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Paxton will get his hands on grand jury info

Score one for Team Paxton.

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A district judge ruled Friday to grant information related to the selection of Collin County grand juries to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s defense team.

The ruling by District Judge George Galllagher came over objections by special prosecutors in the case, who filed a motion to quash the subpoenas seeking the information, saying the request was improper and not relevant.

His order notes that the ruling came after a conference call Thursday where both sides agreed to cancel a hearing scheduled for Friday and to release the information to the defense.

[…]

“This is a victory, pure and simple,” defense attorney Bill Mateja said in a written statement Friday. “Not only is it a victory for General Paxton, it is a victory for transparency in the grand jury process. Despite the Special Prosecutors describing our request as desperate, the Court easily saw through that hyperbole. The Court’s ruling demonstrates that these subpoenas were justified and proper. We have every right to consider the circumstances in which the grand jury was picked in this case.”

Special prosecutor Brian Wice responded to Mateja’s comment with a written statement of his own.

“Had Mr. Paxton’s defense team followed the rules regarding pre-trial discovery in criminal cases, we would not have been compelled to file our motion to quash his subpoenas,” he wrote. “But we congratulate Mr. Paxton’s defense team on their self-styled “victory for transparency in the grand jury process” and welcome the release of information revealing that absolutely nothing improper occurred in the selection and empanelment of any of the four Collin County grand juries they sought to challenge. Perhaps now we can move on to the real issues in this case.”

See here and here for the background. I have no idea what difference if any this will make, but I suppose if one’s defense is based on the theory that the grand jury was out to get Ken Paxton for some reason, it would help to have all available information about said grand jury. Settle in and get comfortable, this is going to take awhile.

Not so fast with those subpoenas

The special prosecutors in the Paxton case respond forcefully to his legal team’s grand jury-related subpoenas.

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Special prosecutors in Ken Paxton’s felony securities fraud case are seeking to quash subpoenas his lawyers filed last week seeking information about the grand jury selection process.

Paxton’s legal team last Thursday subpoenaed four Collin County court reporters for information related to the selection and empanelment of the grand jury that indicted the first-term attorney general in July. A fifth subpoena requests information on “a personnel action regarding a deputy clerk” from a human resources employee.

The prosecutors on Tuesday asked presiding Judge George Gallagher of Tarrant County to shoot down the subpoenas.

“Paxton’s applications are an improper, indeed, desperate attempt at obtaining pre-trial discovery, fall far short of meeting the standard of materiality and relevance required by controlling legal authority and constitute an unsupported and unsupportable attempt to conduct the very type of fishing expedition anathema to the criminal justice system,” their motion states.

The motion to quash says Paxton’s attorneys improperly used the subpoenas as weapons for discovery and did not demonstrate that the information sought would be material to his case.

“Absent a claim that members of a identifiable minority group were purposefully excluded from serving on the grand jury, nothing about the random selection and empanelment of this grand jury could ever come close to meeting the threshold mandate of materiality,” the motion states.

See here for the background. The stenographers also filed motions, having to do with the cost of providing full transcripts (they get paid by the word) and what if any of the testimony should be excluded. I can’t tell which side is more likely to be blowing smoke here, but we ought to find out quickly one way or the other.

The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 16 at 1:00 p.m. in the Tarrant County courtroom of Judge George Gallagher. The judge that day could decide whether to quash the subpoenas, or enforce them, which would require court employees to hand over transcripts, audio recordings and other information related to the grand jury selection and empanelment process.

Paxton attorney Bill Mateja said he expects Gallagher will make a decision that day.

“We’re hopeful that he will allow the subpoenas to stand and not quash them,” Mateja told the Chronicle on Thursday. “This is a very common request for the grand jury transcripts.”

Mateja said he does not expect the proceedings to last very long, and has not discussed with Paxton whether he will attend: “It’s fairly routine on very preliminary matters that the clients don’t show.”

Like I said, clearly one side or the other is going to be very disappointed. We’ll know soon enough. Trail Blazers, which has a copy of the prosecution’s motion, has more.

Paxton seeks grand jury information

Ken Paxton’s legal team has filed five subpoenas seeking more information relating to the grand jury that indicted him.

Best mugshot ever

The defense seeks a complete transcript and audio recording related to the selection of the grand jurors who indicted him.

[…]

The transcripts would reveal what, if anything, came up about Paxton and possible criminal charges during the selection process of grand jurors who were drawn from Republican-dominant Collin County.

In Collin County, two grand juries are picked by district judges from a random pool of registered voters to serve six-month terms. Only one grand jury heard evidence in Paxton’s case and issued the indictments. But Paxton’s defense team applied for records on the selection of both grand juries serving in the July to December 2015 term.

The defense is also seeking the transcript and audio recording for the selection of the two grand juries that served in the first six months of this year.

Those grand jurors were contacted at their work and their home about the Paxton investigation. One grand juror also sent a letter to the Travis County district attorney’s office seeking its investigative file on Paxton. That letter came before Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis requested the Texas Rangers open an investigation.

Shortly after that, Willis recused himself from the case. Houston defense attorneys Kent Schaffer, Brian Wice and Nicole DeBorde were appointed as special prosecutors in the case against Paxton.

The defense’s final subpoena application seeks documents from the county’s Human Resources Department “related to a personnel action involving a deputy district clerk.”

The records don’t offer any further details. It’s unclear whether this involves the clerk who mistakenly sent out an email in July listing the grand jurors’ names.

According to the Chron story, special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer intend to file a motion opposing the subpoenas. I don’t know what Team Paxton hopes to accomplish with this – the story says they’re claiming the jury was stacked against Paxton, which seems like a stretch given how many friends in the county he has, but I suppose anything is possible – but I’m not the one being paid the big bucks to keep his sorry heinie out of jail. We’ll see what the judge makes of it.

How will Paxton pay for his defense?

It’s a tricky question.

Best mugshot ever

Paxton faces three felony charges in Collin County, all related to his work as a private attorney and businessman. He told supporters in an email that he expects to be found innocent of all charges. The indictments handed up last month by a grand jury have nothing to do with the public Ken Paxton — the one who serves as attorney general and once served in the Senate and House, and the one who campaigned for votes for each of those jobs.

That means he can’t use the money in his substantial campaign account, according to attorneys familiar with the state’s campaign finance laws — Randall “Buck” Wood and Ed Shack, both of Austin. That money — he reported cash on hand of almost $2.5 million at the end of June — cannot be converted to his personal use.

And because the charges involve his private business and not his public business, he can’t tap the campaign funds.

That doesn’t mean he has to pay for everything, but it means it would be complicated to try to raise money to cover his expenses. And even if he finds a legal way to do it, finding a politically palatable solution will be hard. Voters are accustomed to political contributions, even if the money is being used to defend a politician in court for charges related to actions taken on the campaign or as an officeholder. Tom DeLay had a defense fund. Kay Bailey Hutchison did, too.

Personal litigation is different. Paying for that has nothing to do with public business. Offering to help someone in Paxton’s position is to offer a gift; offering a gift to a politician, with certain exceptions, is to offer a bribe.

The exceptions to the state’s bribery laws might allow a Ken Paxton Defense Fund, and if it works out, that could make his nights more restful.For instance, it’s clear that a public official cannot accept benefits from someone who is involved in litigation with their agency, or is about to be. So many of the folks most interested for professional reasons in helping the state’s top lawyer wouldn’t be able to give. And it’s clear in the law that legislators, the governor, the lieutenant governor and the people who work for them cannot accept gifts. The attorney general and other statewide officials are not named in that statute. Business associates can give giftsto public officials, however, so long as their gifts are independent of the recipient’s status as a public servant.

The story notes how Paxton’s situation is different than Rick Perry’s, since Perry’s charges stemmed from actions he took as Governor. I suppose we should be grateful that Ken Paxton wasn’t accused of securities fraud while acting as Attorney General, but that puts him in the same positions as pretty much everyone else accused of a serious crime: It’s going to cost him a lot of money to defend himself. Unlike everyone else, Paxton will have plenty of people who would like to help him pay his legal bills, but that’s also problematic. And given Paxton’s apparent history of, um, being casual about rules and regulations, perhaps someone ought to keep a close eye on any “Ken Paxton Legal Defense Fund” or similar construct, as well as Paxton’s existing campaign finance account, because you never know.

Paxton’s pal’s problems

AG Ken Paxton’s partner in sleazy business Fritz Mowery was also in court on Monday.

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Mowery Capital Management, a McKinney-based investment firm with ties to recently indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, presented false documents to state investigators and misled its clients by lying about a past bankruptcy, two administrative law judges said [last] Friday.

Judges Henry Card and Steven Rivas filed the proposed order Friday, finding that Mowery Capital and its head, long-time Paxton friend and business associate Frederick “Fritz” Mowery, violated state securities laws by sending clients a brochure that said he had not filed for bankruptcy – when in fact he had – and for presenting altered documents to staff with the Texas State Securities Board.

[…]

While the securities board commissioner has the authority to put Mowery and his firm out of business for these violations, Card and Rivas recommend that he not.

The state board will likely oppose the recommendation, however, telling the Chronicle on Monday it can take issue with Card and Rivas’ order when it “misstates evidence or incorrectly applies the law.”

“Although the administrative law judges found that Mowery and Mowery Capital Management engaged in fraudulent conduct, which constitutes the basis for the revocation of their registrations, the staff of the Texas State Securities Board is likely to file exceptions to numerous findings by the (administrative law judges),” said Texas State Securities Board Spokesman Bob Elder, in a statement to the Chronicle.

[…]

The state board will now have 15 days to file its exceptions with Card and Rivas. The judges will then consider the response and can accept some or all of the changes. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the case could ultimately end up in state district court.

See here and here for the background. I personally think that being put out of business, then being hit with a blizzard of lawsuits, would be an appropriate remedy here. We’ll see what happens next. In the meantime, remember that scammers like Mowery, and by extension Paxton, tend to cheat friends and like-minded individuals. You have to gain someone’s trust in order to get them to give you their money on something that may sound too good to be true otherwise, and it’s easier to gain someone’s trust if that person thinks you’re cut from a similar bolt of cloth. If there’s a real weakness to the political support Ken Paxton still has, it will come from the voices of the fellow conservative Republicans who lost money thanks to him and Fritz Mowery. Keep an eye on that. Trail Blazers has more.

How will we miss Ken Paxton if he doesn’t go away?

Despite his arrest and indictment, Ken paxton might stick around for awhile.

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Using Texas history as a measure, Ken Paxton’s indictment on securities fraud charges may mean he will have to navigate rough political waters if he stays in office pending his day in court.

And even if he should be convicted on the charges unsealed Monday in Collin County, experts say there may be no way to officially force him from office – thanks to a 22-year-old law that prohibits the removal of state officials for acts they committed before they took office.

“The real issue here is whether the attorney general can be effective as the state’s chief legal and law enforcement officer,” said Mark Jones, chairman of Rice University’s political science department and a longtime observer of Texas politics.

[…]

But should Paxton be convicted of the charges, most observers agree, the politics of him remaining in office become much more dicey. Even though conviction of a felony might not otherwise officially disqualify him from holding office, officials said, Paxton would likely face intense pressure to resign from fellow Republicans seeking to avoid any ill-effects on GOP control of state politics.

But impeachment – an official, if seldom-used, route for housecleaning – might not even be available. The reason, officials said Monday, is a 1993 state law that says “an officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.”

Exactly what prompted that change in 1993, at a time when ethics reform was an issue after a legislative influence-peddling scandal, remained unclear Monday. Legislative reference files show only that it was part of an update in state government code, including many housekeeping revisions, that was billed as “non-substantive” at the time. Legislative aides said they did not remember any details about the bill that was passed into law.

The acts for which Paxton is charged took place before he became attorney general, officials said.

“That raises an interesting question, because impeachment is the only ability the state has to take someone out of office who doesn’t resign,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist who recently published a book on executive-branch scandals. “I think that statute would certainly complicate things if it ever came to that.”

