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April 12th, 2016:

Judicial Q&A: Fredericka Phillips

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I’m now doing this for some candidates in the May runoff who had not done a Q&A in March. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Fredericka Phillips

Fredericka Phillips

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Fredericka Phillips and I am running for the 61st Judicial District Court in Harris County. I am currently Vice Chair of the Texas Democratic Party and a longtime party activist in Fort Bend County and most recently Harris County. I am a 16 year lawyer with a wealth of experience in all civil matters. I am a mother of two daughters, and an advocate and volunteer for children’s organizations.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The District Courts are the highest level state court before the appellate level. The 61st Judicial District Court is a court of general jurisdiction for resolving civil disputes in which the amount in controversy is $200 or more involving property, contract disputes, and other civil matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court. Examples of cases this court hears are breach of contract matters, personal injury matters, wrongful death matters, medical malpractice, employment matters, tax appraisal appeals, collections, seizures/forfeitures, and property disputes.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Justice and law have been my lifelong passions since my early childhood marching with the NAACP and following the life of Thurgood Marshall. My goal in attending law school was to one day become a judge because I know the effect judges have on our lives by their interpretations of the law and how important it is to have judges who indeed act with fairness and integrity. This particular court, the 61st District, was previously Judge Al Bennett’s court before he was appointed to the federal bench. I am running for this bench not only because of my interest in being a fair and just administrator of justice for all litigants, but also because it’s important to have and maintain diversity in our judicial system.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over sixteen years of experience representing businesses and individuals in every level state and federal court. My diverse civil litigation practice has covered every type of case that could come before the 61st District Court. As I mentioned earlier, this court hears a wide range of civil disputes including highly complex litigation matters. I am on the only Democratic candidate in the primary runoff that has experience representing parties in any and every type of civil matter that could come before the court. I am also the only Democratic candidate with first chair trial experience in diverse civil matters including contract cases, malpractice, complex tax litigation, and complex commercial litigation matters. I also have experience in the federal appeals courts including the US Fifth Circuit, and before the state appellate courts including the Texas Supreme Court. I am the only Democratic candidate that has the experience necessary to fill this role from day one.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important the voters have a voice in who their state judges are. The governor appointed a Republican judge to replace Democratic Judge Al Bennett. The voters need to ensure the court is once again represented by a Democrat. One party should not have control of our courthouses. Likewise, it is important that we have diverse representation in our courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

As I stated earlier, I am the only Democratic candidate with first chair trial experience and the only candidate with proven experience handling every possible type of legal matter that could come before the court. I am on the only candidate with lead attorney experience representing parties in contract, commercial, construction, personal injury, malpractice, tax, employment, collections, property cases and more. Democratic voters should vote for Fredericka Phillips for the 61st Court because I am the only Democratic candidate with the wealth of experience necessary to start the job from day one.

I am also the only Democratic candidate with a history of working with the Democratic Party and fighting for Democratic principles for over a decade. I have been member, officer, and founder of several Democratic clubs and organizations across Fort Bend and Harris counties. I have participated in grassroots efforts to elect Democratic candidates across the state, and have served as Vice Chair of the Democratic Party for the past two years. Democratic voters should vote for Fredericka Phillips because I am the only Democratic candidate with a solid history of voting in Democratic primaries and of advocating for Democratic values across the county and state for decades. Learn more about me at frederickaphillipsforjudge.com.

SEC files charges against Paxton

Bam!

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been charged in federal court with allegedly misleading investors in a technology company.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed the charges Monday in a Sherman-based court. They are similar to the allegations Paxton faces in a pending indictment handed up by a Collin County grand jury last year.

Paxton is named in the SEC’s complaint along with William Mapp, the founder and former CEO of Servergy Inc. Paxton is accused of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Servergy without disclosing he was making a commission. The case stems from when Paxton was a member of the Texas House — before he was elected attorney general in 2014.

“People recruiting investors have a legal obligation to disclose any compensation they are receiving to promote a stock, and we allege that Paxton and White concealed the compensation they were receiving for touting Servergy’s product,” Shamoil T. Shipchandler, director of the SEC’s Fort Worth regional office, said in a news release on the complaint.

See here for more on the Paxton/Mapp/Servergy relationship, and see here for a copy of the complaint, which as the Chron notes is a civil lawsuit, which may result in a fine for Paxton if he loses. The bit from the complaint that directly relates to Paxton begins on page 17. Here’s a key quote from that section, which is paragraph 78:

Among the people Paxton recruited were his friends, business associates, law firm clients, and members of an investment group to which he belonged. Despite a duty to do so, Paxton knowingly or recklessly failed to inform the individuals he recruited that he was being compensated to promote Servergy to investors.

Basically, this is saying that Paxton lied to his friends, colleagues (including Rep. Byron Cook), clients, and coworkers by exhorting them to invest in Servergy without telling them that he would get a kickback if they did. What a guy, right? We are very early in this story and there is sure to be much more to come, so stay tuned. One thing we can say, though, is that Paxton’s fellow Republicans really don’t want to talk about him.

