal saying that Twitter has not provided data he has requested on spam accounts.

I mean, I guess this could be a matter of interest for the state of Texas under its Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Hard for me to believe that it’s of such urgency right now as to merit action from the Attorney General – the question of how many fake Twitter accounts there are is as old as Twitter is – and of course the fact that it coincides with Elon Musk’s performance art bid to buy Twitter, which if there’s any justice in the world will cause him serious financial pain, makes it even less credible. But hey, surely we can take Ken Paxton’s word for it, right?

I do want to call your attention to the fact that what Paxton has actually done is to send Twitter a “civil investigative demand” for this info. Do you know what that means? Well, I now do, thanks to some research I did when a previous lawsuit filed by Twitter against Paxton, who had been demanding information about their ban of The Former Guy, was dismissed by a California judge. Paxton has made a similar “civil investigative demand”, and the judge ruled that Twitter had no cause to sue over this because a “civil investigative demand” is what the legal folks call “self-executing”, which is a fancy way of saying “completely voluntary”. Twitter was free to ignore the CID by Paxton, who would have had to sue them in federal court to enforce it, with Twitter then having the opportunity to argue that he had no jurisdiction over them in this matter.

That all sure sounds familiar here. If that’s the case – and Paxton clearly knows this – then what we have here is just a bit of trolling, plus some sucking up to another rich dude that Paxton likes. If you want to make the argument that this is a thing the state’s top lawyer ought to be doing, you go right ahead. Reform Austin has more.

Complaint #24 filed against Deshaun Watson

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

24th civil lawsuit was filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on Monday, as Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee referenced last week. The lawsuit details another woman’s account of Watson’s alleged predatory behavior during massage therapy sessions, which “mortified” the woman and resulted in her leaving her field.The woman chose to come forward after reading that Watson said he has no regrets and has done nothing wrong, the lawsuit says.

Watson, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March, has maintained his innocence and said during his initial press conference with his new team that he “never assaulted,” “never disrespected,” and “never harassed any woman in my life.”

The latest suit follows a 23rd that was filed Tuesday by a woman who also claimed Watson sexually assaulted her during three sessions in 2020 and claimed the owner of a Houston-area spa facilitated the massages for Watson, knew he was attempting to have sex with the therapists and that Watson paid the owner at least $5,000 for the work.

Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said that it was two of his lawyers who met with the woman, and they “vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved” in a meeting he described was “so congenial,” the woman joined the attorneys for dinner afterward.

Hardin also claimed that “happy endings” in massage therapy sessions are not a crime in a radio interview with Sports Radio 610 Friday, comments that were referenced in the most recent lawsuit.

[…]

Hardin told 610 hosts Seth Payne and Sean Pendergast that “doing something or saying something or being a way that makes you uncomfortable is not a crime, and so we’ve had two grand juries find that and nobody seems to want to listen.”

“I don’t know how many men are out there now that have had a massage that perhaps occasionally there was a happy ending,” Hardin said. “All right? Maybe there’s nobody in your listening audience that that never happened to. I do want to point out if it has happened, it’s not a crime. OK? Unless you are paying somebody extra or so to give you some type of sexual activity, it’s not a crime.”

Hardin issued a statement after the radio show appearance that clarified his defense that “Deshaun did not pay anyone for sex” and that he “was using the term hypothetically and not describing Deshaun’s case.”

“I have reiterated to others it’s not ok to do anything that a woman does not agree to do,” Hardin said in the statement. “These women have alleged assault in their pleadings. I was speaking in a hypothetical situation. If there is a consensual sexual encounter after a massage, that is not a crime nor the basis for a civil lawsuit. I was not talking about what Deshaun did or did not do or expected or did not expect.”

See here for the previous entry. Maybe ease up a bit on the media appearances, Rusty. As Sean Pendergast notes, those comments are part of this 24th suit against Watson. It’s impossible to read either of those stories and not just feel gross about the whole rancid situation. We’re still waiting to hear what action the NFL will take, by the way. I won’t be surprised if these latest complaints have given them some pause.

On a side note, this paywalled story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran in the print edition of the Chron on Tuesday. It connects the Watson situation with the Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL, for which the Texans are also named as defendants. Worth a read if you have access to either of those sources.

UPDATE: Just saw this big NYT piece about Watson and the many massage therapists. I’ll get to it tomorrow. And there’s more from Sean Pendergast that you need to read, too.

Radack drops his redistricting lawsuit

From the inbox:

Former Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit he filed against Harris County Commissioners Court alleging Commissioners Court violated the Open Meetings Act during county redistricting.