For a point of comparison, consider the Tom DeLay case. DeLay was (re)indicted in October of 2005, then went through a long process of trying to get his indictments thrown out, taking his appeal of that all the way to the Court of Criminal Appeals. After all those avenues were finally traveled, he went to trial and was convicted in November of 2010, more than five years later. He then appealed the conviction, and was rewarded when the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in September of 2013. The state then appealed that, and the CCA upheld the reversal in October of 2014, finally putting an end to the saga more than nine years after it officially began.

Given that, if Paxton is sufficiently pigheaded (early signs point to Yes, though that may just be standard-issue bravado) and has the money to keep his lawyers busy (more on that in a second), we could have two more statewide elections before this thing wraps up. Paxton could theoretically be in his third term before there’s a final resolution, in which he goes free or goes to jail. The process could take less time if he doesn’t challenge the indictments like DeLay did, if he gets acquitted, or if he (improbably) takes a plea deal. But if we go balls to the wall the whole way, we could be looking at nine years. Pace yourselves on the popcorn, is what I’m saying.

And despite the speculation I’ve seen in various reports that Tea Party types may help force Paxton out because they’re “fed up” with “business as usual” or whatever, please remember that it was the Tea Party that got Paxton elected in the first place, and so far they are standing by their man against those evil liberals in Collin County and the Texas Rangers. Yeah, there’s that one TP dude who expressed some concern about how all this looks. Wake me up when there’s more than one like him.

As for the money issue, as I understand it Paxton can only use his campaign treasury (which has some $2.5 million in it right now) to defend himself against charges for things he did while in office. These charges, of course, long predate his time in office. That should mean Paxton is on his own for the lawyer bills – he can fundraise to help pay them, of course, as anyone else could – but I have a feeling he won’t accept that without some kind of pushback. It’s the TEC that would rule on what he can do with his campaign funds, and who’s afraid of the TEC? For that matter, even if he claims to abide by them, who’s to say Paxton will be scrupulous about it, and not try to funnel some money out of his campaign account without anyone noticing? He doesn’t exactly have a record of honesty here. Keep an eye on the money is my advice. If there is a limiting factor in how long this all might take, it’s Paxton’s ability to keep his lawyers paid.

Ken who?

State Republican leaders don’t have much to say about our allegedly felonious Attorney General.

Ken Paxton

Texas’ Republican leaders Sunday continued their radio silence on the indictment of Attorney General Ken Paxton on three felony fraud charges.

Paxton, who was elected as part of a conservative GOP sweep that put Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick into office, will reportedly surrender to authorities Monday in North Texas on felony charges stemming from an alleged investment scheme into the McKinney-based technology company Servergy, as well as his failure to register as an investment advisor representative with the state.

Republicans’ silence comes in stark contrast to the support that followed then-Gov. Rick Perry when he was indicted on felony charges last year. Party leaders were quick to publicly decry those charges as politically motivated and insist Perry would prevail.

Paxton’s indictment could spell trouble for the state’s GOP leadership – generally with voters who may see it as symptomatic of ethics problems in Austin, and even among the conservative grassroots groups that helped elect Paxton but insist that elected officials should be squeaky clean.

Democrats and government-watchdog groups continue to blast the indictment Sunday as high-lighting cronyism among the state GOP leaders. Several called for his resignation.

Neither Abbott nor Patrick, who both championed ethics during the campaign and in the legislative session earlier this year, has commented on Paxton’s predicament.

[…]

The Texas Republican Party did not return calls and emails seeking comment since the news broke Saturday. Other Paxton supporters, including state legislators who count the same conservative groups among their supporters, remained silent over the weekend.

Calls to a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were not returned Sunday.

But they have not always been so silent. During last year’s campaign, an array of GOP luminaries from Abbott to Cruz, now a presidential contender, were effusive in their praise for Paxton even after he admitted and was punished for violating state securities.

Cruz, a star among Christian conservatives and tea party activists, referred to Paxton as “a good friend” at campaign rallies and cited Paxton’s support of straight-line conservative causes from opposing Obamacare and federal overreach to support of voter ID and more border security.

“You’re a good, strong conservative leader,” Cruz said of Paxton in one speech.

Paxton, in return, ran heavily on Cruz’s support, a key proof of his conservative bona fides that some political observers said helped him clinch a victory in the GOP primaries against Rep. Dan Branch, a favorite among establishment Republicans.

Privately, some Austin insiders said the issue was Paxton’s to address. Since it did not involve allegations of wrongdoing in his role as a state official, and because the case involved private business dealings, they said state business was not involved.

No doubt, this is going to cause heartburn for some people, from Cruz to Abbott to Dan Patrick and on down. That will be one of the fun parts about this saga. It’s not like no one could have seen this coming – Dan Branch and Sam Houston both made an issue of it in the elections last year. There were enough voters who cared more about Paxton’s stances on social issues than his integrity or capability, and so here we are. Still, let’s not forget how much better we could have done in this department.

Paxton’s Democratic opponent from 2014, attorney Sam Houston, said when the November election rolled around there was a cloud of controversy hanging over the Republican nominee. By then, Paxton had already easily defeated state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who had made Paxton’s alleged ethical lapses the centerpiece of his primary runoff.

“Dan Branch and I both talked about a pattern in the election. So I don’t think this is anything surprising or new,” Houston said. “I hate to say I told you so because that doesn’t make me feel better, but we were saying that it was likely that once he was elected that he could be indicted and sure enough, it’s happened. It’s just been even more counts than I even thought would happen.”

[…]

As word of the indictment spread, it was Tea Party activists who were the most willing to speak out about it. Writing for Empower Texans, an influential conservative group, its general counsel Tony McDonald questioned whether the investigations of Paxton had ties to the leadership of House Speaker Joe Straus.

Saying House leaders’ “motives are obvious,” McDonald wrote hours before word of the indictment spread: “Paxton rose to statewide prominence when he challenged Straus for the speakership in 2011. Further, the three are still stinging from Paxton’s defeat of their ally and Straus’s boyhood friend, Dan Branch, in the 2014 primary for Attorney General.”

Those voters who have sided with Paxton through the controversy, [SMU poli sci prof Cal] Jillson said, need to “blink hard twice and ask themselves what they were thinking.”

Some conservatives are taking a less defensive approach to Paxton’s legal troubles, though. North Texas Tea Party activist Mike Openshaw wrote on Facebook that Paxton should “step aside” if the reports about his indictment were true.

“Texas conservatives need to maintain a higher standard,” Openshaw wrote. “We aren’t Democrats.”

Yeah, we Democrats knew he was a crook a long time ago. Welcome to the table, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for your colleagues to come along with you. They’re all doing their best to pretend nothing has happened.

“Judge [George] Gallagher has specifically instructed both parties to refrain from public comment on this matter, and we are honoring the judge’s instructions,” Paxton attorney Joe Kendall, a former federal judge, said in a statement.

It was a far cry from the full-throated and indignant denials of other Texas leaders who have — on not entirely rare occasions — found themselves indicted. And it indicated that the state’s top law enforcement official is facing months, if not years, of his office and his stature being diminished under the weight of criminal charges.

“His situation is darkened,” said Republican political consultant Bill Miller.

The difficulties of Paxton’s defense are already stacking up: The investigation was run by the Texas Rangers; a hometown Collin County grand jury indicted him; and the charges spring from his questionable involvement in troubled financial deals, Miller said.

Paxton is accused of encouraging investors in 2011 to put more than $600,000 into a McKinney-based technology company, Servergy Inc. He is charged with failing to disclose to investors that he was making a commission on their investment. And he is alleged to have misrepresented himself as an investor in the company.

In the wake of the allegations has come a deafening silence from Republican colleagues.

“That’s the loudest noise in the room,” Miller said.

“The Democrats will yell for his resignation, and the Republicans will be silent,” he said. “However it’s resolved, he’s seriously wounded.”

They may have to say something now that Paxton has turned himself in for booking and a spectacularly ugly mugshot – seriously, where was Rick Perry’s stylist when Paxton needed him? The state Republican Party did issue a a perfunctorily snotty statement reminding us that even someone like Ken Paxton is innocent until proven guilty (and not subsequently cut loose by the Court of Criminal Appeals). Here’s one reason why at least some Republicans may not be out there standing by him: At least one, Rep. Byron Cook, is a complainant. Awkward! Several other Republicans lost money in a deal involving Paxton as well, though I don’t know if that one is part of the charges against him. Point being, as this is about money and not politics, the lines could get just a little blurry. Settle in and enjoy the ride going forward. Newsdesk, BOR, Hair Balls, Paradise in Hell, Texas Leftist, Trail Blazers, the Lone Star Project, the Observer, the full-of-ennui Burkablog, the Trib, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Republican Party of Texas’ statement on Paxton’s indictment. I did mention that they put out a statement in my writeup above, but there’s a pull quote from a story earlier in the cycle when they hadn’t yet put a statement out, so I’m putting this here for clarity.

Paxton indicted

It just got real, y’all.

Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been indicted on three charges in Collin County, according to KXAS-TV NBC 5, The Dallas Morning News’ media partner.

The grand jury’s indictments were issued on Tuesday, then immediately sealed. Paxton was indicted on two counts of first-degree securities fraud and one-count of third-degree failure to register. Sources tell KXAS’s Scott Gordon they will be unsealed Monday.

According to WFAA-TV, a Tarrant County judge has been appointed to the case.

[…]

“We went into this knowing that the Texas Rangers would uncover whatever evidence was there and if there was a sufficient amount that we would present it to a grand jury, so that’s what we did,” Kent Schaffer, one of the special prosecutors assigned to the case told The New York Times. “The grand jury elected to indict, and the indictments all speak for themselves.”

The Trib fills in some details.

Kent Schaffer, one of two special prosecutors who took the Paxton case to the grand jury, told The New York Times that the indictments include three felony counts — two alleging first-degree securities fraud and another alleging a third-degree charge that he failed to register as a securities agent.

Schaffer said Paxton is accused of encouraging others to invest more than $600,000 in a company called Servergy Inc. without telling them he was making a commission and misrepresenting himself as a fellow investor. The grand jury also charged him with failing to register with state securities regulators for soliciting clients for Mowery Capital Management in return for fees.

[…]

State officials do not have to step down from office if they are indicted, but convicted felons cannot serve.

[…]

Another potential problem for Paxton is the cost of defending himself. If he were charged for something he did as a state officeholder or as a candidate, his campaign funds could be used to pay the lawyers who defend him. In the case of charges that stem from his private or personal business activities, his campaign funds are out of bounds, according to experts in state ethics laws. Paxton would have to pay for his defense out of personal funds or find some way to set up a separate defense fund that could solicit contributions on his behalf.

I doubt he’ll have too much trouble raising money to defend himself, but we’ll see how things look on Monday when the indictment is unsealed. Not too many people want to hop on board a ship that’s going down. I also doubt that Paxton will step down any time soon, as it’s much harder to raise the kind of dough he’s going to need to defend himself as a private citizen than as a statewide officeholder, but there will be plenty of calls for him to do so. Here’s the official statement from Texans for Public Justice, whose complaint last year got this ball rolling:

“The only acceptable response to today’s indictment of Attorney General Ken Paxton is his resignation. The state’s highest law enforcement officer must be held to the highest standards of conduct. Ken Paxton’s behavior disqualifies him from serving as Texas’ top cop.”

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? The real question, as Nonsequiteuse asked a month ago, is at what point will Greg Abbott begin to consider Ken Paxton a problem? How long is he going to be happy to work alongside an indicted felon? These are serious charges, and Paxton has already admitted to one of them. Up to you, Governor. Thanks to Scott Braddock for being the first to call my attention to this. The Lone Star Project, Newsdesk, and Hair Balls have more.

Paxton girding for indictment

So are we, Kenny. So are we.

Ken Paxton

A Collin County grand jury is expected to weigh evidence brought by two temporary district attorneys assigned to the case. Paxton’s advisers are furiously preparing for a criminal indictment.

The looming showdown has the camps bickering. Anthony Holm, a spokesman for Paxton, contends the AG should not face criminal prosecution.

“As we’ve said for 14 months now, there was no criminal action because there was no crime,” Holm said. “This was solely a civil event with a $1,000 civil penalty.”

Holm took aim at the special prosecutors assigned to the case, calling Houston lawyers Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice lawyers “whose careers are built on defending the sort of child molesters and Mexican drug cartel leaders that Attorney General Paxton was elected to prosecute.”

