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Brynne VanHettinga

State Bar complaint against Ted Cruz was dismissed

This story ran a few days ago.

Not Ted Cruz

A lawyer group that brought ethics complaints against Trump attorneys is trying to make it tougher for lawyers to use the legal system to overturn elections.

The group, called the 65 Project, aims to change bar rules of professional conduct in 50 states and the District of Columbia to eliminate “fraudulent and malicious lawsuits” against fair election results.

“Lawyers purport to be self-regulatory and special stewards of the rule of law,” Paul Rosenzweig, a group advisory board member, told reporters Wednesday. “They failed in that responsibility” with the 2020 election.

The effort is a new front in the group’s self-described battle to protect democracy from abuse of the legal system. 65 Project has already filed 55 state bar ethics complaints against lawyers for former President Donald Trump over their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The group’s targets have included former Foley & Lardner partner Cleta Mitchell, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and lawyers Joseph diGenova and Boris Epshteyn.

Part of 65 Project’s new effort includes proposing rules to prevent attorneys in public office from violating attorney standards by amplifying false statements about elections.

The group is focusing initially on about a dozen states, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania, and DC, said Michael Teter, a former Utah assistant attorney general who is Project 65’s managing director.

See here for the background. The Bloomberg Law story says that all of the 65 Project’s complaints are active, but that is not accurate. According to the DMN, which I was able to quickly peruse before the paywall came up, the complaint was dismissed by the State Bar of Texas on June 13, a few weeks after it was filed. The reason, as noted in the sub-head of the story, is that the State Bar said they lacked oversight since Cruz was acting as a Senator and not a lawyer; their dismissal letter didn’t address the merits of the complaint. A minor consolation, that. We are still waiting for a ruling in the complaint against Ken Paxton; a ruling by a different judge in the case against Paxton deputy Brent Webster does not bode well for the complainants, but I suppose it’s not over till it’s over. There’s still a possible appeal of that ruling, which as far as I know has not yet been filed. I fear all of them will get away with it, which is too depressing to contemplate. We’ll know soon enough.

District court judge dismisses State Bar complaint against Brent Webster

This is a bad ruling, and it needs to be appealed.

A Texas district judge has dismissed a professional misconduct lawsuit against a top aide of Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to discipline them for their effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Milam County Judge John W. Youngblood ruled last week that his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the matter, agreeing with the attorney general’s argument that doing so would violate the separation of powers doctrine by interfering in an executive branch matter.

“To find in the commission’s favor would stand for a limitation of the Attorney General’s broad power to file lawsuits on the state’s behalf, a right clearly supported by the Texas Constitution and recognized repeatedly by Texas Supreme Court precedent,” Youngblood wrote.

A similar case filed by the State Bar against Paxton is still before a Collin County judge and has not yet been decided.

[…]

Jim Harrington, a member of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a coalition of lawyers including two former State Bar presidents, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the State Bar, called the ruling a “legal charade.” The group also filed complaints that prompted the bar to file suits against Paxton and Webster.

“The logic of the judge’s decision is that, if a lawyer works for the Attorney General, there is no way to hold the lawyer accountable for ethical violations and professional misconduct,” Harrington said in a statement. “In other words, the attorney general’s office is above the law. That is contrary to the principle of the Constitution, and we hope the State Bar will appeal the ruling.”

Ratner, a co-founder of the group and a Maryland attorney, said he, too, was disappointed in the ruling and added that it misconstrued the premise of the suit.

“While separation of powers authorizes the Attorney General to decide what lawsuits to file on the State’s behalf, we believe it does not authorize him to make misrepresentations and dishonest statements to a court in violation of his duties as a Texas-licensed lawyer,” Ratner said. “That’s what’s involved here.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the letter the judge sent. Not a formal opinion, though I suppose he could still write one, just a one page letter. Obviously, if this judge fully bought into Ken Paxton’s sleazy and self-serving line of defense, it doesn’t bode well for the complaint against him. I think Jim Harrington has this exactly right, and I hope the State Bar has the wisdom and the guts to appeal this. Anything less would be a dereliction of their duty. The Trib has more.