Below is a statement from Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee on the lawsuit:

“I’m glad this frivolous lawsuit was dismissed. The County ran a transparent, thorough redistricting process. My office will continue working with each of the Commissioners to ensure the transition process is as seamless as possible.”

The suit sought to have the new Commissioners Court map invalidated and alleged court members violated state law by not making the map public at least 72 hours prior to the meeting at which that map was approved.

As you may recall, first there was a lawsuit filed by Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey along with a couple of voters, which claimed that redrawing of Commissioners Court precincts was a voting rights violation because people who would have voted for Commissioner in 2022 would have to wait until 2024. It was dismissed by a Harris County civil district court judge on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have jurisdiction to sue. A subsequent writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court was denied mostly on procedural grounds, as there would be no time to take any action as the primaries had already begun. The initial lawsuit is as I understand it pending an appeal to the First Court of Appeals, and SCOTx did not rule on the merits of the litigation so we could see a ruling against the county at some point in the future.

The Radack lawsuit was filed on December 31, shortly after the first lawsuit was dismissed by the district court. It claimed that commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act because they did not make public the map that ultimately was approved within 72 hours of the meeting. As far as I know, this suit never had a hearing in court. I checked with the County Attorney’s office and the pending appeal to the First Court is the only active litigation over county redistricting at this time. So there you have it.

UPDATE: Here’s a Chron story about it.

Get ready for the Uvalde gun lawsuits

We’ll see if they can get anywhere.

A teacher at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde has filed paperwork indicating she intends to sue the gun manufacturer who made the assault-style rifle the gunman used to massacre 19 children and two teachers.

Don Flanary, a lawyer representing longtime teacher Emilia Marin, filed a petition late Thursday asking a state district judge for permission to gather more information about Daniel Defense LLC in anticipation of a lawsuit. The request includes permission to depose, or interview under oath, officials from the Georgia-based company.

“Petitioner seeks to obtain the deposition testimony and evidence from Daniel Defense to investigate potential claims by the Petitioner,” the filing states. “The subject matter of the potential claim is the conduct of Daniel Defense which was a cause of the injuries and damages suffered by Emilia Marin.”

The teacher was in Robb Elementary that morning, but because the paperwork is preliminary and not an actual lawsuit, it offers no detail as to what harm or injury she suffered.

The petition seeks information regarding the AR-15 variant rifle sold to Uvalde gunman Salvador Ramos — as well as information about four AR-15-style rifles found in the hotel room of a mass shooter who killed 60 people in Las Vegas in 2017. It also seeks information about how Daniel Defense markets its firearms.

[…]

San Antonio lawyer Mikal Watts told the Express-News this week he and other attorneys contacted by victims’ families were investigating potential claims against the gunmaker. Marin’s petition appears to be the first of a likely wave of filings.

Lawyers say there’s precedent for such potential lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

In February, the families of nine victims of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., agreed to a $73 million settlement with Remington, the maker of the AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle used in the massacre. It was believed to be the largest payout by a gunmaker in a mass shooting case.

The settlement was notable because the plaintiffs’ legal team devised a way around a 2005 federal law that shields gun companies from civil liability. They did so by arguing that Remington violated Connecticut state consumer law by marketing the weapon to unstable young men.

This is a state lawsuit, though given how radical SCOTUS has gotten the potential plaintiffs here may have a better chance of success. I’d love to see a whole bunch of them stick it to the gun makers, but best to keep one’s expectations in check. And via the Trib, we see a second suit begin to take shape as well.

Lawyers for the family of a 10-year-old victim of a Uvalde gunman have requested marketing material from the Georgia-based manufacturer behind the AR-15-style assault rifle used to kill 21 people at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School.

The legal team, which is representing relatives of Amerie Jo Garza, hasn’t filed a lawsuit. But one of its members won a $73 million settlement for nine families of victims in the Sandy Hook shooting after pioneering a legal theory that the marketing of the gun used in that shooting violated fair-trade laws in Connecticut.

In a joint letter, the lawyers asked officials with Daniel Defense, the gun manufacturer, to preserve evidence including marketing plans, social media campaigns and advertising. The letter was sent by Mikal Watts of San Antonio, Charla Aldous of Dallas and Josh Koskoff of Bridgeport, Connecticut. They represent Alfred Garza III and Kimberly Garcia, the parents of Amerie Jo.

“My purpose for being now is to honor Amerie Jo’s memory,” Alfred Garza said in a statement released by the law firms. “She would want to me to do everything I can so this will never happen again to any other child. I have to fight her fight.”

In their letter to Daniel Defense, the lawyers ask that records, including the company’s online purchasing database and their communications with the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter, be preserved. The gunman purchased a DDM4 rifle, which is classified as an AR-15-style weapon.