Holm also accused a local lawyer who provided information about Paxton to a previous grand jury of having a vendetta.

“The Collin County situation is a drastic departure from objectivity, legal precedent or common sense, and it’s time for people to understand a respected public official is the target of a political vendetta,” Holm said. “This witch hunt must end.”

In a written statement, Schaffer and Wice fired back, saying their investigation was “neither a political vendetta nor a witch hunt.”

“The PR shell game Mr. Paxton’s hired gun employs once again seeks to change the conversation from his client’s conduct to personal attacks on us,” they wrote. “He knows full well that we were appointed by a Republican judge in one of the most conservative counties in Texas to conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation, and that is exactly what we intend to do.”

As the story notes, Paxton admitted to breaking the law to avoid a campaign issue. In his mind, that means the matter was settled, even though it had not yet come to the attention of any prosecutor. Now as we know a complaint has been filed and a special prosecutor appointed with a grand jury waiting in the wings, but Team Paxton wants everyone to believe that it’s all ancient history. It doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid. At least, not for normal people.

But prosecutors now say that at the least, there’s evidence that Paxton violated securities law by not registering with the securities board, a third-degree felony. And Schaffer has said he’ll ask for a first-degree felony indictment, though he won’t elaborate on the charge.

The prosecutors could submit evidence of the securities law violation that Paxton admitted to as a slam dunk case. But at least one legal expert says few people are criminally prosecuted for such offenses.

The state securities board did not refer the case for criminal prosecution.

“It’s technically a violation, but you don’t often see that type of violation charged criminally,” said Dallas lawyer Jeff Ansley, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas and a former Enforcement Attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “That’s very rare.”

So the key question remains: What’s the evidence of a first-degree felony?

I assure you, we are all on pins and needles waiting to find out. One hopes that these two career defense attorneys will not pursue excessive charges on flimsy evidence – you know, the sort of thing they are critical of other prosecutors for – so we’ll see what goods they have.

That Paxton is in legal trouble can be attributed in part to the efforts of a watchdog group, and the determination of a local lawyer.

The public integrity unit within the Travis County district attorney’s office said it lacked jurisdiction and forwarded information to Dallas and Collin counties for lack of jurisdiction. Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk didn’t touch the case either, saying she was not aware of any alleged crimes being committed in the county.

That left Collin County, where Paxton’s friend and business partner, Greg Willis, is district attorney.

After receiving a complaint from Texans for Public Justice, Willis stepped aside and said that “appropriate investigation agencies, including the Texas Rangers,” should handle the allegations against Paxton.

“As soon as we saw what he signed with the State Securities Board, it was obvious that he was admitting to felony conduct,” said Craig McDonald, executive director for Texans for Public Justice. “If Greg Willis hadn’t stepped aside, this thing would have died.”

Meanwhile, Dallas lawyer and blogger Ty Clevenger took the extraordinary step of sending information about Paxton to members of a Collin County grand jury, including three from the same church. He said he also dropped off information to a grand jury member’s home. He got their names from Collin County officials by asking; in Dallas, Hawk declined to release the grand jury’s names.

The grand jury that will hear the Paxton evidence from the special prosecutors is not the same as the one Clevenger sought out. One should always be a little wary of crusaders, no matter how enticing their claims are, but again, one hopes that the evidence will back up whatever comes out. There’s been a lot of trash talk from Team Paxton, which is either bravado or whistling past the graveyard. That grand jury is now in, and it’s put up or shut up time. The Observer suggests what may be coming.

William Mapp, the disgraced founder of Servergy, Inc., was identified at the courthouse by WFAA reporter Tanya Eiserer. Servergy, based in McKinney, claimed to produce energy-efficient servers for corporate clients. The company made extraordinary claims about its core product, the Cleantech-1000, claiming it consumed “80% less power, cooling, and space in comparison to other servers currently available.” But there was a problem: The federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleges that Servergy’s claims about its product were false. And the company, the SEC says, produced fraudulent pre-orders from tech companies like Amazon and Freescale to sell itself to investors.

Servergy raised some $26 million from selling stock between 2009 and 2013, as detailed by information released by the SEC. And it profited from grants from the McKinney Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a local fund that reinvests money collected by local sales taxes. Servergy continued to receive money from MEDC even after a formal SEC investigation began in 2013. Servergy is also connected to a wide variety of other improprieties and shady activities.

Paxton was a prominent Servergy shareholder, owning at least 10,000 shares. But while other investors simply lost their shirts, Paxton’s role in the Servergy case has generated lingering interest from authorities. In 2014, Paxton’s name was included in a list of search terms used by the SEC to subpoena the company, along with several other prominent figures in McKinney. Mapp’s presence at the courthouse today suggests that Servergy’s case is connected to evidence special prosecutors are presenting against Paxton.

That would be a significant escalation in the case against the state’s AG. A large part of the public defense laid out by Paxton’s spokesman Anthony Holm revolves around the assertion that Paxton’s original violation of securities law, regarding his legal clients, was a simple mistake and civil matter that he corrected when it was brought to his attention. The Servergy episode is a whole different kettle of fish, and while it remains to be seen what the prosecutors have against Paxton in connection to this particular episode, it should be a source of significant concern in the AG’s office.

See here for the background. All I can say is “oh please, oh please, oh please”. We’ll see what happens.

Paxton’s partner in alleged crime

Meet Fritz Mowery, the man who helped get AG Ken Paxton into trouble.

Ken Paxton

Fritz Mowery was on a mission.

Last April, he tried to convince investment clients to sign backdated forms saying they knew Ken Paxton had received money for referring clients.

In a hearing in March, Mowery said he did it, “because it became an issue with Ken Paxton.”

Paxton, who was sworn in as Texas Attorney General earlier this year, acknowledged in May 2014 that he solicited clients for Mowery without being registered with the state securities board to do that. He described it as an administrative error and paid a fine.

“Mr. Paxton’s deal just seems to be, ‘If I say I’m sorry, everything ought to be OK and it ought to be forgotten,'” said John Sloan, who represented a couple that sued Paxton and Mowery after losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in failed real estate deals. “The problem is the law [passed when] he was in the legislature [that] makes the conduct that he was engaging in a felony.”

[…]

A five-day administrative hearing this past March revealed details about the dealings between the two men. Regulators are seeking to revoke Mowery’s securities license and they allege that he engaged in pattern of misconduct that included misrepresentations, acting in his own self-interest over his clients’, and failing to disclose crucial information to clients.

Testimony showed the two men had been working together as far back 2004, the same year that Mowery founded Mowery Capital Associates.

Paxton was paid 30 percent of management fees for referrals that he made to Mowery.

[…]

But the testimony shows the lengths to which Mowery was going to get clients to sign the backdated disclosures last spring.

In one case, a disclosure was dated as having been signed in 2005. In reality, it wasn’t signed until 2014.

Read the whole thing, it’s quite illuminating. Mowery’s defenders and Paxton’s campaign flack insist that this is all just a big misunderstanding, an innocent mistake that anyone can make, and so on. I think there’s only so many times you can ask people who had no idea that Ken Paxton was getting a kickback when he steered them to Fritz Mowery to sign a backdated form saying that they had been informed up front about the Paxton/Mowery relationship before one is forced to conclude that the behavior was habitual and not accidental. That will presumably be one of the things that the grand jury convening in August will consider, along with whatever evidence of other alleged wrongdoing that the special prosecutors say they have found. As I’ve said, I can’t wait to see how that goes.

In the meantime, you may be wondering about Paxton’s legal bills.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, dogged by a cloud of legal uncertainty since taking office in January, is not using taxpayer dollars to pay his lawyers, according to aides, who left it less clear whether he plans to tap his campaign account.

The question of how he has been footing his legal bills flared up Thursday with the disclosure of campaign finances that showed he spent almost $20,000 on legal services during the first half of the year. A Paxton spokesman indicated the expenses did not have to do with the ongoing fallout from his self-admitted violation of state securities law last year.

A special prosecutor overseeing the latest chapter in the saga has said he plans to ask a Collin County grand jury to indict Paxton on a charge of first-degree felony securities fraud. The grand jury is expected to meet in the next few weeks, and Paxton has hired high-powered Dallas attorney Joe Kendall to represent him.

Before Paxton brought Kendall on board, the attorney general was being represented by Matt Orwig and Bob Webster, two Dallas lawyers whose firms did not show up on Paxton’s most recent campaign finance report. Asked Thursday evening about the legal services listed on the disclosure, Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm said in a statement, “My belief is that none of those are related to the events in Collin County.”

[…]

State law prohibits elected officials from using campaign contributions for personal purposes. One exception, however, is when an elected official is defending a civil or criminal action brought against them in his or her “status as a candidate or officeholder.” Holm has long suggested Paxton is only facing the legal drama because he is a top-ranking elected official, while prosecutors have argued Paxton’s political stature has nothing to do with their work.

The Texas Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion in 1995 that shed some light on how it interprets the so-called “personal use” exception. A district judge had asked the commission whether he could use campaign contributions to pay for his defense against a lawsuit stemming from his time as an attorney before he joined the court. The commission concluded that judge was in the clear as long as he had determined “in good faith that a groundless lawsuit has been filed against him solely because of his status as a judge.”

Defending oneself against felony charges can be quite expensive, as Rick Perry can attest. It will be very interesting to see if Paxton is allowed to tap into his campaign account for this, or it he’ll have to fundraise separately.

L’affaire Paxton gets larger

Oh, yeah.

Ken Paxton

When Attorney General Ken Paxton publicly admitted that he violated a state securities law last year, the State Securities Board was obligated by law to gather evidence against him and immediately refer it to prosecutors who could seek criminal charges.

But prosecutors in Travis and Collin counties said the securities regulators did not refer Paxton’s case to them, an apparent violation of requirements set by state law, the American-Statesman has confirmed.

In May 2014, when Paxton was a state senator running for attorney general in the Republican primary runoff, he accepted a reprimand and $1,000 fine from the State Securities Board, whose five members were appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry.

In that proceeding, Paxton admitted to soliciting clients for a Texas investment firm without registering as an investment adviser representative — a violation that can be prosecuted as a third-degree felony under the State Securities Act — and without disclosing that he would receive 30 percent of management fees.

But despite state law that required Securities Board Commissioner John Morgan to “at once” refer evidence of a criminal violation to the appropriate prosecutors — a standard that has been in place since 1957 — there is no evidence that securities regulators did so in the Paxton matter.

Robert Elder, a State Securities Board spokesman, said the agency would not comment.

In Collin County, where Paxton lived while soliciting investment clients three times between 2004 and 2012 as an unregistered adviser, prosecutors received no information about Paxton’s activities from the board, said Bill Dobiyanski, first assistant district attorney.

In addition, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit — which prosecutes corruption by public officials — did not hear from securities regulators about Paxton’s admission of violating securities law, said Gregg Cox, director of special prosecutions for the Travis County district attorney’s office, which includes the Public Integrity Unit.

[…]

Allegations that the State Securities Board hadn’t followed the law were raised last week in a strongly worded letter sent to Wice and Schaffer by the director of the left-leaning Progress Texas PAC.

In a July 8 letter, Glenn Smith suggested that Gov. Greg Abbott, who was still attorney general at the time, also didn’t follow requirements set out in the Texas Securities Act.

“On the surface, those failures raise suspicions of widespread conspiracy among several agencies and officials aimed at minimizing the criminal exposure of Mr. Paxton,” wrote Smith in the letter, which he provided to the Statesman.

Cait Meisenheimer, an Abbott spokeswoman, declined to comment on Smith’s letter. Wice also declined to comment on the letter, and Schaffer could not be reached for comment.

In his complaint, Smith specifically names Texas Securities Commissioner John Morgan and Collin County District Attorney Willis.

“With something like this, which is a clear confession of a felony by Sen. Paxton, the sort of silence and inactivity of public officials was very suspicious to me from the beginning,” Smith said. “They were compelled to act and failed to act, and this deserves attention.”

See here, here, and here for the background on the State Securities Board stuff, and see the original Statesman story for a copy of the letter. It’s always the coverup that gets you, isn’t it? The State Securities Board, full of Rick Perry appointees, should have followed the law and done its duty. Attorney General Greg Abbott should have followed the law and done his duty. Collin County DA Greg Willis should have done his duty a lot more quickly and without having to be pushed into it. That’s hindsight for you. Now I really can’t wait till the special prosecutors start laying out their case to the grand jury.