Paxton’s State Bar disciplinary hearing

We are slowly moving towards finally having some kind of result in this saga.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued Wednesday that a Kaufman County judge should toss a lawsuit alleging he acted unethically in a legal challenge that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The first public hearing in the case inside a near-empty Kaufman County courtroom was not to determine the merit of the lawsuit lodged by a disciplinary commission of the state bar, but whether the group can seek sanctions against Texas’ top lawyer.

Paxton’s lawyers said the case, which could threaten his law license, is an unconstitutional attempt to control his office’s work and could have a chilling effect on future attorneys general. But an attorney for the commission countered that all lawyers should be subject to the same rules of professional conduct, no matter their position.

Judge Casey Blair, a Republican, did not issue a decision from the bench Wednesday. The outcome could establish the limits of the commission’s power to sanction lawyers who serve in high-ranking elected positions.

Any ruling will likely be appealed, meaning it could be months before the bar’s complaint over Paxton’s 2020 election lawsuit is heard in court, if ever.

[…]

In the hearing Wednesday, Christopher Hilton, a state attorney representing Paxton, argued that if the court allows the lawsuit to go forward, then “every future attorney general will have to fear for their law license rather than represent the state of Texas to the best of their ability and the way their voters expect that they would do.

“They would be hamstrung on unelected bureaucrats,” he said.

Royce LeMoine, a lawyer for the commission, said Paxton is being sued for his actions as a lawyer, not as the state’s attorney general, and that this is not a “select prosecution.”

“The commission’s disciplinary rules do not violate the respondent’s ability to advocate for his clients and the state of Texas,” LeMoine told the judge.

See here, here, and here for the previous updates. The Chron had a preview story on Tuesday.

“I hope it proceeds,” said Jim Harrington, one of the Texas lawyers who filed the State Bar complaint. “I hope [the judge] bites the bullet and denies the plea because it’s the right thing to do.”

[…]

In seeking to dismiss the disciplinary case, Paxton’s lawyers argue that it would violate the separation of powers doctrine for the Texas courts to “police” what they say was an executive branch decision. They also claim Paxton is protected by sovereign immunity, the legal principle that generally shields public officials from lawsuits.

In a separate motion, the attorney general’s office is asking the judge to allow the agency to intervene in the case on Paxton’s behalf.

The 2020 suit was not “dishonest, fraudulent, or deceitful,” they write in filings, and the State Bar’s issues with it essentially amount to a “political disagreement.”

“If Texans disapprove of the how the Attorney General exercises his authority, the remedy is to vote him out of office,” Paxton’s attorneys write. “The bar has no veto over how the Attorney General exercises his constitutional authority.”

Paxton was not the first attorney general to be asked to spearhead the case, and lawyers in his own office, including then-Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, had argued against it, according to the New York Times. Hawkins, who would normally represent the state in such litigation, had no involvement in the case when it was filed and resigned within a month.

Top lawyers at the Florida attorney general’s office ridiculed the suit as “bats—t insane,” emails revealed.

Recent polls have shown the attorney general’s race is highly competitive between Paxton and his Democratic opponent Rochelle Garza, a former ACLU attorney. Garza, who has portrayed herself as the candidate who will bring integrity to the attorney general’s office, isn’t buying Paxton’s legal argument in this case.

“Political disagreements have to do with policies, not facts,” Garza said in a statement. “Even first-year law students know that legal accusations of wrongdoing require evidence, yet two years later, Paxton continues peddling his baseless lies about the 2020 election. Texans deserve an attorney general who believes in the rule of law and ethically uses the power of the office to serve Texans, not for their own political ends.”

Any decision in the case could foreshadow the result of a suit filed against Paxton’s First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster by the Texas Bar for his involvement in the 2020 Supreme Court petition. Webster is also seeking to dismiss his case, and a hearing will be held Sept. 6 in Williamson County.