“If they really are sincere in their desire to support these families, they will provide the information that Mr. Garza has requested without delay or excuse,” Koskoff said in a statement.

[…]

The federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act shields gun manufacturers from liability in a mass shooting. However, there are exemptions, which is how Koskoff and his team successfully won a settlement without the case going to trial in the Sandy Hook case.

One of those exemptions to the 2005 law occurs if a state law is violated, according to Dru Stevenson, the Wayne Fischer research professor at South Texas College of Law, who specializes in firearm policy and regulation. In the Sandy Hook case, Koskoff argued that the marketing of the gun violated fair-trade laws in Connecticut.

Whether the same exception could be used in a potential lawsuit by the Uvalde families is not clear.

“It’s going to be a new question for the Texas Supreme Court,” Stevenson said, “to see if this type of marketing violates unfair trade practices law here.”

Like I said, keep your expectations in check, but boy do I want to see all of these plaintiffs succeed.

On the subject of the manufacturer, this recent episode of the What Next podcast took a closer look at them and their very culture war-style marketing; here’s a transcript if you don’t want to listen. I favor all of the usual things we’ve been talking about here – raising the age to purchase a gun to 21, enhanced background checks, red flag laws, reinstating the assault weapons ban, etc etc etc – but requiring gun owners to carry insurance and removing that federal liability shield should be high on the priority list as well. Daily Kos has more.

Now I know the difference between those two Army Corps of Engineers lawsuits

Some good timing for me here.

A federal appellate court on Thursday reversed an earlier decision that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not to blame for flooding homes downstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs after Hurricane Harvey.

The ruling brought new hope for thousands of people after U.S. Judge Loren A. Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims passionately dismissed their lawsuits in 2020.

“These were flood waters that no entity could entirely control,” he wrote at the time.

The case will return to the lower court, according a news release from the McGehee, Chang, Landgraf, Feiler law firm, which represents the plaintiffs.

The lower court will again consider if the Corps is liable for the flooding that occurred after the Corps opened the gates on the dams, sending water pouring down Buffalo Bayou.

So yesterday’s post was about developments in the upstream lawsuit, in which as we know the Army Corps of Engineers was found liable. I must have not seen the 2020 story about the dismissal of the downstream lawsuit. It’ll be interesting to see what the judge makes of it now. Hopefully the next time there’s news about it I will catch it.

What does the Army Corps of Engineers owe reservoir flooding victims?

We’ll soon find out.

Christina Micu sat on the witness stand and tearfully explained how she’d made a list of everything she lost when Hurricane Harvey flooded her four-bedroom home. Her son’s toys. Her kitchen stove. A rocking chair her mom had given her.

She threw it all away — and wants to be paid back for it.

“A lot of things were taken from me when we were flooded,” Micu said. “A lot of them are irreplaceable. I’ll never have them back, from heirloom items to baby pictures.”

Micu gave her testimony in Houston Tuesday as the long-awaited trial kicked off before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to determine what the government owes her and her neighbors for flooding their homes.

Senior Judge Charles F. Lettow, who is presiding at this week’s hearing, found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liable following a previous proceeding three years ago. The Corps held water behind two dams west of town to lessen flooding in central Houston when days of rain drenched the region in 2017. The vast majority of residents behind these massive earthen dams did not know they lived in the reservoirs.

After delays caused by the pandemic, the judge will consider what is owed to Harvey victims by examining a handful of individual flooding cases as examples. The outcomes will set criteria for what happens for thousands of others.

“Plaintiffs suffered at the hands of the government in order to save downtown Houston,” said attorney Daniel Charest, as photos of the flooding flashed on computer screens. “They only want to be made whole.”

This was the residents’ only chance to be paid back for their lost private property rights, Charest argued. And not only had they lost property, the value of the homes would drop as a result of the flooding the government inflicted, he said.

Representing the U.S. government, attorney Laura Duncan said the neighborhoods where homes flooded are still desirable. The real estate market wasn’t impacted, she argued.

There were two lawsuits filed over this. In 2019, the judge ruled that the Army Corps was liable – it’s not clear to me whether this is the outcome of one of those suits or if they were combined – and we are now at the damages portion of the trial. I don’t know what to expect at this point, but it seems likely to me that the homeowners will get something. It’s a question of how much.

UPDATE: This Chron story from Thursday afternoon, in a fortuitous bit of timing, answers my question about which lawsuit this is about. Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion!

Maybe this is finally the end of that zombie same sex employee lawsuit

I dream a dream.

The Texas Supreme Court has declined to consider a challenge aimed at preventing the city of Houston from offering benefits to employees’ same-sex spouses.

The ruling is the latest blow to two Houston residents’ prolonged fight against a policy they consider an illegal use of taxpayer dollars.

Plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks have waged a legal battle against the policy since 2013, when the city, then led by former Mayor Annise Parker, granted government benefits to municipal employees’ same-sex spouses. Parker was the city’s first openly gay mayor.

On Friday, the state Supreme Court declined to review the pair’s case against the city, which originated nine years ago and has failed to find footing even in the conservative-leaning Texas judiciary.

[…]

Of the pair’s decade-long campaign to overturn her administration’s policy, Parker said Tuesday she hoped the court’s decision would quash future challenges.

“I didn’t do it to make a point,” Parker said of the policy. “I did it to be fair to all married city employees. Marriage should be marriage. Equal should be equal.”

See here and here for the previous updates. These guys and their stooge lawyer Jared Woodfill have more than proven that they really really hate gay people, but surely even this kind of rabid bigotry has its limits. The bell has rung, the lights are out, the doors have closed, and Elvis has left the building. Go find a less destructive hobby, fellas. I’ve heard gardening is nice.

23rd lawsuit filed against Deshaun Watson

That may not be the end as well.

A 23rd lawsuit has been filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The latest suit, filed Tuesday by a massage therapist, says Watson sexually assaulted her during three sessions in 2020. The lawsuit also claims the owner of a Houston-area spa facilitated the massages for Watson, knew he was attempting to have sex with the therapists and that Watson paid the owner at least $5,000 for the work.

The lawsuit also claims one of Watson’s attorneys found the woman’s contact information in Watson’s cell phone, took her to dinner in “an effort to intimidate her” with “an apparent attempt to determine” if she was filing a lawsuit, and attempted to convince her to say “nice and positive things about Watson,” which the woman refused.

Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said that it was two of his lawyers who met with the woman, and they “vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved” in a meeting he described was “so congenial,” the woman joined the attorneys for dinner afterward.

The attorneys met with the woman to see if she was one of Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee’s anonymous plaintiffs, Hardin said, since Buzbee, who represents the women, refused to identify his clients at the time.

[…

The woman changed her mind about filing a lawsuit after watching the HBO “Real Sports” episode that aired May 24 and delved into the previous lawsuits filed against Watson. The woman had initially “agonized” over whether to bring a lawsuit against Watson, the lawsuit says. She had no intention of doing so initially, but her name still “found its way into the public sphere” once the lawsuits began to emerge. The Chronicle does not identify victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission.

Even after sharing her story in a July 2021 interview on an online stream, she “had no intention of filing a lawsuit,” the lawsuit says, because she “did not want to put herself and her family through the turmoil” and “did not want to subject herself to further abuse and ugliness” that she’d seen the other women experience after filing their lawsuits.

Buzbee, who represents the other 22 women who have filed suit, confirmed that the latest case has been referred to him and said “our team will be filing another lawsuit, similar to the others already filed, this week.”

See here for some background. It’s not surprising that the appearance by some of the plaintiffs on “Real Sports” has brought more complainants out. It helps knowing that you’re not alone.

A copy of lawsuit #23 is embedded in the story, and note the comment at the end about #24 being in the works. An announcement from the NFL about a what kind of discipline Watson will face from the league is still expected soon. Sean Pendergast has more.

SCOTUS puts Texas’ stupid social media censorship law back on hold

Good.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a Texas law that prohibits large social media companies, such as Facebook or Twitter, from banning or removing users’ posts based on political viewpoints.

The justices, in a 5-4 vote, granted NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s request to reinstate a block imposed by a federal district judge as the lawsuit makes its way through the courts. The justices who voted to reverse the lower court’s ruling didn’t give a reason for their decision — a standard practice when the court is ruling on emergency applications.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, one of the two groups that sued to block the law on claims that it violates companies’ First Amendment rights, celebrated the court’s decision.

“No online platform, website, or newspaper should be directed by government officials to carry certain speech,” he said in a statement. “This has been a key tenet of our democracy for more than 200 years and the Supreme Court has upheld that.”

[…]

The two industry trade groups that represent companies such as Google and Twitter sued to block the law last fall. In December, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the groups and prevented the law from going into effect, reasoning that the First Amendment protects a company’s right to moderate content and calling parts of the law “prohibitively vague.”

As a result, Paxton appealed the district judge’s decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reinstated the law.

Three conservative justices, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch, said in a dissent that they would have let Texas’ law stand for now. Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, said she would have also let the order stand but didn’t provide a reason.

Alito wrote in the dissent that it is “not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies.” Still, he wrote, the case is “of great importance” and the Supreme Court would have to review the arguments at some point.

