Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 15th, 2016:

Friday random ten: In the city, part 6

Some old familiar places this week.

1. Halfway To Memphis – Sammy Hagar
2. Halley Came To Jackson – Mary-Chapin Carpenter
3. A Heart In New York – Art Garfunkel
4. Hello Hopeville – Michelle Shocked
5. Hey Marseilles – Heart Beats
6. Hideaway Tokyo – Pretty & Nice
7. HOOPS Yes! (FC Dallas) – Polyphonic Spree
8. I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu) – Constantine (from “Muppets Most Wanted”)
9. In London So Fair – Susan McKeown
10. Independence, Indiana – Eddie From Ohio

If Sammy Hagar teamed up with Mott the Hoople, we could get all the way to Memphis and then halfway back. I’m not sure that’s an improvement, now that I think of it. I’m not sure that Hopeville is an actual place and not a metaphor, but thankfully we don’t worry about that sort of thing here.

More on Paxton’s SEC troubles

The short answer is, he’s gonna lose.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton may have some history on his side, but as of this week the numbers appear to be against him.

Paxton, who is trying to become the latest in a long line of Texas officials to beat prominent allegations, unwittingly entered treacherous waters Monday when the federal Securities and Exchange Commission announced it had sued him for allegedly committing securities fraud, the same charge he is facing in a state district court.

Over the past two years, the SEC has won 95.9 percent of the cases not related to insider trading that it has taken to a federal courtroom, according to a new study from Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance.

“If we were in Vegas making book, the odds would be that the attorney general is going to lose,” said Joseph Grundfest, a senior faculty member at the center and a former SEC commissioner.

Part of the reason for those odds is that the SEC does not make formal accusations until giving defendants a chance to argue in writing and in person why a case should not be filed – a process Paxton almost certainly exhausted before the commission moved forward, experts said.

The attorney general’s challenge is heightened by the fact that two of his co-defendants already have agreed to large financial settlements.

[…]

Although it has taken place more quietly, the SEC investigation has been going on for at least [as] long [as the state criminal investigation]. Its existence first was reported by the Associated Press in early last July.

Paul Coggins, a former federal prosecutor who now leads the white-collar criminal defense practice for the Dallas-based Locke Lord law firm, said the SEC process dictates that the agency long ago had to notify Paxton of its intent to file a lawsuit and offer him an opportunity to submit a brief and to argue in person that nothing should be filed.

The federal complaint filed Monday quotes Paxton defending himself, statements that may have been taken from a brief or from testimony.

During the SEC’s investigative process, two of Paxton’s co-defendants agreed to settle their cases by paying a combined $266,000, according to the federal government. Those settlements, by Servergy and former firm official Caleb White, were signed in mid-March, court records show.

White, who was accused of the same crime as Paxton but received one-fifth of the shares in the company, paid the SEC $66,000, suggesting Paxton could be on the hook for at least that much.

That could be a problem for Paxton, who already is spending heavily on a five-person defense team and faces legal barriers to raising money through donations.

In cases that were not settled, a 2015 analysis by the Wall Street Journal found, the SEC won 69 percent of cases litigated in federal courts from October 2010 through March 2015.

Grundfest, the Stanford professor, said the SEC’s win rate has improved recently. He also pointed out that the newspaper’s analysis included insider trading cases, which are much harder for the commission to win.

In insider trading cases, the agency loses about half the time. In cases unrelated to insider trading, the SEC almost always wins, the professor said.

See here for the background. As the story notes, this could be a precursor to federal criminal charges being filed. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s going to lose this lawsuit. I feel a song coming on:

One way or another, this is not going to end well for Ken Paxton. If he deserved any sympathy, I’d feel it for him, but he doesn’t.

Immigrant harboring law blocked

Good.

A federal judge has blocked part of the state’s omnibus border security bill that makes harboring undocumented immigrants a state crime.