Paxton and Webster are being represented by lawyers from the attorney general’s office, as well as outside counsel. The office has not responded to questions about why they need both. The cost to taxpayers so far is over $46,000, and that’s before today’s initial proceedings.

The attorney general’s office has said the four in-house attorneys working on the case are not keeping track of their billable hours. The office did not explain why no timekeeping was done, despite its policy of doing so for other types of cases.

“To me, it’s really outrageous they’re using taxpayer money,” Harrington said. “This has nothing to do with his role as attorney general, absolutely nothing. It’s only his role as an attorney. Even if the State Bar disbars him, it has no effect on him being attorney general.”

You will not be surprised to know that I am on the State Bar’s side in this dispute. Paxton’s argument has merit to the point that elected officials should not be held accountable for political decisions by non-political offices like the State Bar. Where that falls apart is that he was also acting as a lawyer, and in doing so was violating the ethical and professional rules that lawyers are supposed to abide by. The evidence for that is overwhelming, from the sheer brazen falsity of the the claims he was making to the way similar lawsuits had been routinely batted aside by a myriad of courts to the fact that his own Solicitor General, whose job it is to make these arguments in court, refused to participate. If he can’t be held accountable for that then he has a blank check to do anything. That cannot be the right answer.

Anyway. If Paxton is found guilty, he will be subject to discipline from the State Bar, which could be anything from a scolding to being disbarred. While the latter seems unlikely to me – from what I have observed, it’s usually lawyers that do things like misappropriate clients’ money that get the boot – I don’t think it would be inappropriate given the seriousness of the issue. If that did happen, Paxton would still be able to hold the office of Attorney General. We’re not getting rid of him that easily. I don’t know what to expect and I don’t know how long it might take. With Paxton, we’re used to waiting on these things. Reform Austin has more.

The State Bar’s response to Paxton

As you know, the State Bar of Texas filed a lawsuit against Ken Paxton in a Collin County district court in order to proceed with the complaint filed against Paxton for his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election by filing a massively dishonest and bad-faith lawsuit against four states won by President Biden. Paxton filed his response to that lawsuit a month ago, and now the State Bar has responded to his response.

Best mugshot ever

Weeks before the May 24 primary runoff election for attorney general, Paxton publicly tweeted the State Bar was following a “political narrative” by filing its action “just a few weeks before” his election. Paxton made the same argument in his court answer to the petition.

The commission filed its response last week, emphasizing the petition was filed the day after the election and the only significance to that filing date is that it occurred on the same day the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region signed the Order of Assignment; the commission couldn’t have filed sooner.

Moreover, the complaints were presented to an investigatory panel Jan. 5. After the panel found “credible evidence” to support a finding that Paxton violated the code of ethics, “the commission attempted to negotiate a resolution with (Paxton),” the response states.

It was Paxton that elected to have the disciplinary action heard in Collin County, and it was Paxton that “conjured up the specter of a political narrative,” the commission stated, to politicize an otherwise straightforward disciplinary proceeding.

In Paxton’s answer, he cited several defenses, including a lack of jurisdiction, a violation of separation of powers, and sovereign immunity.

Paxton asserts in his plea that he is unique, and unlike every other licensed attorney holding the position of state attorney general in the United States, is altogether exempt from having to comply with his state’s rules of professional conduct, even when acting directly as counsel of record before a court, the commission response states.

[…]

Paxton argued that as part of the executive branch the courts had no jurisdiction over him. The commission said this premise was tested and failed in two other states, Minnesota and Connecticut. Referring to In Re Lord, the Minnesota Supreme Court held, “the governor has no power to clothe the attorney general with immunity for disciplinary powers of the court when the attorney general appears in court as an attorney,” and that such a finding would “reduce the court to a tool of the executive.”

The commission said that, despite Paxton’s contentions that the disciplinary action was brought for political or retaliatory purposes, that action is not about his decision as the attorney general to file the case.