Paxton grand juror names accidentally released

Oops.

Ken Paxton

A list of Collin County grand jurors was mistakenly released by an employee with the Collin County District Clerk’s Office.

The release violates a June 25 order by District Judge Chris Oldner that deemed the names and personal information of grand jurors in the current term to be confidential.

Grand jury proceedings are secret, but the names of those serving in this term are of particular interest because they will be hearing evidence, possibly as early as this month, alleging securities law violations by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Brian Wice, who was appointed along with Kent Schaffer as a special prosecutor in the Paxton case, said Thursday they were made aware of the release.

They issued a statement, saying: “While certainly unfortunate and inopportune, we trust that whatever harm the inadvertent disclosure of the grand jurors’ names and addresses might have caused was mitigated by Judge Oldner’s immediate and thoughtful response.

“Because both the state and Mr. Paxton are entitled to an investigation informed by fairness and confidentiality, we hope that whomever had access to the grand jurors’ personal information — especially members of the media — will respect their privacy during the pendency of their investigation.”

Messages left for Oldner and the District Clerk’s Office were not returned.

Radio station KRLD-AM reported Thursday that the grand juror names were mistakenly sent by an employee with the clerk’s office to 93 email recipients. A second, frantic email demanded all the unintended recipients “please immediately delete the previous email sent in error,” according to the news story.

Apparently, there was a mix-up with a previous grand jury. The Chron story fills in a few blanks.

In sealing the names, Judge Oldner cited previous instances were Collin County grand jurors were contacted with information regarding cases they were hearing. Oldner’s order states this information “was received outside the grand jury process and in violation of the laws of the state of Texas.”

The Houston Chronicle did receive the names of the grand jurors empaneled for the term that ended in June. After [Collin County DA Greg] Willis’ inaction, those members confirmed to the Chronicle that they had asked the Travis County District Attorney’s office for Paxton’s file to undertake their own probe.

“Collin County appears to be the venue where this evidence needs to be heard,” the grand jury vice foreman’s letter to Travis County read. “Therefore, we are requesting the documents be sent to us as soon as possible.

So in the end this is likely no big deal and no damage done. But man, does it ever seem like everything associated with Ken Paxton is cursed. Makes you wonder if one of his ancestors got in a feud with the Sianis family or something. What could possibly happen next?

Paxton takes the culture-warrior lead

Well, at least he’s found his calling in life.

Ken Paxton

In the six months before Ken Paxton won election as Texas attorney general last fall, he stayed largely out of sight. Under an ethical cloud amid claims of financial fraud, he avoided public events and rarely spoke to reporters, coasting to victory as part of new Republican leadership including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Lacking Patrick’s knack for political theater, and yet to display the lawyerly intellect of Abbott, his predecessor as the state’s top attorney, the 52-year-old former legislator struggled to emerge from their shadows during his first several months in office.

But now, even as his personal legal troubles resurface, Paxton is poised to claim his place in the sun as the state’s top culture warrior.

Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ long-standing same-sex marriage ban, Paxton issued an opinion telling county clerks with religious objections that pro bono lawyers were standing by to help defend them against legal challenges if they denied licenses to same-sex couples.

“Our religious liberties find protection in state and federal constitutions and statutes,” he said. “While they are indisputably our first freedom, we should not let them be our last.”

The missive launched him into the national consciousness, earning comparisons to George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who fought desperately to preserve racial segregation in the 1960s. Blasting Paxton for encouraging state officials to violate the law, a Democratic lawmaker has since asked the U.S. Justice Department to monitor the implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The nonbinding opinion amounted to more of a statement of moral support than legal defiance. But to social conservatives — some beginning to feel abandoned by a governor who has declined their requests to call a special legislative session to address the issue of same-sex marriage — it bolstered the McKinney Republican’s standing as one of the last guardians of religious liberty.

“Texas often tries to bill itself as the most conservative state in the union, which isn’t very often the case actually. We have a reputation that we don’t live up to. But I think that Ken Paxton is living up to it,” said Julie McCarty, president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, which wields considerable influence in Republican primaries. “I haven’t heard anything from our governor, which is not surprising, but again disappointing.”

Even Patrick, who came to power with the backing of the conservative movement, has not avoided the perception that he failed to do enough as the Senate’s presiding officer to protect traditional marriage this session.

“There’s a lot of other things that should have been passed, that the rest of the Republican leadership caved into the homosexual demands — that would be Abbott and Patrick and [Speaker] Straus,” said Steve Hotze, a Houston doctor who operates the powerful Conservative Republicans of Texas political action committee.

Paxton’s office was “very instrumental” in pushing lawmakers to pass legislation affirming religious officials’ rights to refuse to perform same-sex marriages known as the Pastor Protection Act, said Hotze, whose group distributes mailers and scorecards to a vast network of GOP voters.

“Most people don’t understand, but Ken Paxton does understand the direction of this movement, and he is speaking out,” he said. “Abbott has been AWOL on the issue.”

[…]

Based on the questions about Paxton’s ethical compass, former Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, the candidate who came in third in the primary, later endorsed Paxton opponent Dan Branch in the runoff.

But concerns about Paxton’s business matters did not dissuade conservatives in 2014, and don’t seem to have gained traction among them recently.

McCarty said Thursday she was not aware that Paxton could face a felony charge, but said it did not affect her support for him.

“This is how politics goes. People are always pressing charges and making frivolous suits just to smear someone’s name,” she said. “The general public doesn’t follow it closely enough to know when everything’s been cleared and that it was all trumped up for nothing. Until we have a conclusion, I would definitely side with Paxton and give him the benefit of the doubt because I just know that’s how these games are played.”

So this is where we stand. And just to add a little gasoline to the fire, there’s this:

As if Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t have enough troubles with a potential felony indictment, now he’ll be fighting off an ethics complaint over his opinion on same-sex marriage.

[…]

Now long-time Travis County Democratic mainstay Glen Maxey has savaged that opinion as nothing more than political cant, and filed a complaint with the Texas State Bar Association against Paxton. In it, the Texas Democratic Party county affairs director alleges multiple violations by Paxton of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, including that Paxton made a false statement of law that is “flatly inconsistent with the United States Constitution”, as well as violating the statutes defining his official duties, the oath of office as attorney general, and the terms of his license to practice law in the state of Texas.

In a statement Maxey, who was Texas’ first openly gay state representative, writes, ““It’s irresponsible for an elected official – and a lawyer – to tell other elected officials to break the law. He’s misleading county and state officials based on a false premise that they can discriminate against same-sex couples.”

You can see a copy of the complaint here. It’s not the first time someone has complained to the State Bar about Paxton. I’m not a lawyer and will pass on evaluating the merits of Maxey’s complaint. If that’s in your wheelhouse, by all means please chime in.

As for the larger issue with Paxton, all this raises the stakes on the grand jury/special prosecutor investigation against him. He can complain all he wants about being made a target, but he’s not being tried in Travis County and may have a hard time making that charge sound believable to anyone outside of Ms. McCarty’s circle. If he gets no-billed or manages to beat the charges one way or another, he’ll be in a very strong position politically. If he goes down, there could be collateral damage. At some point, Abbott and Patrick and the rest are going to have to decide if they want to stand by Ken Paxton or let him sink or swim on his own. I imagine there have been a few very off the record back-room discussions about how to play things if it all goes to hell for the state Republican brand. Trail Blazers and the Trib have more.

Paxton could be in real trouble

Whoa.

Ken Paxton

The criminal investigation against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken a more serious turn, with special prosecutors now planning to present a first-degree felony securities fraud case against him to a Collin County grand jury, News 8 has learned.

Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told News 8 Wednesday afternoon that the Texas Rangers uncovered new evidence during the investigation that led to the securities fraud allegations against the sitting attorney general.

“The Rangers went out to investigate one thing, and they came back with information on something else,” Schaffer told News 8. “It’s turned into something different than when they started.”

Schaffer, a Houston criminal defense attorney, said the securities fraud allegations involve amounts well in excess of $100,000. He declined to comment specifics of the fraud allegations.

A first-degree felony conviction is punishable by up to life in prison.

Ponder that for a moment – “punishable by up to life in prison”. Not that I expect any such outcome, but how often do you hear that sort of thing said about an incumbent elected official? Again, this may very well turn out to be nothing, or at least something a lot less than that. But still.

Schaffer said he and the other special prosecutor will begin presenting their case to a Collin County grand jury within the next few weeks. He said he anticipates eight to nine witnesses will appear before the grand jury.

“We believe that there’s sufficient evidence to present to a grand jury,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer said he also anticipates presenting a case involving failing to register, which is a third-degree felony.

The investigation had started with allegations that Paxton violated the law when he failed to register as an investment advisor with the state.

News 8 also learned Wednesday that Paxton had hired a former federal district judge.

“I met with General Paxton and he had retained me to look into the matter,” said Joe Kendall, who practices in Dallas. “I am honored that he did. He’s a good man.”

Kendall told News 8 that he met with Paxton “very recently” in Dallas and confirmed that he was hired within the past two days.

“I’m going to be helping look into the matter,” Kendall said, declining to comment further.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Chron story dredges up a quote from Paxton’s longtime flak Anthony Holm in which he says that “at least three other entities have thoroughly reviewed these matters and each chose not to proceed”. One of them was the Travis County DA’s office, which concluded it didn’t have jurisdiction. One was the Dallas County DA’s office, which didn’t say why it declined to move forward. I’m not sure who the third was, but this sure is beginning to sound like whistling past the graveyard.

Perhaps that’s why Paxton was so aggressive in his response.

“This appears to be a politically motivated effort to ruin the career of a longtime public servant,” Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm said in a statement that also accused the two attorneys of building their case in the press. “These attacks on Ken Paxton appear to have become a political hit-job in the media, perhaps having the effect of inappropriately influencing the grand jury.”

[…]

Holm said Thursday that neither Schaffer nor Wice have “significant prosecutorial experience,” adding that it appears only one case has been prosecuted between the two of them. Neither Schaffer nor Wice has worked as a prosecutor, but both have extensive backgrounds in criminal defense. Wice was on the team that defended former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, against corruption and money laundering charges.

“Not only do they appear inexperienced as prosecutors, they are from Houston,” Holm said. “Meanwhile thousands of experienced prosecutors and former prosecutors are in the Dallas area.”

Wow. One wonders who it is that authored this “hit job” on Paxton, given that (as a commenter on this Trib story noted) he’s been “indicted in one of the most Republican counties – Collin County – by a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge who is a friend of Paxton, in an investigation that was led by the Texas Rangers, which is part of the state government, which is led by all Republicans”. I know he’s just playing to the cheap seats, but you’d think he could at least let us know who he thinks is persecuting him. As for the dig on the special prosecutors, I’m pretty sure that Schaffer and Wice know their way around a criminal courtroom, regardless of what table they’re sitting at. When was the last time Paxton himself was in a courtroom? If this were the runup to a sporting event, we’d say that he just provided some bulletin board material for his opponents. I don’t know if this would be motivational to Schaffer and Wice, but they’re human beings, too. I know I’d focus a little harder after being insulted like that.

Anyway. In case anyone is wondering, if at some point Paxton resigns, the Governor appoints a replacement, who must be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. That could get interesting, but we’re way ahead of ourselves. I can’t wait till the grand jury proceedings begin. A statement from Texans for Public Justice is beneath the fold, and Burka, PDiddie, Campos, Juanite, the Current, and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: Well, this sure answers my questions about Schaffer and Wice.

Reached for comment late Thursday, Schaffer said Holm “never denies the criminal conduct.”

“I noticed that in Mr. Holm’s obligatory statement there was not one time that he said that Mr. Paxton did not do the things that we are looking at,” said Schaffer. “I found (that) very concerning.”

Wice and Schaffer issued a lengthy statement criticizing Holm’s remarks as “the usual sound bites, culled from the play book of any public official whose conduct places them in the cross-hairs of a grand jury investigation.

