We’ll start with this big Chron story about yet another allegation of unethical legal conduct by Ken Paxton.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is suspended from duty as he awaits his impeachment trial, jeopardized his office’s prosecution of a GOP activist when he took a private meeting with him, court documents and other records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show.
A week before the 2022 Republican primary, Paxton met privately with Matthew Ocker, whom Paxton’s office had been prosecuting on charges the activist kicked and choked his disabled teenage daughter, court records show.
Paxton’s office acknowledged the meeting happened at a Gulf Coast hotel but said the attorney general didn’t know at the time that Ocker, 46, was facing criminal charges, according to an internal memo obtained by the Chronicle.
But other documents show that Ocker communicated for at least a month with one of Paxton’s closest advisers about his child abuse case before his face-to-face meeting with the state’s top lawyer. Ocker has pleaded not guilty in the case, which is now pending under a different prosecutor.
It’s not clear what the men discussed at the meeting, which Ocker attended without legal representation. But when his defense lawyer, Daniel Palmitier, learned about the extent of the meeting, he asked a judge to remove the child abuse case from Paxton’s jurisdiction, according to court documents. The judge indicated the private meeting with Paxton also concerned him.
Palmitier declined to discuss the details of the case. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The 2022 meeting raises concerns for Amanda Peters, a former prosecutor and professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, who reviewed documents referencing the meeting at the request of the Chronicle.
“The rules of ethics are clear. As soon as you know an opposing side has a lawyer, you are not to talk to him,” Peters said. “If it were me, as a prosecutor, I would walk out of the room.”
Law professor Geoffrey Corn agrees Paxton’s behavior was problematic if he knew Ocker had a lawyer.
“It’s just bad lawyering,” said Corn, who teaches at Texas Tech University. He added he believes Paxton’s conduct with Ocker mirrors his willingness to “skirt the rules” in acts outlined in the impeachment charges.
Both law professors said the hotel meet-up may have violated Texas disciplinary rules for attorneys, which prohibit lawyers from talking to other lawyers’ clients, unless the excluded attorney has explicitly consented. The records do not indicate if Paxton knew that Ocker had a lawyer, but both law professors said it would be unlikely for a criminal defendant to be unrepresented, and either way, Paxton should have asked.
Palmitier declined to say whether he submitted a misconduct complaint to the State Bar about Paxton.
A lawyer from the AG’s office said in court that Paxton often meets with voters, so he didn’t think the Ocker meeting should be viewed as a hindrance in his child abuse case.
The Hays County District Attorney recused himself from the child abuse case, saying Ocker believed he had unjustly targeted him, and asked the AG’s office to take over.
Ocker then began complaining to a top AG official raising similar concerns about Paxton’s prosecutors, according to copies of Facebook messages referenced in court, which the Chronicle obtained through an open records request.
In June 2021, he wrote to Michelle Smith, identified in court records as a senior adviser to Paxton, that “the AG’s office is totally out of control” and “Ken has lost my support.”
Smith, who worked as a campaign manager for Paxton and his wife, Angela, during her run for state senate, responded swiftly.
“Let me help,” she said.
Days later, she followed up saying she had asked people to “look into” Ocker’s situation.
Weeks of messaging ensued during which Ocker continued to disparage Paxton’s office.
Smith wrote back saying she had spoken with Brent Webster, Paxton’s first assistant, to answer a question about his case.
Ocker wrote at one point, “He (Paxton) can talk to me. He’s not prosecuting the case,” according to a court transcript.
Smith later helped coordinate Paxton’s Port Aransas schedule so that Ocker could meet with him between events, records show.
She texted Paxton’s executive assistant, Tommy Tran, and asked him to find a “quiet spot” for Ocker and Paxton to meet amid a day of campaigning at the Plantation Suites and Conference Center. She did not mention in the text that Ocker had a pending criminal case.
Smith told the Chronicle she had no knowledge of Ocker’s case or the meeting between Paxton and Ocker.
Apart from his Texas grassroots activism, Smith said she did not know Ocker well. However, Facebook posts show Smith and Ocker commented back and forth, discussing politics, dog names and, in one case, she expressed interest in buying a pecan cutting board handcrafted by Ocker.