“Rather, the commission contends that the pleadings respondent prepared and filed contained numerous statements that were false, dishonest, and deceitful,” in violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the response states.

Referring to Paxton’s separation of powers argument, the commission told the court the State Bar Act gives the Texas Supreme Court administrative control over regulations governing the practice of law, and the high court has inherent regulatory powers as well within the state Constitution.

On sovereign immunity, the commission said Paxton isn’t being sued in his official capacity, but personally in his capacity as a licensed attorney.

See here and here for the previous updates. A major component of the State Bar’s response has been to take on Paxton’s claims that the whole process is political, because that’s the main tool he has in his bag whenever someone tries to hold him accountable for anything. Indeed, the headline of this story notes how the State Bar turned Paxton’s complaints about the process against him, because Paxton can’t help but be a lying liar who lies a lot. I can’t say how effective any of this will be, but you do love to see it. I don’t know when the next update is, but as always I’ll be watching. The Statesman has more.

Paxton responds to State Bar lawsuit against him

Blah blah blah, you can’t sue me, blah blah blah.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking to dismiss a professional misconduct lawsuit filed by the state bar against him related to his legal challenge of the 2020 presidential election, court documents show.

In a court filing June 27, Paxton asked a district court in Collin County to dismiss the Texas State Bar’s lawsuit. The state’s top lawyer, a Republican who is seeking a third term in office, said state bar investigators are biased and politically motivated against him.

[…]

In the court filing, Paxton said the state bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline, which filed the suit, had no authority to “police the decisions of a duly elected, statewide constitutional officer of the executive branch.” Paxton also stood by his decision to challenge the results of the 2020 election.

See here for the previous update. This is more or less the standard way to respond, and indeed Paxton is making the same arguments he’s made in the past, because there’s nothing new here. It’s just a matter of eventually getting a judge to rule on it. I don’t know what the potential for delay is here, but we know from past and recent experience, if there’s one thing Ken Paxton is good at, it’s throwing up every possible obstacle in the path of holding him accountable. I don’t expect this to be any different, but maybe I’ll be surprised.

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.

More State Bar disciplinary stuff

A new twist, as a new player enters the picture.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas State Bar has filed a suit in Williamson County district court against First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster for his involvement in the state’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election, alleging Webster committed professional misconduct by making false and misleading statements in the petition.

A similar disciplinary suit is expected against Paxton, who reiterated Friday his contention that the group is targeting him because it disagrees with his politics. As of Friday afternoon, no suit had been filed.

Texas’ 2020 suit before the U.S. Supreme Court was almost immediately tossed, and Trump’s own Justice Department found no evidence of fraud that could have changed the election’s outcome. The bar is treating the case as a frivolous lawsuit as it seeks sanctions including possible disbarment for the two public officials.

“I stand by this lawsuit completely,” Paxton said on Twitter. “I am certain that the bar will not only lose, but be fully exposed for what they are: a liberal activist group masquerading as a neutral professional association.”

Then-Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, the state’s chief litigator who resigned about a month after the election challenge was tossed, was notably absent from the filing, though Hawkins never explained why, raising questions about whether he supported the legal challenge. Solicitor generals are typically involved in all major appellate litigation.

[…]

The bar complaints against Paxton and Webster alleged that their petition to overturn the 2020 election was frivolous and unethical, and that it includes statements that they knew to be false. In Webster’s case, it is clear that the bar agrees.

“Respondent’s representations were dishonest,” the suit states. “His 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 suit also alleges that Webster “misrepresented” that Texas had “uncovered substantial evidence,” raising doubts about the integrity of the election and had standing to sue before the U.S. Supreme Court. The four battleground states that Texas sued — Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — were then forced to have to spend time, money and other resources responding to these claims, it said.

The suit does not specify what type of punishment the bar recommends for Webster.

The suit against Webster was sparked by a March 2021 complaint by Brynne VanHettinga, an former member of the bar who described herself as a “citizen concerned about fascism and illegal overthrow of democracy.” VanHettinga could not be immediately reached Friday.