Under a provision of House Bill 11, which went into effect in September, a person commits a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

[…]

In an order signed on Thursday, federal District Judge David Alan Ezra said the plaintiffs would likely succeed on the Supremacy Clause claim, and ruled that state and local officials had no authority to enforce the harboring provision until a final decision on the case is made.

“In this case, Plaintiffs risk subjection to criminal penalties under laws that might be pre-empted by federal law and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution,” he wrote. “Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm.”

[…]

Although MALDEF was victorious on one front, the judge rejected the group’s claim that the bill violates the plaintiffs right to due process and equal protection. Perales said the equal protection argument was made because the bill did not have a “rational purpose” and was arbitrary.

But in his order, Ezra said that although HB 11 might be pre-empted, the harboring provision fits in with the state’s intended goal of securing its borders.

“HB 11’s harboring provisions are rationally related to their stated purpose of ‘strengthen[ing] the state’s border security measures and help[ing to] stem the rising tide of human smuggling and human trafficking in Texas,’” he wrote.

See here for the background. The concern over this bill was that churches who work with immigrants, immigrants’ rights groups, and landlords who rent to immigrants may be criminalized by it. The plaintiffs in this case were in fact two landlords and the director of an immigrant services agency. The AG’s office didn’t say what they would do, but given their usual track record, it’s hard to imagine them not appealing the injunction. In either case, this will take awhile to resolve. Trail Blazers has more.

Ken who? Sid who?

Whatever you do, don’t mention the indicted Republican officeholders!

The Texas attorney general has been indicted for allegedly duping investors in a tech startup, and the agriculture commissioner reportedly used tax dollars to travel to obtain a so-called Jesus shot supposedly offering long-term relief from pain.

So far, fellow Republicans are all but ignoring the troubles.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been charged with two felonies, and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who last year unapologetically shared a Facebook post that suggested using a nuclear bomb on the Muslim population, coasted to election in 2014 as part of a new slate of GOP leaders. Other Republicans who won that year included Gov. Greg Abbott and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of Jeb Bush.

Democrats, who have called on Paxton to resign, lament what they call the pitfall of a politically one-sided state. Republicans seem content to stay quiet.

[…]

At least one former GOP state official said the lack of competitive elections in Texas has made current officeholders less responsive to voters and more focused on not alienating their base.

“They’re good guys, but they’ve been kind of leading with their chins,” said Jerry Patterson, who led the Texas General Land Office for more than a decade before being replaced by Bush. “Whether the allegations are right or wrong, it does negatively impact the Republican brand.”

Not exactly sure what Patterson means by that, but it’s kind of weak tea for a normally blunt guy. It’s entirely possible to believe that Paxton and Miller are good guys, as I believe Ron Reynolds is a good guy, and also believe that they did some shady things, for which they at least may need to suffer some consequences. But if the best you can do is fret about damaging the brand, then you surely can appreciate that the brand isn’t going to fix itself. Someone is going to have to be the grownup.

In that spirit, I must note that Greg Abbott has finally said something about all this.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott believes allegations that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller misused state funds when he took two out-of-state trips a year ago should be investigated, a spokesman for the governor said on Thursday.

“The governor believes these allegations of misuse of taxpayer dollars warrant a thorough investigation by the Texas Rangers,” said the spokesman, John Wittman.

As a partisan Democrat, of course, I’d have preferred to see something stronger. As a political realist, I recognize that this is about as strong as it gets in this kind of situation. The fact that he actually mentioned “allegations” of “misuse” of state funds puts it in another class than the wishy-washy “let the system run its course” pablum he issued when Ken Paxton was first indicted. Someone in the Governor’s office recognizes a rotten egg when they smell it, so kudos to them for that. Anyone else got anything to say, about Miller or Paxton? Again, it’s fine by me if they don’t. Go ahead, whistle past the graveyard all you want. Tomorrow may never come. In the meantime, Texas Monthly has put together a couple of helpful overviews and FAQs about the Paxton and Miller situations. Who knows what the next chapter will be.

Take transit to the game

If you can, you should.