There’s a lot more, so read the rest, though be aware that the story contains a description of the abuse allegations against Ocker, and they’re pretty upsetting. The basic gist is that Ocker sought to undermine the prosecution against him by engaging in this bit of ex parrte communication with Paxton, who seemingly didn’t know the story behind the guy’s request but also didn’t have anyone check the guy out first. In the end, the AG’s office withdrew from the case, which is now back in Hays County where there’s a new District Attorney. In the end, this may have been much ado about not much, at least from a practical perspective. But it still says something about Ken Paxton.
The House impeachment team is looking into several financial deals that Paxton has made over the course of his long political career.
The Dallas Morning News reports that Paxton’s stake in a company called WatchGuard Video is currently the subject of impeachment investigators. WatchGuard (now owned by Motorola) provides bodycam technology for law enforcement and has $33 million in sales since 2014. Paxton was an early investor in the company back when he was just a state representative.
When the company landed a contract with the Texas Department of Public Safety in 2006, it jumpstarted their business. Investigators are looking into whether Paxton helped WatchGuard get the contract, though the former CEO Robert Vanman of the company denies Paxton did so. Paxton failed to disclose his investment on his ethics form, though he did amend it in 2008 when his investment became public.
Vanman has contributed $5,500 to Paxton and his wife’s political campaigns since 2009. In 2016, WatchGuard began building a $44 million campus in Allen, the district where Paxton was a representative and his wife, Angela, is currently a state senator.
Paxton’s holdings with WatchGuard were put in a blind trust when Paxton became attorney general in 2015.
That blind trust is also under investigation. Between July 2021 to April 2022, the Paxton’s went on a real estate spending spree totaling $3.5 million. The properties they bought include a huge ranch in Oklahoma, plots in resort towns in Utah and Hawaii, and townhouses.
See here for more on that spending spree. I don’t have anything to add to this, I just like collecting stories that validate my view of this asshole.
And finally, on a more prosaic note.
Harriet O’Neill, a Republican former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, has joined the team of lawyers who will be prosecuting suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton during his Senate impeachment trial.
O’Neill, who served 12 years on the state’s highest civil court before stepping down in 2010, is an accomplished attorney who also served as a state district judge and as a justice on the Houston-based 14th Court of Appeals. In 2002 and 2006, she was named the appellate justice of the year by the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists.
O’Neill said she was proud to join the legal team, which also includes prominent Houston lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, assembled by House impeachment managers to present the legal case for impeachment in a trial before the Texas Senate to begin Sept. 5.
“The facts in this case are clear, compelling and decisive, and I look forward to presenting them before the members of the Texas Senate,” she said in a statement.
In a separate development in the impeachment case, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who presides over the Senate and is serving the role of judge in the impeachment trial — issued a discovery order Wednesday requiring House impeachment managers to share relevant information and documents with Paxton’s legal team.
The order was requested by Paxton’s lead defense lawyer, Tony Buzbee, who had accused the impeachment team of withholding information vital to the defense.
The discovery order requires impeachment lawyers to turn over documents, including business records and law enforcement reports, that are relevant to the impeachment proceedings. It also ordered impeachment lawyers to turn over physical evidence, photographs, and government and business records that will be used in the trial.
Impeachment lawyers will also have to disclose to Paxton’s defense team any known convictions of people they plan to call as witnesses and the names and addresses of expert witnesses.
After receiving Patrick’s order, House impeachment lawyers said they had already planned on submitting the information to Buzbee.
“Paxton’s lawyers ignored our efforts to cooperate, instead filing their unauthorized demands and trying to create a spectacle in the media,” DeGuerin and Hardin wrote in a statement. “The Lieutenant Governor has ordered us to produce exactly what we intended to produce from the beginning and we are happy to comply.”
No matter what happens in this trial, we will always have the acrimony between Team Hardin/DeGuerin and Team Buzbee/Cogdell. Though really it’s the Tony Buzbee Show all the way. I hope someone is regularly buying Dan Cogdell a nice stiff drink.