See here and here for some background. Looking at that Trib story that I based yesterday’s post on, I see it also includes a couple of paragraphs about the action against Brent Webster, who replaced Jeff Mateer after he was purged as a whistleblower against Paxton, and who co-authored the self-exoneration report from that saga. I was not aware of any State Bar complaints against Webster in this matter – the two against Paxton were filed after the VanHettinga complaint against Webster. A Google News search on VanHettinga’s name only yielded the Chron and Trib stories. You can see what a challenge it is to keep up with all this.

As for the Paxton piece of it, this is more of the story I blogged about yesterday. The main thing to learn, which the Trib story also noted, is that there hasn’t yet been a lawsuit filed against Paxton. It sounded like that would be filed in Travis County when it happens, but maybe this means it will happen in Williamson instead. Since it seems that the judge will be selected from the broader judicial administrative region, it’s not clear that where the trial itself is matters.

A response to Paxton’s response

As you may recall, back in June we learned about a State Bar of Texas complaint against Ken Paxton for his ridiculous and seditious lawsuit that attempted to overturn the 2020 Presidential election. That complaint was filed by four people: Kevin Moran, retired journalist, President of the Galveston Island Democrats; David Chew, former Chief Justice of the 8th Court of Appeals; Brynne VanHettinga, a now inactive member of the Texas Bar; and Neil Cohen, a retired attorney. A second complaint was later filed by Lawyers Defending American Democracy, part of a group that included four former Presidents of the State Bar of Texas.

I’ve had some email correspondence with Neil Cohen, who was introduced to me via a mutual friend, since that first complaint came to light. He sent me the following analysis of Paxton’s responses to the complaints:

Ken Paxton’s recent [7/15] Response to four Grievances arising from his December lawsuit to overturn the election demonstrates that his claims of a stolen election and of illegal voting procedures were merely posturing to improve his political standing. The top law officer of Texas put our system of democracy in grave danger for his own political benefit.

The Grievances charged that his lawsuit is filled with falsehoods and absurd legal claims, thus violating attorney disciplinary rules. Paxton’s response failed to defend large sections of the lawsuit. As to his claims of massive voting improprieties, Paxton stated that he had hoped to develop the evidence during trial. (1) That, however, was his only evidence in support of his stolen election claims. Thus, Paxton’s tacit admission that he has no evidence to support his claims is strong proof that there is no evidence of a stolen election. The “Big Lie” is indeed a big lie. His admission is also in marked contrast to his repeated claims in the month between the filing of the lawsuit and the meeting of the electors on Jan 6 that the election was stolen and his urging Trump supporters to take action. Those claims culminated in Paxton’s appeal to a mob to “keep fighting” shortly before they invaded the Capitol Building.

As to legal claims, Paxton did not offer a defense of several essential claims (2), including the most important, that the proper remedy was overturning the election and disenfranchising millions of voters. On the issue of standing, where by a 7-0 vote [two justices ruled based on other issues] the Supreme Court had rejected Paxton’s arguments that Texas had the right to dictate to four other sovereign states how they conducted their election lawsuit, Paxton merely reiterated his arguments.

Instead of better defending his lawsuit, Paxton instead relies on two very weak procedural arguments. First, the Bar shouldn’t hear the Grievances because the filers weren’t his client. (3) The Disciplinary Rules, however, specifically provide that anyone with information about rule violations can file a grievance. (4) He also argues, without citing cases specific to attorney discipline, that the separation of powers doctrine prevents a court system from disciplining an attorney general for a court filing. (5) This is contrary to the cases I found. (6) Also, moving from the abstract level of his argument to the specific facts of this case, Paxton is arguing for the privilege to lie and to bring lawsuits that lack any reasonable basis. That privilege is non-existent. In fact, an attorney appearing before a court acts as an officer of the court and is therefore subject to discipline from the court (and from the relevant bar associations).