“Social media platforms have transformed the way people communicate with each other and obtain news,” he wrote. “At issue is a ground-breaking Texas law that addresses the power of dominant social media corporations to shape public discussion of the important issues of the day.”

See here for the previous update and here for a copy of the order. With the Florida law being knocked down by the 11th Court of Appeals, there’s a circuit split, which means that Alito is correct and SCOTUS is going to have to deal with this sooner or later. At least it will be on hold until then. The Chron has more.

Watson accusers get their say

You can see them saying it.

The $230 million contract the Cleveland Browns gave to former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was a “big screw you” to the 22 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.

After Houston traded Watson in March, Cleveland gave him a fully guaranteed $230 million contract. The way the new contract was structured, all but $1 million of Watson’s 2022 salary was put into bonuses so he would not lose that money if he were to be suspended by the NFL.

“It’s just like a big ‘screw you,’” Ashley Solis told HBO’s Soledad O’Brien as part of a “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” episode that was to air at 9 p.m. CT on Tuesday . “That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”

Said Ashley Hayes, another accuser interviewed on the show: “It was sick to me. I felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”

Watson is facing 22 civil suits that accuse him of sexual assault and harassment during massage appointments. Two Houston-area grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.

The NFL is still investigating and has made no ruling on a possible suspension for 2022. Watson did not play with the Texans in 2021.

There’s an embedded video in the story if you want a preview. As Sean Pendergast notes, we may be getting close to an NFL decision about whatever discipline they will impose on Watson. He was in Texas last week to meet with NFL officials, with the general impression being that the league is wrapping up its investigation. (Watson has other reasons to come back to Texas as well.) We’ll know soon enough. More from Pendergast about the HBOMax show here.

State Bar finally files that professional misconduct lawsuit against Paxton

We’ve been eagerly awaiting this.

Best mugshot ever

A disciplinary committee for the State Bar of Texas on Wednesday filed a professional misconduct lawsuit against Attorney General Ken Paxton for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections in four battleground states won by President Joe Biden.

The filing in Collin County by the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a standing committee of the state bar, is an extraordinary move by the body that regulates law licenses in the state against the sitting attorney general. It stems from complaints against Paxton for a lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out, saying Texas lacked standing to sue and that Paxton’s political opponents called “frivolous.”

It seeks a sanction against Paxton, which will be determined by a judge, that could range from a private reprimand to disbarment.

In its filing, the commission said Paxton had misrepresented that he had uncovered substantial evidence that “raises serious doubts as to the integrity of the election process in the defendant states.”

“As a result of Respondent’s actions, Defendant States were required to expend time, money, and resources to respond to the misrepresentations and false statements contained in these pleadings and injunction requests even though they had previously certified their presidential electors based on the election results prior to the filing of Respondent’s pleadings,” the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit also says Paxton made “dishonest” representations that an “outcome determinative” number of votes were tied to unregistered voters, votes were switched by a glitch with voting machines, state actors had unconstitutionally revised their election statutes and “illegal votes” had been cast to affect the outcome of the election.

The lawsuit says Paxton’s allegations “were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the Court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law.”

The complaint asks for a finding of professional misconduct against Paxton, as well as attorney’s fees and “an appropriate sanction.”

[…]

The lawsuit against Paxton stems from multiple complaints filed by Kevin Moran, president of the Galveston Island Democrats; David Wellington Chew, former chief justice of the Eighth District Court of Appeals; attorney Neil Kay Cohen; attorney Brynne VanHettinga; and Gershon “Gary” Ratner, the co-founder of Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

See here, here, and here for some background; this post contains some technical details from the original complaint. As far as I can tell, this encompasses all of the 2020 election-related complaints against Paxton; there’s a separate complaint having to do with his threats against the Court of Criminal Appeals for not letting him prosecute “voter fraud” cases at his discretion, whose disposition is not known to me at this time. There’s also the complaint against Brent Webster, which will be litigated in Williamson County, and more recently a complaint against Ted Cruz that will presumably take some time to work its way through the system. That first 2020 election complaint against Paxton was filed last June, so it took nearly a year to get to this point. I have no idea if that’s a “normal” time span for this – I suspect nothing about this is “normal” anyway.

One more thing: I presume this was filed in Collin County because that’s where Paxton passed the bar, or some other technical reason like that. The Chron adds a bit of detail about that.

Under the state bar’s rules, disciplinary suits are filed in the county in which the attorney primarily practices. If there’s more than one, the bar files in the county where the attorney lives — Paxton indicated Collin County. Similarly, the suit against Webster was filed in his hometown of Williamson County. That determination is up to the subject of the suit, according to the rules.

Also per the bar’s rules, these suits are heard by an appointed judge from another district.