“Tellingly, Mr. Paxton feels that a Dallas address or a career spent as a prosecutor somehow trumps our over seven decades of trial and appellate experience as two of Texas’s most respected criminal lawyers,” the statement reads. “We were brought in from Houston to ensure that an investigation that could have easily been driven by partisan politics and political agendas would not.”

It adds, “The facts, which Mr. Paxton would rather ignore than acknowledge, are, as Churchill said, stubborn things. And that’s exactly what we will provide the grand jury with: the facts. Our investigation will continue to be informed by what our oaths as special prosecutors commands: to do justice. And sound bites and personal attacks won’t change that.”

It. Is. On. Get that popcorn popping.

(more…)

More complaints against Paxton

From the Lone Star Project, spotted on the Quorum Report with the original press release forwarded to my inbox:

Ken Paxton

Lone Star Project research has compiled significant information regarding the involvement of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a series of questionable property transactions in Collin County. Some of the information gathered by the Lone Star Project has already been made public in press reports, while other information has not yet been reported on at all.

In reviewing the information gathered by Lone Star Project research, I realized that the actions of Attorney General Paxton may have gone beyond activities that warrant only political criticism. In fact, the information points to the potential use of insider information and actions by Ken Paxton and his associates that could rise to the level of criminal activity.

In light of this, the Lone Star Project submitted a detailed complaint to the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas, which has jurisdiction over Collin County, last month. We also submitted the complaint to the Grand Jury in Collin County which is currently conducting a criminal inquiry into Ken Paxton’s violations of Texas securities laws.

Given that the ongoing investigation into Ken Paxton’s violations of state securities law, we believe his close involvement in questionable land transactions in Collin County also warrant the review of law enforcement officials.

Background:
Last year, the Dallas Morning News reported on a land deal involving Ken Paxton and his business partners involving the purchase of property in the City of McKinney for $700,000. The property was quickly flipped for a selling price of $1 million. The News report details the creation of an appraisal district and zoning change which raised the value of the property before the subsequent sale of the land by Paxton’s company. While Paxton denied knowing about the new zoning designation, associates within Paxton’s business lobbied local officials to obtain the change.

The letters sent by the Lone Star Project to the U.S. Attorney and the Collin County Grand Jury includes additional facts on the land transactions and raise new questions regarding Ken Paxton’s involvement. The information focuses on four specific areas:

  • Even following the 2014 Dallas Morning News story, key questions remain unanswered about the extent to which Paxton and his associates used insider knowledge and political connections to profit from the development of the McKinney Property.
  • A land swap with the City of McKinney in which a narrow strip of property owned by Paxton’s company was traded for a separate property on a nearby street corner – the trade that appears to be of significant benefit of Paxton. The same day of the trade, Paxton’s company flipped the newly acquired property to a private entity for an undisclosed amount.
  • In addition to profiting from the resale of the property acquired by the trade, it appears that a title company connected to Paxton provided the title insurance for the two transactions.
  • Paxton and his associates continue to hold property in Collin County that may also result in a significant profit when it is eventually sold.

Documents Attached:
Letter to the Collin County Grand Jury
Letter to the US Attorney
Background Document

I did blog about that DMN story from last May, but I only noted Paxton’s refusal to release his tax returns during the campaign, since caring about such things was apparently so 2010. Perhaps this is why he was so secretive about it. I can’t find any news coverage of this, so draw your own conclusions about how big a deal it is.

The news release touches on the ongoing investigation in Collin County, whose deadline date is as yet uncertain. Yesterday we got an update on where this stands.

Special prosecutors assigned to investigate Ken Paxton’s alleged violations of state securities laws said this week that they plan to take their case to a Collin County grand jury next month.

The confirmation comes just weeks after a judge expanded the probe to include possible fraud allegations involving the first-term attorney general.

“We are going to the grand jury,” special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told the Chronicle on Wednesday. The process will begin in July when the new grand jury is chosen, and Schaffer said he expects it to take more than the typical three-month period juries sit in Texas.

That puts any possible resolution of the inquiry into at least the October/November time frame. At least we know it’s moving along, which is more than we could have said earlier this year. Trail Blazers has more.

Ken Paxton continues to be an ethical morass

We continue to learn more about just how compromised our Attorney General is.

Ken Paxton

Ken Paxton earned thousands of dollars by referring his private legal clients to a financial adviser now accused of “unethical and fraudulent conduct” by the state, records obtained by The Dallas Morning News show.

Paxton, now Texas attorney general, did not tell them he was getting paid. He steered his clients to a financial adviser who had declared bankruptcy and who now faces losing his state license over questionable business dealings.

Paxton’s referral agreement with Frederick “Fritz” Mowery, the head of McKinney-based Mowery Capital Management, has created a yearlong political and legal headache for the Republican attorney general. He acknowledged last year, in the middle of his statewide campaign, that he violated state securities law by failing to register as an agent for Mowery. He paid a $1,000 administrative fine in April 2014.

Failing to register can also be a third-degree felony under state law. Complaints by a watchdog group have led to a Texas Rangers investigation and appointment of special prosecutors.

A Paxton aide said Paxton was unaware of Mowery’s financial trouble and business conduct. Mowery, reached by The News, deferred to his lawyer, who declined to comment. In court proceedings, the attorney has acknowledged his client’s mistakes with paperwork and other matters but said he did not defraud his clients.

[…]

Paxton referred at least six of his law clients — twice as many as previously reported — to Mowery for financial advice.

After being questioned by state securities officials, Mowery sent letters in April 2014 to clients referred by Paxton. The letters, which clients were asked to sign, disclosed the fee arrangement with Paxton. But the letters were back-dated to years earlier, when the clients first hired Mowery. The securities board was sharply critical of the practice.

Mowery’s fees were a percentage of how much a client invested. Calculations based on those disclosures show that Paxton received payments amounting from hundreds to thousands of dollars annually.

Paxton apparently made the referrals without knowing Mowery had struggled financially and declared bankruptcy in 2005.

Anthony Holm, a spokesman for Paxton, said the attorney general does not believe he “vouched” for Mowery when he referred his clients to him.

“If someone’s asking you about a financial manager, it’s reasonable to say, ‘There’s one in my building,’” Holm said.

Mowery’s business dealings have only recently surfaced, he said. “We’re all reading it now. But in real time, I don’t believe the community was aware,” Holm said.

[…]

In the course of the board’s hearing, most of Paxton’s former clients, whose names had previously been unknown, came forward to testify.

Mark Dickerson, a Paxton law client who opened an account with Mowery in December 2011, testified that had he known of the fee arrangement, “I just would have felt it was a conflict of interest and probably would have looked elsewhere for another financial adviser.”

In addition, most of the clients said they either weren’t informed or had no recollection that Mowery said he was paying Paxton for the referral.

The state also showed that after the investigation began, Mowery asked the clients to sign back-dated letters outlining the fee arrangement. Such letters could have suggested to investigators that the clients were informed in advance, when they were not.

Evidence also showed that Mowery tried to alter his letterhead to match the address he used at the time the client contracts were signed.

Mowery testified that he saw the forms were missing from his files and was just trying to replicate the letters. He said that he forthrightly admitted to investigators when asked that he had created the disclosure letters in April 2014.

Several Paxton clients reached by The News declined to discuss the business deals. But records of the hearing show Dickerson and another client, David Goettsche, refused to sign the post-dated letters.

“I didn’t feel like it was a truthful statement for me to make,” Dickerson testified.

For the sake of argument, let’s accept Paxton’s word that he had no idea his buddy Mowery was treading water at the time that he was referring clients to him. The reason why Paxton looks like such a sleaze here is not that he was tossing some business to a friend, but that he was getting a kickback for it without disclosing it to the clients he was sending Mowery’s way. If I recommend a product or service to you, and then later you find out I got a commission for making that recommendation but didn’t tell you that up front, doesn’t that make you wonder about my motivations and objectivity? Wouldn’t it make you feel like you had been used, even just a little?

A few years back there was a big kerfuffle in the world of mommy bloggers, some of whom had been busy doing just that – promoting products and services for which they were being compensated but not disclosing that they were being rewarded for doing so. In the end, after much kvetching and tsouris, everyone agreed to the should-have-been-blindingly-obvious-from-the-get-go solution that the ethical thing to do in this situation is to say up front that you receive a boon from this product or service that you are currently shilling. This is what Ken Paxton failed to do. Shouldn’t we expect our Attorney General to hold himself to the same standards of integrity as these mommy bloggers? I don’t think that’s too much to ask here.

Note that this is a separate matter from the criminal complaint against Paxton, which is about him failing to file the requisite paperwork with the state before soliciting clients for his buddy. Clearly, though, if Paxton had been an ethical person, he would not have gotten himself into this kind of trouble. One wonders if he has truly learned that lesson, or if he’s just hoping to get away with it at this point. PDiddie and the Lone Star Project have more.

Grand jury reform bill in trouble

Not good.

Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

Six weeks after sailing through the Texas Senate, efforts to reform the state’s controversial grand jury selection system have stalled in the House.

A closely watched bill to end the “pick-a-pal” system suffered an unexpected setback late Monday when the lawmaker carrying the bill in the House weakened it and then withdrew the measure altogether amid opposition from a Brazoria County judge.

The moves transformed the proposal from a political sure-shot to a long-shot.

“To say I’m totally disappointed at what happened in the House is an understatement,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the sponsor of the measure in the upper chamber. Whitmire vowed to redouble his push for what he called potentially the most important legislation in this year’s session. “This bill is clearly too important to let it not pass.”

[…]

On Monday, Republican Rep. Ed Thompson of Pearland rallied opposition to the measure on the House floor, citing the feelings of a judge in his district.

“He said, ‘we have this system, we know it and it’s working well,'” Thompson said in an interview.

Sensing the risk of defeat, bill sponsor Harold Dutton, D-Houston, put forward an amendment. The compromise would allow judges to continue to use the “pick-a-pal” system if they came up with a written justification.

The change also made sense, he said later in an interview, because of the importance of flexibility in some rare cases.

Still, Thompson moved to amend the bill to make it apply only to Harris and Dallas counties. On a 73-69 vote, he won.

While supporters managed to push through yet another amendment to make it apply to a few other large counties, Dutton at that point decided to voluntarily withdraw the bill, postponing debate.

“I just don’t think it makes good policy to apply different laws to different counties in the criminal justice system,” Dutton explained afterward.

Dutton chalked up the setback to a “unique set of circumstances,” with several amendments flying around and some members not understanding what they were voting on.

He said he soon would bring up the Senate version of the bill. Because it is cleaner, he said, he was optimistic he could find a few votes to get it through.

“I’ll twist some arms if I have to,” Dutton said.

See here for some background. I’ve got to say, I don’t understand the reluctance, and I’m more than a little boggled to see an unnamed judge in Brazoria County wielding that much influence. Maybe this was a matter of some members not understanding the issue, but geez, it’s not like this came out of nowhere. It’s been a hot topic for months. Can we pay a little more attention to issues that matter, please? Grits has more.

UPDATE: This version of the Chron story, plus Lisa Falkenberg’s column identify the judge in question as Patrick Sebesta.

Willis recuses himself from Paxton probe

Good call.

Ken Paxton

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has asked a judge to relieve him from further involvement in investigations of his friend, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Late Monday, Willis said that earlier in the day, he filed a motion with state District Judge Scott Becker to recuse himself from probes of whether Paxton, a friend and business partner, should face criminal charges for failing to obtain a Texas State Securities Board license. Becker, the administrative judge in Collin County, could name someone to act in Willis’ place as district attorney in the matter.

Earlier this month, Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the Paxton matter and make a recommendation.

“Whenever the Rangers complete their investigation, there will be a district attorney on the case that will have no connection to me or my office,” Willis said in an interview late Monday.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m glad that Greg Willis had the good sense to do this, and to do it without dragging it out and being coerced or shamed into it. It may well be that Paxton is ultimately cleared of all charges, but until then he needs to be treated the same as anyone else in that position would be. Getting a prosecutor who isn’t conflicted is a good start for that. The Trib has more.

Collin County grand jury interested in Paxton case

Very interesting.

Ken Paxton

A Collin County grand jury has asked the Travis County District Attorney’s office for its investigative file on Ken Paxton, indicating the panel wants to look into the attorney general’s admitted violations of state securities law.