The weakness of Paxton’s Response demonstrates that the lawsuit violates attorney disciplinary rules and that his claims of a stolen election are nonsense. Because of the serious consequences of Paxton’s action, including an invasion of the Capitol Building, the Bar should impose its most serious punishment, disbarment. In addition, Paxton should be removed from office.

1 Response, pp. 12-13.
2 What he did defend — See Response, p. 8 (standing), p. 10 (electors clause), p. 11 (equal protection and due process).
3 Response, p. 13.
4 https://www.law.uh.edu/libraries/ethics/attydiscipline/howfile.html The second question (which is not numbered) states, "Any person who believes that a rule of professional conduct has been violated may file a complaint with the State Bar."  (emphasis added).
5 Response, p. 20
6 In re Lord, 255 Minn. 370 (Minn. 1959) • 97 N.W.2d 287; Massameno v. Statewide Grievance Committee, 234 Conn. 539 (Conn. 1995) • 663 A.2d 317.

I have a copy of the Paxton response here, and further notes from Cohen on the response are here.

As it happens, there was also a story in Salon about the complaint and Paxton’s limited and technicality-laden response to it:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, an ardent Trump supporter who was the lead plaintiff in a last-ditch Supreme Court case aimed at overturning the 2020 election, appears to be backing away from his past claims of widespread election fraud. Facing discipline or even potential disbarment in Texas, Paxton now merely alleges that there were “irregularities” in battleground states, while still suggesting those could somehow have affected the overall result

Paxton’s apparent retreat came earlier this month in response to an array of grievances filed by several members of the Texas bar: retired lawyer Neil Cohen; Kevin Moran, president of the Galveston Island Democrats; former Texas Court of Appeals Chief Justice David Chew; and Dr. Brynne VanHettinga. In their initial complaint, the group argued that Paxton should face professional discipline over his bid to undermine the 2020 presidential election, saying that Paxton’s December petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that President Biden’s victory should be set aside, was both frivolous and unethical.

In Paxton’s response to their grievances, which was provided to Salon, the attorney general argued that “Texas’s filings were not frivolous” because “the 2020 election suffered from significant and unconstitutional irregularities in the Defendant States.” Paxton further claimed that, by this logic, he and his office “did not violate the disciplinary rules.”

Paxton’s response is a clear departure from his previous rhetoric, much of which explicitly supported former President Trump’s grandiose conspiracy theories about systemic election fraud. Earlier this month, Paxton told a Dallas crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference that his “fight” for election security “is not done.”

“When people tell you there is no election fraud, let me just tell you my office right now has 511 counts in court because of COVID waiting to be heard,” Paxton continued. “We have another 386 that we’re investigating. If you add those together, that’s more election fraud than my office has prosecuted since it started investigating election fraud years and years ago.”

Paxton is notably less bombastic in his response to the Texas bar, but mentions the same “irregularities” that his original Texas suit claimed had tainted the elections in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. Effectively all of those supposed “irregularities” were changes in voting rules made in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which created significant challenges for both in-person and absentee voting.

[…]

In an evident attempt to ward off the threat of disbarment, Paxton’s response seeks to explain why the suit had any legal basis or “standing.” He argues, somewhat confusingly: “Texas’s assertion that it had standing in Texas v. Pennsylvania could not have been frivolous. There are no Supreme Court cases contrary to its position that it had standing.”

But Paxton indirectly admits, in Cohen’s view, that he had no real evidence of fraud, and apparently “hoped to develop the evidence during discovery.” In other words, his entire case could be interpreted as a fishing expedition, or just an attempt to rile up the Trump base with unsupported allegations. “That’s in contrast to his behavior for the month after filing the lawsuit,” Cohen said, “when he repeatedly claimed the election was stolen and urged people to take action.”

So now you know. I have no idea when the State Bar may issue a ruling, and as richly as Paxton deserves to be disbarred, I can’t see them doing much more than issuing some kind of reprimand. But at least that would be something. My thanks to Neil Cohen for the info and the guest post.