In Paxton’s case, it will be Judge Casey Blair of Kaufman County, a Republican elected in 2014. Webster’s case will be heard by Judge John Youngblood of Milam County, also a Republican who was first appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 and first elected in 2012.

Good to know. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Treatments for trans youth at Dallas hospital can continue until April

More good news.

A Dallas County judge has granted a nearly one-year injunction against Children’s Medical Center Dallas that will allow doctors there to continue intake of transgender youth seeking certain medical treatments.

Judge Melissa Bellan signed a temporary injunction Monday that lasts until next April, replacing a two-week temporary restraining order granted May 12. Requested by Dr. Ximena Lopez, both the injunction and the restraining order halted the hospital’s recent decision to stop providing certain medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, to new transgender patients while a court battle continues over whether to reverse the policy altogether.

It’s the latest legal win for Lopez, who led the Genecis program for transgender youth that Children’s ran jointly with UT Southwestern until last November. She started her court battles with the hospitals in March with the goal of restarting care for new patients.

The injunction was agreed upon by both Lopez and Children’s and will stay in place until a trial currently set for April 18, 2023. At that time, a judge will decide whether the injunction should be made permanent.

[…]

“Justice has been done for these patients and families. Life-saving care was taken away from them for no legitimate reason and with no reasonable alternative,” Lopez said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News. “It is unfair for patients and providers to have to go through litigation to fight for their right to receive and provide medical care, respectively.”

Children’s declined to comment on the injunction. UT Southwestern, which is also subject to the order, has not responded to a request for comment.

Lopez’s attorney, Charla Aldous, applauded the mutually-agreed-upon order.

“Even in litigation, there are times the parties can get together and do what’s right. And I’m thankful Children’s agreed to this extension, for the sake of families and children. It’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Attorney general Ken Paxton has asked the court to allow him to intervene on behalf of the state in Lopez’s legal battles with Children’s Medical Center Dallas. The judge has not responded to his request for intervention.

See here, here, here, and here for some background. I’m writing this just before Runoff Day results start coming in so I don’t have the usual brain space to think about it, but this is a good result. We’ll see what happens with the request to intervene. Kudos to Dr. Lopez for pressing the issue. The 19th has more.

Florida’s stupid social media censorship law knocked down by appeals court

With an opinion from a Trump judge, no less.

A Florida law intended to punish social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, dealing a major victory to companies who had been accused by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis of discriminating against conservative thought.

A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that it was overreach for DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida Legislature to tell the social media companies how to conduct their work under the Constitution’s free speech guarantee.

“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” said Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in the opinion. “We hold that it is substantially likely that social media companies — even the biggest ones — are private actors whose rights the First Amendment protects.”

The ruling upholds a similar decision by a Florida federal district judge on the law, which was signed by DeSantis in 2021. It was part of an overall conservative effort to portray social media companies as generally liberal in outlook and hostile to ideas outside of that viewpoint, especially from the political right.

[…]

As enacted, the law would give Florida’s attorney general authority to sue companies under the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. It would also allow individual Floridians to sue social media companies for up to $100,000 if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly.

The bill targeted social media platforms that have more than 100 million monthly users, which include online giants as Twitter and Facebook. But lawmakers carved out an exception for the Walt Disney Co. and their apps by including that theme park owners wouldn’t be subject to the law.

The law would require large social media companies to publish standards on how it decides to “censor, deplatform, and shadow ban.”

But the appeals court rejected nearly all of the law’s mandates, save for a few lesser provisions in the law.

“Social media platforms exercise editorial judgment that is inherently expressive. When platforms choose to remove users or posts, deprioritize content in viewers’ feeds or search results, or sanction breaches of their community standards, they engage in First-Amendment-protected activity,” Newsom wrote for the court.

You can see a copy of the ruling here, and contrast it to the wordless garbage the Fifth Circuit spewed out to allow Texas’ law to stand. This means that SCOTUS will have to get involved to resolve the dispute. It’s going to get ugly in here. Reuters, CNET, and Techdirt, which shows the parts of the lower court’s ruling that were upheld and the parts that were vacated, have more.

The coming fight over medical abortion

Sure is a good thing SCOTUS will leave this up to the states, isn’t it?

Republican-led states are moving swiftly to restrict access to medication abortion.

The efforts so far have focused on regulations around the pills, such as banning them from being shipped or prescribed. But can states ban the actual abortion pill itself, even though the Food and Drug Administration has approved it? That question could be the next frontier in the abortion wars.

The short answer comes down to this: The issue isn’t settled law and will likely be litigated in the courts. Some argue states may be hard-pressed to ban the federally approved medication, though antiabortion advocates disagree.