Top leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have been mostly silent on the issue, giving Paxton the benefit of the doubt and allowing the legal battle to play out with the AG still in power.

What’s more, the people who were instrumental in his election don’t care about the charges against him. They support him because his conservative credentials are in line with the grassroots activists that now dominate the GOP.

In the past, donors like Bob Perry, Fred Meyer and Louis Beecherl had tremendous influence because their money could make or break candidates for public office.

Today, grassroots candidates who aim to shake up the establishment don’t need money from old-line political donors. They are boosted by folks like Midland oilman Tim Dunn and the billionaire Wilks brothers out of Cisco.

So candidates like Paxton have not only support at the ballot box from activists, but also a fundraising base to hold potential opponents at bay.

Fine by me. I’ll say again, I hope he’s on the ballot in 2018 as a convict. It would sum up the state of the state’s Republican party perfectly. Trail Blazers, TPM, the Lone Star Project, the Current, Newsdesk, PDiddie, and the Press have more.

SCOTUS asked to rule on Cruz birther lawsuit

What fun.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

A Utah man became the first to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a “birther” lawsuit against Ted Cruz which challenges the White House hopeful’s eligibility for office.

The request by Utah attorney Walter Wagner, who is representing himself in a case thrown out by a trial judge, was placed on the high court’s docket in Washington this week. The justices probably won’t take up the appeal in order to signal that such cases shouldn’t be taken seriously, said Nate Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School.

Wagner sued in January, arguing Cruz’s birth on Canadian soil disqualifies him from the presidency because the U.S. Constitution requires the nation be led by a “natural born citizen.” Similar cases have been filed in states including Alabama, Florida, Illinois and New York, so far without success. Cruz’s request to dismiss a Texas case is set for a hearing next week.

“It is a case of national importance, ergo straight to the Supreme Court,” Wagner said in an e-mail. “We should not have a country where our president is illegal (ineligible), or skewing the results of the primaries/conventions.”

[…]

U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish in Salt Lake City tossed out Wagner’s case on March 18, ruling he lacked standing to file suit because he hadn’t been personally harmed by Cruz, the junior senator from Texas.

“Like the courts that have ruled on this question, this court holds that Mr. Wagner lacks standing to bring his claim,” Parrish said in her ruling.

“It is not enough for an individual to bring a lawsuit based on his status as a ’citizen’ or a ’taxpayer,’” Parrish said in her ruling. “The harms alleged by Mr. Wagner are conjectural and hypothetical at best.”

See here and here for the background. As I’ve said before, I don’t buy the argument that Cruz is ineligible, even if there is some merit to it and it’s a problem he’s richly earned. I can’t imagine the Supreme Court taking this unless they are forced to by a trial court accepting the plaintiff’s premise. But until they spoil the party, it sure is fun to watch.

Tesla takes its auto dealership fight nationwide

There’s more than one way to get into a market.

Tesla Motors Inc. hopes to capture mainstream auto buyers with its Model 3, an electric car it [recently unveiled] at a price about the same as the average gasoline-powered vehicle, but it may need a federal court ruling to succeed.

The Palo Alto, Calif., auto maker’s direct-to-consumer sales are prohibited by law in six states that represent about 18% of the U.S. new-car market. Barring a change of heart by those states, Tesla is preparing to make a federal case out of the direct-sales bans.

The auto maker’s legal staff has been studying a 2013 federal appeals court ruling in New Orleans that determined St. Joseph Abbey could sell monk-made coffins to customers without having a funeral director’s license. The case emerged amid a casket shortage after Hurricane Katrina. The abbey had tried to sell coffins, only to find state laws restricted such sales to those licensed by the Louisiana Board of Funeral Directors.

For now, Tesla is banking on a combination of new legislation, pending dealer applications and other factors to open doors to selling directly in Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Connecticut, Utah and West Virginia. But the company said it is ready to argue in federal court using the coffin case if necessary.

“It is widely accepted that laws that have a protectionist motivation or effect are not proper,” Todd Maron, the auto maker’s chief counsel, said in an interview. “Tesla is committed to not being foreclosed from operating in the states it desires to operate in, and all options are on the table.”

The ruling in favor of the monks, upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, could give Tesla the precedent it needs to join an “economic liberty” issue currently in dispute between circuit courts in the U.S., Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis said. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, for instance, has upheld laws that require licensing to sell certain products even if there isn’t a clear reason for it other than protecting existing businesses from new competition.

[…]

Auto dealers are battle-tested and have notched a series of victories along the way. Earlier this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear a case brought by auto makers that wanted to change laws using a similar constitutional challenge and involving warranty reimbursement levels.

Tesla could find powerful allies. The Federal Trade Commission has repeatedly said franchise laws are anti-competitive. Other organizations agree.

As we know, Tesla has tried and tried again to get a bill passed in the Lege to allow them to operate in their dealerless model, with no luck. I’m sure they’ll be back again next year, but in the meantime it can’t hurt for them to have a Plan B, especially if it solves the same problem for them in other states as well. We’ll see how this goes.