HoustonMetro

The transformation of downtown from a work place that empties after dark to a true community is finally underway in earnest, with residents, retail shops, and restaurants that remain open long after the lunch rush. The building boom is everywhere, and that includes the area around Minute Maid, which had been the domain of abandoned warehouses and repeating squares of blacktop.

As new development gradually alters the timeworn tableau of skyscrapers, hotels and parking lots, the matter of where to put all the cars that flood into the area – be it for work in the day, governmental dealings, or nighttime entertainment – becomes a bit less obvious. Nowhere is that more true than in downtown’s eastern precinct, home to the Astros, Rockets, Dynamo, George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green.

For the sold-out baseball games, competition for the close-in surface lots will become increasingly fierce. The Astros control about 3,000 parking spaces in their own lots east of the stadium, but high-demand games see most of those spaces sold when tickets are purchased. Parking in their lots is reserved for ticket buyers, though a small number last-minute cash sales typically are offered for lower-demand games.

Another 4,000 to 5,000 parking spaces can still be found in surface lots mostly north of the stadium. The pricing for many of them is dynamic, fluctuating game to game, or sometimes hour to hour, depending on attendance. Some parking management companies offer advance online purchase, some don’t. An Astros spokesman said that a range of $10-20 is likely for lots within a two to three-block radius.

When those lots are filled, drivers will have to look toward the garages to be found to the west and south. Costs will vary according to distance from the stadium. Fans willing to walk a half-mile can get a good deal, well below $10, though the sweaty summer months make for a challenging trade-off.

One option, which may become more common in future years, is for drivers to park on the west side of downtown in or near the theater district and take the Metro rail purple line across town. It has a stop just two blocks north of Minute Maid. A drop-off lane also is available in front of the stadium on Texas Street.

The Downtown Houston Management District says that 26 construction projects with an estimated cost of $2.2 billion currently are underway. Another $2 billion worth of projects are on the drawing board, it says. There will be a day, perhaps sooner than once thought, when a majority of the remaining surface lots will give way to new development.

[…]

Because Houston’s central business district is large, plenty of parking remains available and will continue to be. It’s just not so close anymore. Or as cheap. For high-demand games, the available lots near the stadium will go early, with the choicest locations fetching $50 or more for the most desirable games.

The eventual thinning out of the visually unappealing and space-hogging surface lots will please urban designers and downtown advocates, but no doubt will annoy some baseball fans. As [Marcel Braithwaite, the Astros’ senior vice president of business operations] points out, Houstonians love the freedom that comes with their cars and the easier ingress and egress that these lots offer. Some may fondly recall the old days at the Astrodome, which was surrounded by acres of parking and nothing else.

But in a broader sense, the replacement of blacktop by new homes and businesses means that the decades-old dream of a lively city center is taking form. When it comes to taking in a ball game, a new way of thinking will be required.

“It’s neat to see this resurgence,” Braithwaite said of the residential development as well as new clubs and restaurants. “The city is getting life back into it. I’m excited about the urban redevelopment, but that means change. There is no getting around that.”

As was the case for lots of people with the Final Four and the rodeo, taking transit to the game is going to be cheaper and in many cases more convenient than driving. Just the prospect of paying $20 to park, never mind $40 or $50, should make most people at least consider this. It’s also in the Astros’ best interests to get people to not drive to the game if it’s feasible for them. It’s like I’ve said about bike parking in places like Montrose and on White Oak where parking is scarce: It’s in everyone’s interests for the people for whom it is reasonably convenient to take transit to be encouraged and enabled to do so. Note that you don’t have to actually live near a bus or train stop to do this. Drive to a station that has adjacent parking, like the Quitman stop (which has a small Metro-owned free parking lot) or the Ensemble/HCC stop (where there’s a parking garage), and go from there. Again, those of you that have no choice but to drive and park really ought to want everyone for whom this is a decent option to choose it, for they each represent one fewer car competing with you for a parking space and clogging up the roads after the game. Are there any park and ride buses that run to and from the games like they do for the Rodeo? If not, maybe the Astros should inquire with Metro about that. Everyone wins with this.