[…]

Some states have introduced bills focused on banning abortion pills, but they haven’t gotten a lot of traction, per Elizabeth Nash, an interim associate director at Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. (A recent exception is Oklahoma, whose Republican governor is poised to sign legislation banning abortions – including medication abortions – from the moment of “fertilization.”)

Rather, states are banning the practice of medicine around the pills. For instance: At least 19 states ban the use of telehealth for medication abortion, and some states have additional restrictions, like prohibiting pills from being mailed.

Yet, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, some states may try to ban the actual medication. And states already have gestational limits and other abortion bans on the books that could kick in quickly if Roe is overturned — and those likely encompass limitations on the pills, experts said.

Can states ban a medication the FDA has signed off on?

There’s no clear precedent here.

Some states may argue they can ban medication abortion because states have the authority to regulate the practice of medicine. The FDA, on the other hand, is the acknowledged authority on medical products, such as the abortion pill. But the line between medical practice and medical products is not always clear.

And if a state squared off against the federal government over an FDA-approved drug … “We don’t know how the court would rule. It’s an open question,” Patti Zettler, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and former associate chief counsel in the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel.

See here for some background. Reminder #1: The state of Texas has made it a felony to provide abortion medication after seven weeks, after having already banned anyone but doctors from dispensing such medication, and only via an in-person office visit – no telemedicine. You can be sure that Texas will take this to the next level in the next legislative session if it is in position to do so.

Reminder #2: The same medicine that is used for abortion is also used to treat miscarriages. Needless to say, women who are suffering through a miscarriage will face – and as that story notes, are already facing – barriers to medical care that could threaten their health, their future ability to get pregnant and carry a child to term, and even their lives. That’s our future, and if you think I’m being alarmist, go back and read all those soothing articles about how this Supreme Court was never ever going to overturn Roe v Wade because it would cause too much upheaval.

Paxton seeks to intervene in GENECIS case

This is what I was worried about.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants the state to intervene in a court battle over medical care for transgender youth at a Dallas hospital.

Paxton filed a petition in a Dallas County court Tuesday night asking that the state be allowed to get involved in the case between Children’s Medical Center Dallas and the doctor who once led its Genecis medical program. A judge recently granted Dr. Ximena Lopez’s request to temporarily resume her regular practice after Children’s and UT Southwestern, which jointly ran the program, last year stopped providing certain medical treatments for adolescent patients newly seeking care for gender dysphoria.

The attorney general is arguing that transgender adolescents should be blocked from accessing treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, which he says may constitute abuse but which are broadly supported by the medical community.

“In order to protect its interest … in the welfare of children subject to this life-altering decision in the hands of a doctor, the state surely has a right to intervene in this matter,” Paxton and his top deputies wrote in their brief.

The brief didn’t offer a detailed explanation of how the state wants to affect the case. Neither Paxton nor Abbott responded to requests for comment.

Lopez’s legal team filed a response Wednesday evening, saying that the attorney general’s intervention is politically motivated. The team also filed an emergency motion to shorten the time before a temporary injunction hearing currently scheduled for May 26. The temporary injunction, if granted, could extend the pause on Children’s decision to stop providing certain care for new transgender adolescent patients.

[…]

“Through his filing, the attorney general is saying that he and the state should decide what is best for Texas children instead of their parents and chosen physicians,” Lopez’s attorney Charla Aldous said in a statement. “That’s a very dangerous path to follow when we’re talking about parents who are literally trying to secure lifesaving, internationally recognized standard-of-care treatment for their kids.”

See here, here, and here for some background. This is completely unsurprising, but hopefully the court will swat it aside. It would be nice if UT Southwestern took the position that this is just between them and the doctor and the state should butt out, but I doubt that will happen. I’ll keep an eye on this to see where it goes from here.

Debtors’ court, part 2

Also not good.

One day last September, while trying to pay for groceries, Leslie Alvarez got the shock of her life. All the money in her bank account had disappeared.

The Houston single mother called her bank. An employee told Alvarez that her accounts had been placed on a legal hold. A person she did not know had been authorized to remove money from her accounts.

“I had to tell my kids they had to wait awhile so I could go make money to get what they needed,” she said.

Alvarez was forced to pay up on a $1,500 cash loan as part of a debt judgment issued against her in a Harris County civil court.

Texas doesn’t allow people’s wages to be garnished to pay off debts unless it is to collect child support. By law, however, courts can designate special officers, known as turnover receivers, to force payments by freezing or seizing bank accounts. The legal process became popular in Harris County but has been used all over the state more commonly in recent years, officials say.

“This is the only real way a debt collector can hurt you,” said Craig Noack, a creditor’s attorney in San Antonio who also serves as a court-appointed receiver in Texas.