“Collin County appears to be the venue where this evidence needs to be heard,” says the letter from the grand jury vice foreman. “Therefore, we are requesting the documents be sent to us as soon as possible.

“After reviewing the investigative evidence, we may invite you or your appointed representative to appear before us to answer questions,” the letter continues. “We respectfully ask that our request remain confidential.”

The vice foreman, who asked that not to be identified, confirmed the letter had been sent to the Travis County District Attorney’s office, but declined to comment further, citing the need for grand jury secrecy.

The letter, obtained by the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, came less than two weeks after the Collin County District Attorney’s office indicated it had not and would not investigate the case unless it receives a criminal complaint from a law enforcement agency.

[…]

Ty Clevenger, a Collin County lawyer and blogger who has been critical of [Collin County DA Greg] Willis, saying he should appoint a special prosecutor to the look at the Paxton case, first posted the letter late Wednesday.

“Willis’ actions have been inexcusable. That’s why I filed the bar grievance against him,” said Clevenger, adding he believes Paxton’s admission under oath that he broke state law is enough for an indictment and conviction. “I’m a Republican. As Republicans, if we don’t get our act together, this is really going to come back to bite us.”

See here and here for the background. As of late yesterday, DA Willis finally took action.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has asked the Texas Rangers to look into Attorney General Ken Paxton’s violation of state securities law, Willis’ office said Thursday.

[…]

The Collin County district attorney’s office confirmed Thursday it had received a complaint from a “political group.” The allegations in the complaint, Willis’ office said, were similar to those recently passed along by Travis County prosecutors.

“Our office took steps to have appropriate investigative agencies, including the Texas Rangers, follow up on those allegations,” Willis’ office said in the statement. “To facilitate this process, we have today requested Travis County’s files for law enforcement.”

That’s good, though it remains to be seen if Willis will accede to the request/demand that he recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor if the Rangers turn up enough evidence for this to be pursued further. Still, we’re now getting somewhere, and that’s something. RG Ratcliffe and Christopher Hooks, each savoring the irony of this happening at the same time as the Huffman Public Integrity Unit bill was being passed in the Senate, have more.

Reforming the grand jury system

Harris County DA Devon Anderson comes out in favor of changing how grand juries are selected.

DA Devon Anderson

I have been the Harris County district attorney for 17 months now. In that time, one of the most frequently recurring issues I have been asked to address has been the selection of grand jurors by jury commissioners.

Until now, my answer to those questions had been simple:

I don’t have the authority as district attorney to tell our elected district court judges how they should select their grand juries. They are each accountable to the voters for their own choices.

We work with the grand juries that the courts empanel, and we do our very best to avoid conflicts. If it’s a police shooting we are presenting, we try to find a grand jury that is diverse and that does not have law enforcement officers on the panel. We do this regardless of how the grand jury was selected.

If the way the district courts select grand juries engenders distrust but is still lawful, the solution is for the Texas Legislature to change the law.

The public is losing confidence in the grand jury system. I can no longer take a neutral position on this issue. The use of jury commissioners to select grand jurors unnecessarily gives critics of the grand jury system ammunition to challenge the jurors’ independence and integrity. The jurors deserve better. The public deserves better.

[…]

I support the efforts in the Texas Legislature to abolish the jury commissioner system. Whatever concerns the remaining district court judges have about using jury pools should have been assuaged long ago – other district courts have been using the jury pool system successfully for long enough that its viability cannot be questioned.

Good for her. As the accompanying Chron story notes, there’s already a vehicle to make this happen.

State Sen. John Whitmire, who authored the bill to abolish the “key man” system, said recent events and local reporting reinforced his concern about how grand juries are put together and convinced him it is time for a change.

“People of all colors have lost confidence in the system,” he said. “We don’t need a handpicked group of the judge’s friends making these decisions.”

Whitmire said he attended a town hall meeting where it was apparent that minority communities in Houston have lost faith in the current system.

“I’ve become convinced from personal observation and knowing people – judges, prosecutors – that it’s a flawed system,” he said. “It’s alarming when you hear the examples of what some judges are doing.”

Whitmire applauded Anderson’s decision to support the effort to create more diverse grand juries. He said he looked forward to partnering with her administration.

“She’s the district attorney of the largest DA’s office in Texas. I’m the Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee,” he said. “I’m a Democrat, she’s a Republican, so I’m sure we’ll be able to get some things done.”

Whitmire’s bill is SB135. From the story, it sounds like the main opposition to this idea is from the judges themselves. Doesn’t mean Whitmire’s bill will pass even with Anderson’s support, but that seems like a surmountable obstacle. Grand jury reform, like body cameras, is a high priority for criminal justice reformers. I look forward to the hearings on this, to see what else comes out. Grits and Campos, who notes Lisa Falkenberg’s advocacy on this issue, have more.

No grand juror information for Perry

Sorry, Rick.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Don’t hate the corndogs, hate the game

A state judge Friday denied former Gov. Rick Perry’s push for a list of people whose grand-jury testimony led to his indictment on abuse-of-power charges.

Judge Bert Richardson said the prosecution is not required to produce those names, which Perry’s lawyers had said he was entitled to get.

[…]

Besides denying Perry’s motion to get the witness names, Richardson set a schedule for prosecutors to provide relevant information to Perry in advance of a potential trial in the case – including any information that may be favorable to the former governor’s case. The judge said the information should be provided as soon as possible, or at least 21 days before any trial if one is set.

Richardson also ordered that the prosecution have grand jury witness testimony transcribed if they may also testify at the trial.

Not really sure what Perry’s defense team would do with a list of grand jurors’ names if they had it. Is that something defense attorneys normally ask for and/or receive? I’m failing to come up with a strategic reason for that list. Be that as it may, this Statesman story has a bit more information of interest:

Judge Bert Richardson also revealed that prosecutor Michael McCrum will amend one of the counts against Perry, an expected development because Richardson had earlier ruled that the charge — coercion of a public servant — did not include enough information.

McCrum also indicated that he intends to amend other portions of the indictment by Feb. 13, Richardson’s order said without elaborating on the proposed changes.

[…]

Perry’s lawyers asked for 10 days to respond to McCrum’s changes, Richardson’s scheduling order said.

Afterward, a hearing will be set to address any remaining pretrial motions, the order said.

See here and here for the background. Judge Richardson’s original order denying the motion to quash the indictments is under appeal. Perry still has plenty of chance to skate, but as previously noted, the calendar is working against him.

On grand juries

Some folks are trying to change the makeup of grand juries in Harris County.

HarrisCounty

It was a largely black crowd with at least a third of the audience made up of white people and a few anarchists sprinkled in. They were there to share ideas, sign some petitions, and to vent about injustice in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner deaths.

Inside the packed El Dorado Ballroom in the Third Ward, the shirt on a lonely hipster said it best: Murder Beats Not People.

A group called the Houston Justice Coalition, made up largely of students from nearby Texas Southern University, organized the outing. They shared their platform, which calls for Houston to implement police body cameras (something already working its way through city council) and for raising awareness about grand juries.

“I’ve served four times, twice as a foreman,” Third Ward Councilman Dwight Boykins said. It’s a hard sell, but everyone was encouraged to help diversify grand juries, which are commonly racially and economically lopsided and are easily swayed by prosecutors. “You have to commit not only to the $28 per day two times a week, but three months out of the year. And some people don’t like to do that,” Boykins said.

The event was advertised on social media as an organizing call for millennials, the target audience for all the #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack responses on Twitter. It’s an age group that’s historically been the foundation of rights movements. This might all be a test to see if today’s young activists can keep the energy going.

It’s a start. Changing the grand jury system here from the current “pick a pal” method, which is a big driver of the non-diversity of grand juries, to a random selection like what is used for regular juries, would also make a difference. Sen. John Whitmire has filed a bill to require just that for Harris County, but a better question might be why do we have grand juries at all?

The concept [of grand juries] comes from our colonial parent, England. “It goes back centuries here,” explains London-based legal writer Joshua Rozenberg. “In medieval times, it was drawn from the local neighborhood. And these were men who were expected to look around and report criminal behavior within the community. They’re people who actually knew the offenders, as we’d call them today, and could perhaps bring them to justice.”

By the 16th century, that morphed into the system we’d now recognize as a grand jury: A group of people listening to a prosecutor’s evidence and deciding whether to indict.

But the United Kingdom actually abolished its grand jury system in 1933. “We now send cases that are serious enough straight to jury trial,” Rozenberg says. That way, both sides are able to present evidence and make their arguments, which is definitely not the case with a grand jury.

In fact, the UK exported grand juries to most of their former colonies — Canada, Australia, New Zealand — and virtually all of them have stopped using them.

“They are said to be ‘putty in the hands of the prosecutor.’ In other words, the prosecutor really tells them what he or she wants and they will go along with it,” he says. “Or that’s what we are told, because we don’t really know. We can’t watch grand juries at work.”

That’s why former New York judge Sol Wachtler once famously said that a district attorney could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” But, Rozenberg points out, “it must be even easier to get the sandwich acquitted if that is what the district attorney may actually want.”

Link via Grits. Why shouldn’t we make District Attorneys be the ones that are accountable for these decisions? I’d be interested to hear from the attorneys out there what the down side to this might be.

Possibly the last thing I’m going to say about the Perry indictment for now

Certainly not the last thing I’ll ever say, since there’s a vast amount of the story left to be told, and I reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, since the indictment came down on Friday there’s been very little actual news. There’s been the over-the-top response from Perry’s legal team, there’s been the predictable tribal responses, there’s been a crap-ton of woefully ignorant pontificating from mostly non-Texas writers, but not much else worth talking about. So, until there is a new development, I’m going to leave with these two thoughts.

This Trib story about Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed the complaint that led to the indictment, contains a little tidbit of information that even I hadn’t realized but which ought to be a required inclusion in everything anybody writes about this saga from here on out.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

TPJ didn’t plan to delve into the complex game of political chicken going on between Perry and Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg near the end of last year’s legislative session. Lehmberg had been immersed in a political scandal since April, when a video of her aggressive behavior during her drunken driving arrest drew national attention. TPJ had stayed out of the drama until June 10, when [TPJ Director Craig] McDonald read in the Austin-American Statesman that Perry was threatening to veto the state’s funding of the Public Integrity Unit, housed in the Travis County DA’s office, unless Lehmberg resigned. Perry has said he only acted within the authority he has under the state Constitution.

“We decided [to get involved] that Tuesday morning,” McDonald said. “I said to Andrew [Wheat, TPJ research director], ‘This has got to be illegal. The governor can’t threaten the district attorney to do something that is out of his power. She doesn’t work for him. Never has.’”

Soon after, TPJ filed its complaint against Perry, hours before Perry vetoed the PIU’s $7.5 million budget.

Perry and his legal team have made his right as governor to veto state funding, and Lehmberg’s behavior during her drunken driving arrest, as central to the indictment. Various national political reporters and pundits have dismissed the indictment as overreaching or politically motivated, often pointing, like Perry, to a governor’s right to use his veto power.

McDonald said those critics are missing a crucial point: TPJ’s original complaint was filed before Perry implemented his veto because the veto is irrelevant.

“The threats are the issue, and I think that’s what the grand jury listened to,” McDonald said. “The only role the veto played and the only reason it’s relevant is that’s the club he held over his head to try to get her to leave her job. The veto is a side player to this. It’s not the subject of the charges.”

Emphasis mine. Did we all catch that? The complaint was filed before the veto was made. Let me repeat that, with formatting and an active voice construction: TPJ filed their complaint before Rick Perry vetoed the Public Integrity Unit funds. It wasn’t about the veto, it was about the threat, the coercion, of a duly elected public official that did not answer to Rick Perry. Anyone who opines about this in any fashion and doesn’t grasp that fact has no frigging idea what they’re talking about and should be ignored.

Another test for ignorance by those who bloviate about this case, in particular those who go on about Rosemary Lehmberg’s DUI arrest and of course it was sensible for Rick Perry to want a drunk DA to step down: Rosemary Lehmberg was the third District Attorney in Texas to be arrested for drunk driving during Rick Perry’s time as Governor. She was the first such DA to come under any pressure from Rick Perry about it. She was also the first such DA to be a Democrat. And yet it’s Rick Perry who’s the victim of a partisan vendetta, by a non-partisan special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge who was appointed to hear the case by another Republican judge.

