Judge puts brakes on Paxton’s attack against Annunciation House


Attorney General Ken Paxton “acted without regard to due process and fair play” in seeking to shut down a leading migrant service provider, an El Paso judge said Monday in a ruling that blocks the state’s efforts for now.

“The Attorney General’s efforts to run roughshod over Annunciation House, without regard to due process or fair play, call into question the true motivation for the Attorney General’s attempt to prevent Annunciation House from providing the humanitarian and social services that it provides. There is a real and credible concern that the attempt to prevent Annunciation House from conducting business in Texas was predetermined,” 205th District Judge Francisco Dominguez said in his ruling.

Dominguez said Annunciation House’s petition for declaratory judgment means the case is governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which essentially blocks any action by Paxton until the court reviews the case.

The judge denied motions from Annunciation House to issue a temporary injunction or quash the attorney general’s request to examine its documents. But his ruling saying the case is subject to court rules has a similar effect of blocking further action in the case until Dominguez can review arguments about the constitutionality of Paxton’s request.

The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure provide a timeline on the production of documents in a civil lawsuit.

Ruben Garcia, the founder and director of Annunciation House, said he was grateful for the judge’s ruling. He said Paxton’s actions could threaten businesses across Texas.

“It kind of sends a shiver through all incorporated entities in the state of Texas, because people are going to ask, does this mean that the attorney general feels that they have the authority to arrive at any institution, any business, any entity, and just walk up and say, we are submitting a request to examine. And I think that’s a really fundamental question about whether that’s a way to function,” Garcia said.

Paxton’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

In his order, Dominguez said he would schedule a hearing on motions from the attorney general that essentially say its actions regarding Annunciation House aren’t subject to his review.

See here, here, and here for some background. The Trib explained one part of this a little more clearly to me:

Annunciation House had asked Dominguez to determine if it was obligated to release the documents Paxton’s office requested. In his ruling, Dominguez said Paxton’s office must go through the state’s court system if it wants to investigate the nonprofit.

“Both the Attorney General and Annunciation House are now obliged to litigate this matter within the guidelines set forth by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, created to ensure fair play between litigants,” Dominguez wrote.

So Paxton can still pursue an investigation into whatever fever dream charges he may have in mind, but he can’t just demand that Annunciation House produce every document they’ve ever touched by noon tomorrow or he’ll shut them down. He has to ask and a judge gets to rule on what is in scope and what the timeline for producing it all should be, and so on. Annunciation House had already been producing documents for him, it was precisely the bull rush that had caused them to sue in the first place. I hope this will at least take some air out of whatever he’s doing, but if it does that won’t be forever. Not as long as there’s a pliant wingnut Legislature waiting in the wings to change the laws in Paxton’s favor.

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