At issue, though, is whether courts have adequate oversight to ensure a fair process.

Each year, tens of thousands of Texans are subject to a bank seizure as a result of a default judgment that was declared against them because they didn’t show up in court to fight a lawsuit over a debt.

But here’s the dilemma: Most debtors don’t know that they can have their bank accounts cleaned when a debt collector wins a default judgment against them unless they claim exemptions for certain sources of funds, such as child support, Social Security, unemployment benefits and retirement funds. Alvarez had child support payments in her accounts when they were seized.

Just this month, the Supreme Court of Texas took its first steps to establish parameters that would ensure that debtors are informed of their rights to claim exemptions. Under new rules, which took effect May 1, debt collectors must provide at least 17 days for debtors to inform courts that they have funds or property that is exempt from seizure.

“The purpose of these rules and forms is to try to help even out a little bit the playing field so that the debtors get more information,” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said.

[…]

In the Houston region and other large Texas counties, default judgments rose by 86 percent between 2012 and last year, data show.

“As long as people don’t respond, debt collectors can get a default judgment,” said Ann Baddour, director of the fair financial services project at Texas Appleseed, a consumer advocacy group in Austin. “There’s just this motivation to move forward and sue.”

Even the Texas Creditors Bar Association, a statewide organization of attorneys that engages in debt collections, says it wants to make sure debt collectors don’t take money that is protected by law.

They support the notifications, said Noack, who represented the Texas Creditors Bar Association in discussions before the Supreme Court Advisory Committee about the new rules.

“You’re not going to find a creditor’s attorney out there who wants to take somebody’s Social Security,” he said.

Yet, among the many concerns consumer advocates say still must be addressed is the lack of oversight in Texas courts regarding the appointment of the court officers or turnover receivers.

Texas courts have no way to prevent abuses — or even mistakes — because judges are not required to track their appointments or keep periodic reports on the status of seizures, Houston consumer attorney Benjamin Sanchez said.

“You have these receivers who are doing things but not necessarily reporting back to the court,” Sanchez said.

See here for the previous entry. I hope we can all agree that no one should have their bank account drained as the result of a default judgment where they hadn’t known they needed to appear in court. There needs to be a lot more oversight here, and that’s first a job for the Legislature and then a job for the court system. One possible aspect to a solution might be a public defender system for civil litigation, modeled on the same system for criminal defendants. This is an idea I’ve seen advocated by others, and it makes sense on the principle that everyone should have the right to a lawyer to represent them in court. I’m no expert, I’m just throwing out an idea here. Whatever the case, there’s a real need for reform.

DFPS to resume investigating families of trans kids

Gross and discouraging.

The state of Texas will restart its abuse investigations into families with transgender kids after a recent court ruling that lifted a statewide injunction on such probes.

In a statement on Thursday, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said the agency would investigate all allegations of abuse. The statement, while not addressing the investigations into medical treatments for trans youth, indirectly indicated that these probes will now continue.

“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

Current state law does not explicitly define gender-affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, as child abuse. A DFPS spokesman did not comment when asked if the agency plans to continue investigating such treatments as child abuse.

Age appropriate and individualized medical treatments for trans youth, including the ones Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called abuse, are supported by the state and nation’s largest physicians groups including the American and Texas Medical Associations. These groups have opposed the state’s abuse investigations and other efforts to block or alter gender-affirming care for minors.

The state’s announcement came just days after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general and Gov. Greg Abbott, who had directed the agency to investigate certain medical treatments for trans adolescents as child abuse, had no authority to do so. It put control over these probes back into the hands of protective services, which opened at least nine investigations into families with transgender children since the governor issued his directive in February.

One investigation into an agency employee who has a transgender daughter will remain paused while the family fights to overturn the abuse policy, the ruling stated.

[…]

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who is on the team representing the unnamed DFPS employee, said the state’s decision to reopen the cases is unfortunate and unlawful. He said his team believes that the high court’s decision removes any responsibility for Texans to report trans youth getting treatments.

“We are going to be closely monitoring what the agency does. We would encourage families that have any reason to believe that they have an investigation to seek legal help,” Klosterboer said.

“Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion did not change Texas law,” he added. “Gender-affirming health care is still legal in all 50 states.”

See here for the previous entry. The initial litigation is still ongoing – as is so often the case in these battles, the issue is over whether or not the law or in this case executive order can be enforced while the lawsuit is being heard – so there may still be a statewide injunction at some point. There’s also a clear path for other families to file similar lawsuits to get injunctions for themselves, similar to what abortion providers and funds were facing with SB8. It’s still a mess and a huge burden for these people that have done nothing wrong and just want to be left alone. And it’s another reason to vote these guys out in November. The Trib has more.