Oh, and one more thing, from Lisa Falkenberg:

In Harris County and other Texas jurisdictions where judges use the “pick-a-pal” system to empanel grand jurors, bias and corruption are natural byproducts. The judge picks a pal, called a “commissioner,” to go out and find some more pals to serve on a grand jury and supposedly mete out justice. The process, as I’ve written, has been outlawed in the federal system, and is still only used in Texas and California.

But it wasn’t used in this case.

[judge Bert] Richardson didn’t ask a buddy to empanel the grand jurors. The members were randomly selected from Travis County jurors who answered a summons – a similar process to the one used to select regular trial juries.

See this story as well. Grand juries are the prosecutors’ show, and we all know what they say about them. But still, a jury of ordinary citizens thought there was sufficient evidence of a crime to return two indictments. Mike McCrum didn’t indict Rick Perry, the grand jurors did.

Now it’s certainly possible for an informed observer to examine the indictments and think they’re a stretch. We really have never seen anything like this before, and generally speaking our laws about official misconduct have to do with money and/or influence in fairly direct ways. It’s fair to say that the laws Perry is accused of breaking weren’t really written with this situation in mind, probably because no one ever imagined this sort of situation might happen. That doesn’t mean that these laws don’t apply or that a fair jury couldn’t find Rick Perry guilty. It does mean that the appeals courts are someday going to perform fine surgery on some legal hairs, and one way or another we’ll have a clearer understanding of what these laws do mean, at least based on this experience.

But once we start down that path, we are – to borrow a legal phrase we all know from “Law and Order” – assuming facts not in evidence. We don’t know what Mike McCrum’s case is yet. We’ve heard plenty from Rick Perry and his high-priced legal team – the best lawyers the taxpayers can provide for him – and from his hackish sycophants in the national press. What have we heard from Mike McCrum, other than the indictment itself? Not much.

McCrum, asked in an interview earlier Monday about criticism that the case is weak, calmly defended it.

“The case is going to bear itself out in the long run, both from a legal standpoint and from a factual standpoint,” he said.

I’ll say it again: We just don’t know what cards Mike McCrum is holding. It’s certainly possible that he’s gone off on a wild hunt against Rick Perry for some reason. It’s possible he’s tendentiously misreading the law in an attempt for, I don’t know, fame and glory and a lifetime of being a legal expert on CNN or something. It’s possible he’s shooting from the hip and didn’t really think through how his actions would be scrutinized by criminal defense attorneys. There’s nothing in his history to suggest these things are true, but I don’t know Mike McCrum and I have no idea what’s in his head right now. What I do know is that we don’t know what his case will look like once it’s all been laid out in a courtroom. Maybe we’ll look back someday and say “Holy moly that was a load of crap, what in the world was Mike McCrum thinking?”, maybe we’ll say “That was a strong case but ultimately the jury/the Court of Criminal Appeals/SCOTUS didn’t buy it”, or maybe we’ll say “Where were you when Rick Perry was hauled off to the slammer?”. I for one am not making any predictions. And until there’s something new to talk about, I’m going to let it rest.

Perry indicted

Wow.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on Friday on charges of abuse of power and coercion as part of an ethics inquiry into his veto of funding for the state’s public integrity unit.

The inquiry began last summer after an ethics complaint was filed alleging that Perry had improperly used a veto to deny funding for the unit, which is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office and focuses on government corruption and tax fraud.

The indictment throws a major wrench in Perry’s possible presidential ambitions; he was in Iowa last week and was expected in both New Hampshire and South Carolina in coming weeks. Perry is the first Texas governor to be indicted in almost a century.

Perry had been riding high and making national headlines in recent weeks, railing against the Obama administration for a perceived lack of response to the humanitarian crisis on the Texas-Mexico border, then reallocating funds to send National Guard troops there himself.

Now, he’ll be playing defense.

The first count, abuse of official capacity, is a first-degree felony with a potential penalty of five to 99 years in prison. The second count, coercion of a public servant, is a third-degree felony with a penalty of two to 10 years.

Michael McCrum, the special investigator in the case, said he interviewed more than 40 people and reviewed hundreds of documents in the case.

He said that a time would be set up for Perry to come to court, be arraigned and given official notice of his charges.

I’ve done a ton of blogging on this, so click away for the backstory, or read the NYT story and this Observer explainer to get caught up. You can also see the original complaint and press release from TPJ. The key thing to keep in mind is that while a lot of headlines (like this one) will say that Perry was indicted because of the veto of the Public Integrity Unit funds, that’s really not quite accurate. It was the threat of the veto combined with the demand that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg – elected by the people and not answerable to Rick Perry – accede to Perry’s order or else. That’s where he overstepped his bounds, and it’s what the veto is all about. What happens from here – other than the you-know-what hitting the fan – is anyone’s guess. Remember how Tom DeLay was indicted in 2006 and his legal fate is still unresolved? We could be here for awhile, is what I’m saying. Texas Politics, Trail Blazers, the HuffPo, the Statesman, the Observer, Hair Balls, Burka, the Current, Juanita, the AusChron, PDiddie, Ross Ramsey, and Progress Texas have more.

Perry grand jury may be winding down

We are getting close to some action on this.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has no comment

A grand jury looking into whether Gov. Rick Perry abused his power with a veto threat appears closer to wrapping up after current and former Perry staffers were behind closed doors with the panel Friday.

“It’s getting to the point where we’ll have talked to all the people that we need to talk to. It’s getting closer to that point,” said special prosecutor Michael McCrum, a San Antonio lawyer.

McCrum said he hadn’t talked to Perry, who is considering a second presidential run in 2016. He said two weeks ago that he had no plans at that point to call the governor to testify.

The grand jury next is scheduled to meet July 11.

A member of the Public Utility Commission, Brandy Marty, on Friday entered the room where the grand jury is meeting. Marty is Perry’s former chief of staff and was policy director for his 2010 primary campaign for governor. He named her to the PUC last August.

See here, here, and here for the most recent of my updates. I’ve missed a couple of newer stories, like this one about other Perry aides being called, and this one about Chron reporter Mike Ward, who had broken a story about the Perry/Lehmberg saga while working for the Statesman, being called. Not really much more to add here, since the proceedings are secret. We may know more when the jurors reconvene on July 11.

AG opinion sought for Perry’s use of taxpayer funds for defense

Interesting.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

These corndogs don’t come cheap ya know

A Democratic House leader has asked for a legal opinion on how and if Gov. Rick Perry can bill taxpayers for his $450-an-hour criminal lawyer defending him in a grand jury probe.

Perry is under a grand jury investigation on potential bribery and coercion charges after trying to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign last year after she pled guilty to drunk driving.

He hired Austin criminal attorney David Botsford in a contract that runs through October.

Perry has acknowledged that he threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funding for the Public Integrity Unit, administered by Lehmberg’s office, if she did not step down. She did not resign and he vetoed the money.

If Lehmberg, a Democrat, had quit, Perry would have named her replacement. The Public Integrity Unit at the time was investigating the operation of one of Perry’s signature achievements — the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

One of CPRIT’s top officers was indicted in December for steering an $11 million award to a company without subjecting it to the standard review process.

Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, requested that Attorney General Greg Abbott study the issue to see if there are limits on a governor hiring outside counsel at taxpayers expense.

In a 4-page letter, the House Land and Resource Management Committee chairman asks if the governor has taken criminal actions beyond the scope of his official capacity, should the state be obligated to pay for his defense.

It also asks if the governor can be forced to accept a state lawyer on staff at the Attorney General’s Office as opposed to paying for outside counsel.

The Lone Star Project has a copy of the letter, with more here. My original assumption was that this was similar to Perry paying for his travel security with public funds, but perhaps I thought too soon. I’ll be very interested to see how Abbott opines on this. The Trib and BOR have more.

Meanwhile, more details about Perry’s efforts to oust Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg keep dribbling out.

Officials and sources said Perry, through intermediaries, offered several options to Lehmberg to entice her resignation, culminating in promises to restore funding to the unit, another position in the District Attorney’s office, and the selection of her top lieutenant to serve as the new district attorney.

The offer was “clear,” said a public official who was involved the talks, but who asked not to be identified.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daughtery, a Republican, said he reached out to Perry’s office following the veto to see if there was some way to restore state funding for the anti-corruption Public Integrity Unit. He said that negotiations eventually included allowing Democrats, who dominate Travis County politics, to pick Lehmberg’s replacement.

“There was this massive amount of fear that if Rosemary steps down, it’s the governor who gets to appoint someone,” Daughtery said. A Lehmberg aide was floated as a potential replacement to make it palatable to Democrats.

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe confirmed that Perry’s office had said that Lehmberg would be replaced with another Democrat currently working in the district attorney’s office.

“Then the offer was made, I was told, that the governor would appoint a Democrat, and preferably one already working in the DA’s office,” he said.

Biscoe added that he never directly communicated with Perry or his staff during the talks.

In late July, the offer was sweetened again, the two sources said, when the Governor’s office communicated that Lehmberg would be allowed to remain at the district attorney’s office in another capacity if she resigned her elected position.

I’m amazed by all this, and I must say a little puzzled. The presumed reasons why Perry would want to force Lehmberg out the door are to derail the CPRIT investigation, and generally cripple the Public Integrity Unit. Both of which could be accomplished by installing a Republican as DA, which Perry would have gotten to do if Lehmberg had stepped down. I get that Perry might need and be willing to sweeten the pot to achieve his (again, presumed) goals, but if all this is true you have to wonder what he thought he was accomplishing. I just don’t understand the motivation. If it was just about believing that Lehmberg was unfit to serve, then why would Perry offer to let her stay at another job in the office? Makes no sense to me. Jason Stanford has more.

Rick Perry really wanted Rosemary Lehmberg to quit

From the Trib.

Rosemary Lehmberg

Even after Gov. Rick Perry stripped funding for the agency that prosecutes state public corruption cases, his emissaries worked to swap the resignation of embattled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg for restoration of the money, several sources told The Texas Tribune this week.

The Tribune learned of the proposal as a grand jury considers whether Perry overstepped his authority last year when he threatened to veto the public integrity unit’s state funding if Lehmberg did not step down after she was arrested for drunken driving. The sources said the offer was made to Lehmberg through several back channels: If Lehmberg — a Democrat whose office was in charge of investigating state officeholders — would resign, Perry would restore the two years in state funds, about $7.5 million, that he had vetoed following her April 12, 2013, arrest and subsequent guilty plea.

“It was communicated to me if she stepped out, [Perry] would restore the funding,” said Travis County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe, a Democrat who said he was one of several people made aware of the proposal from Perry’s office. “I was told his office made the representations.”

[…]

Several sources, who asked not to be identified, citing the grand jury investigation, told the Tribune that Lehmberg was informed of the proposal last July. She was also told, they said, that the proposal came from the governor’s office, about a month after Perry made good on his threat to veto the state funds to the public integrity unit.

“It happened,” one of those sources told the Tribune.

The same sources said Lehmberg rejected the proposal outright because of concerns that such an offer may be illegal.

Reached late Tuesday, Lehmberg declined to comment for this story because of the ongoing grand jury investigation.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Perry, said no one from the governor’s office met with Lehmberg.

“Neither the governor nor any member of staff met with or spoke with Ms. Lehmberg,” Parsons said.

Asked if anyone from the governor’s staff told others to convey any offer, he declined to comment, citing the pending grand jury investigation.

That’s a pretty specific, and pretty limited, denial. It does not in any way negate the thesis of this story. Turns out, according to Texas Politics, that’s because Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the lone Republican on that Court, was the go-between. He confirmed that the key point was Lehmberg resigning; Daugherty blamed her refusal to budge as the reason nothing happened. Now can we agree that – if this story is true – this is about more than just a run-of-the-mill veto by Rick Perry? The Observer, which points out what may turn into Perry’s defense strategy, has more.

The Rick Perry grand jury convenes

Game on.

Rosemary Lehmberg

A grand jury was sworn in Monday to look into whether Gov. Rick Perry acted improperly last year when he threatened to kill funding for the Travis County district attorney’s public corruption division unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned after her drunken driving conviction.

The office of the governor – who carried through on the veto threat – has hired defense lawyer David Botsford to “ensure the special prosecutor receives the facts in this matter,” Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.

“The facts will show this veto was made in accordance with the veto power afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said. “As we have from the beginning, we remain ready and willing to assist with this inquiry.”

Because the inquiry concerns actions by Perry in his official capacity, Botsford’s $450-an-hour fee is expected to be paid from general revenue, Nashed said.

Much as it pains me to say it, that is appropriate. Perry could of course offer to pay for it from his ample campaign funds, and I’m sure he’d have no trouble getting a sugar daddy or two to cover the tab, but he’s not required to do so.

Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics, last year filed a complaint with prosecutors over Perry’s threat, contending he violated laws against coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity, official oppression and, potentially, bribery.

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, emphasized that the group’s focus is on Perry’s threat. He said the group does not question Perry’s right to veto the funding itself.

“He’s got the authority to veto whatever he wants. He just can’t threaten to use his official pen or his official act against anyone, let alone the DA,” McDonald said.

[…]

Political experts suggested a criminal case against Perry for the veto threat is a long shot.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to prison for signaling that they would utilize their veto power to try to encourage an outcome. If that were the case, then I think pretty much every governor in the United States at one point or another would be guilty as charged,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.

Oh, for crying out loud. Can we not agree that there’s something problematic with an elected official demanding that another elected official resign her office, and using the power to veto funding for her office as a threat to make her resign? As District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg can convene a grand jury to investigate anyone she thinks might have committed a crime. If she had demanded that a member of Austin City Council resign for whatever the reason, and threatened to convene a grand jury to investigate every member of that Council person’s staff if he didn’t resign, then followed through on it afterward, would we not agree that that is an abuse of her power? It doesn’t matter if this hypothetical Council member has done anything that might merit a grand jury investigation. The point is that there are limits on the power, and going beyond those limits is at the least a concern and may be a crime. I don’t see what’s so hard to grasp about that. If the grand jury comes back with a no-bill based on their understanding of the law and the evidence presented, then so be it. We built limits on the powers of our elected officials in Texas for a reason. It’s appropriate to check when we think an elected official may have attempted to exceed the power of his or her office. Texas Politics has more.

Perry lawyers up

It’s getting real.

Rosemary Lehmberg

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has hired a high-profile Austin defense lawyer to represent him in an investigation into whether he illegally withheld money from the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

KVUE News and the Austin American-Statesman confirmed Sunday evening the hiring of David L. Botsford.

The hiring comes as a special Travis County grand jury is set to be seated Monday to hear evidence into whether Perry broke state laws concerning bribery, coercion and abuse of authority.

[…]

Botsford said Sunday night, “The matter at hand pertains to the power of the governor to issue vetoes as allowed under the Texas Constitution. I have been retained to ensure that (the special prosecutor) receives all the facts, which will show that the governor’s veto was carried out in both the spirit and the letter of the law.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Attorney Botsford must be good at what he does, because he’s already obfuscating the facts. The issue, as I’ve said repeatedly, is not that Perry vetoed the funds but that he threatened to veto them unless Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigned. Trying to force out another elected official in this manner is the no-no. Had Perry simply vetoed the funds without yapping about it beforehand, there would be no allegation of wrongdoing. I can’t wait to see what the grand jury, which has been seated, makes of this. Jason Stanford and Juanita have more.

Complaint #3 against Judge Pratt

Greg Enos does not give up, y’all.

Judge Denise Pratt

With just days before early voting begins in the GOP primary, Webster family lawyer Greg Enos has filed a third criminal complaint against embattled family court Judge Denise Pratt with the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

The complaint, which details one of the 631 cases Pratt dismissed on Dec. 30 and Dec. 31, accuses the freshman Republican judge — who is seeking a second term this year — of backdating an order in open court. It includes sworn affidavits from a couple who say Pratt informed them that she was “backdating this order” and screenshots indicating Pratt signed the order at an April 25 hearing, but dated it March 5.

Enos’ second criminal complaint, filed last month, alleges that Pratt broke the law by purging hundreds of cases last month without giving prior notice to lawyers or their clients. His first complaint against the district court judge, filed in October, accuses her of backdating orders in two unrelated cases. That complaint led to the resignation of Pratt’s lead clerk and sparked an investigation by the DA’s office and a grand jury, which ultimately no-billed her.

Pratt, through her lawyer, blamed the backdating on her court clerks. Enos says it’s “totally different” this time.

“The last time was circumstantial. She was blaming the clerks,” he said. “If these two witnesses are willing to go into a grand jury and the (Harris County) District Clerk’s records back up what they say … I don’t know how she would not get indicted for this.”

See here for previous blogging on Judge Pratt. Houston Politics has a copy of the complaint and a few more details. This whole thing is just…wow. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Texpatriate has more.

Another complaint filed against Judge Pratt

Pretty much needed to be one.

Judge Denise Pratt

Embattled family court Judge Denise Pratt is the subject of another criminal complaint by Webster family lawyer Greg Enos, accusing her of breaking the law by signing orders saying she had given prior notice to lawyers before dismissing hundreds of cases last month.

Judges are required under rules of civil procedure to schedule hearings and warn parties involved in pending litigation of their intent to dismiss cases, but numerous lawyers, including Enos, have told the Houston Chronicle they learned their cases had been dismissed only after the fact. The 311th District Court judge’s surprise docket purge – more than 700 cases since Dec. 19 – has sparked a furor at the Harris County Family Courthouse as lawyers and their clients fret over now-nullified custody arrangements, child support payments and the fate of cases on which Pratt already had ruled and needed to make final that were abruptly dissolved by the mass dismissal.

In addition to Enos’ complaint to the Harris County District Attorney’s office, several Houston family lawyers said they are filing complaints this week with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct amid calls from some for Pratt to resign and withdraw from the March 4 GOP primary.

[…]

In his complaint to the District Attorney’s Office, Enos alleges that by signing orders to dismiss those cases, Pratt violated a section of the state penal code that makes it a crime to knowingly make a false entry in a government record.

“The truth is that none of these parties were given notice that their case would be dismissed on Dec. 30 or 31,” Enos wrote.

A docket for cases set to be dismissed for want of prosecution, he wrote, “takes up at least half a day and usually involves dozens and dozens of attorneys in the courtroom with motions to retain. Pratt knew that no one was in her court for a dismissal docket on those days.”

Attached to Enos’ complaint were dismissal orders that Pratt had signed, stating that “all parties were given notice of the setting date and that failure to appear would be grounds for dismissal.”

See here for the most recent entry in this saga, which has taken a turn for the bizarre. Pratt’s lawyer, who is definitely earning his hourly rate, insists that this ain’t no big thing.

Pratt, through her lawyer, has acknowledged that some notices of pending dismissals were not sent out but has blamed the problem on a new state-run computer system being used by the district clerk’s office.

District clerk’s spokesman Bill Murphy said that system, known as eFileTexas.gov system, has nothing to do with the mailing of notices of dismissal hearings.

Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said it is commonplace for judges to purge their dockets at the end of the year and called Enos’ complaint “wholly and utterly without merit.”

“Greg Enos is like the boy who cried wolf, and he’s become a political alarmist,” Yates said. “The fact that he released this quote, I’ll put it in quotes, ‘criminal complaint’ to the media on the same day he filed it with the DA’s office shows his true motivation.”

Enos’ complaint was the second he has lodged with the District Attorney’s Office in regard to Pratt. Last October, he accused the Republican judge of backdating court orders to make it appear she had performed duties months before she actually had in several cases. That led to the resignation of Pratt’s lead clerk and sparked an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office and a grand jury.

Pratt, through Yates, has blamed the backdating on her clerks, who are employed by the district clerk’s office.

Yates noted Thursday that rules of civil procedure specifically require that the clerk send notice of the court’s intention to dismiss and the date and place of the dismissal hearing, and stipulate what should be done when notice is not given.

Murphy, the district clerk’s spokesman, said in an email that court coordinators – not clerks – are responsible for mailing notices of upcoming dismissal hearings. Coordinators, he noted, are employed by the county Office of Court Administration but “hand-picked by the judges for whom they work.”

If what Yates is saying is true, then it ought to be easily confirmed. How many cases were dismissed at the end of the year by other Harris County Family Court judges? Let’s check the same thing in some other big counties, too – Dallas, Bexar, wherever else District Family Courts exist. Check 2012 and 2011 and 2010, too – surely this data all exists. If Yates is correct, then the number of cases Judge Pratt dismissed will fit right in with those of her peers’ courts. If he’s wrong, they’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Empirical claims like this should always be checked. I’d do it if I knew where to look. Surely someone at the Chron, or someone reading this, has that capability. Houston Politics has more.

UPDATE: Turns out the answer to my question was at the end of the story, but I missed it:

According to records, Pratt dismissed 561 cases for want of prosecution in December. The eight other Harris County family courts dismissed from 28 to 121 cases each.

As they say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others. Got another explanation, Mr. Yates?

More from the Pratt files

This is just bizarre.

Judge Denise Pratt

Since being cleared last month by a grand jury for backdating records, a family court judge has quietly dismissed hundreds of cases, effectively nullifying a bevy of child support obligations and custody arrangements she previously made to protect children and families.

Lawyers say state District Court Judge Denise Pratt gave no prior notice of her intent to drop their cases from her 311th Court. Nearly 300 have been dismissed since Dec. 20, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, including many that had been scheduled to go to trial soon.

All but 19 were dismissed on a single day, Dec. 30.

Judges are required under rules of civil procedure to schedule hearings and warn parties involved in pending litigation of their intent to dismiss cases, but lawyers said they learned their cases had been dropped after the fact by postcards mailed by the district clerk or by word of mouth from clients.

Among those dismissed were three cases from which Pratt had been recused earlier in December.

[…]

Several of the newly dismissed cases involve lawyers who had joined Enos in publicly criticizing Pratt. Enos’ firm had three cases dismissed, including one from which Pratt had been recused by a visiting judge and another from which she had voluntarily recused herself.

“It is a ridiculous, shocking, unconstitutional, unfair thing to do,” Enos said. “It’s going to have terrible consequences for children and families.”

Joan Jenkins, one of the 32 family lawyers who signed a letter last fall calling for Pratt to resign, said one client whose divorce was set to be finalized told her a week ago that his wife had found out their case had been dismissed. He said his wife showed up at the family home with a police officer and told him she was moving back in.

[…]

Family lawyer Rob Clark had five cases dropped, including one he said Pratt threatened to dismiss in open court on Dec. 30, giving no explanation. That case involves a mother who had been awarded temporary custody of her toddler daughter while seeking to collect child support from the father, who had moved to Florida. With a dismissed case, the father “could come from Florida to pick up the kid and there’s nothing she can do,” said Clark, who signed the letter calling for Pratt’s resignation. “It’s crazy.”

Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said the judge always has granted motions to reinstate in the past, and blamed any lack of notice on a new electronic filing system the District Clerk’s office is using, under a state Supreme Court mandate.

“She is finding out that some of those notices didn’t go out,” Yates said. “They’ve just got to file a motion to reinstate, if someone’s case was dismissed for want of prosecution, so it’s really no big deal.”

District clerk’s office spokesman Bill Murphy said the new system, eFileTexas.gov, “has nothing to do with the mailing of notices of upcoming dismissal hearings.” That responsibility, he said, falls on court coordinators, who are employed by the county but “handpicked by the judges for whom they work.”

State District Court Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for the family courts, said Pratt had no authority to dismiss cases from which she had been recused.

What the hell is going on in that courtroom? I know Judge Pratt just got no-billed by the grand jury on charges that she falsified dates on court documents, but clearly there are more things to be investigated here. Seriously, does any of this sound normal to you? Hair Balls, which had the story first, and Texpatriate have more.

Judge Pratt gets no-billed

From the inbox:

Judge Denise Pratt

Harris County Grand Jury “No Bills” Judge Denise Pratt

“We are pleased that the grand jury agrees with us that there’s absolutely no evidence that Judge Pratt tampered with court documents or did anything illegal,” says her attorney, Terry W. Yates.

“The office of the District Clerk was created by the Texas Constitution as a backstop for the judges. One of their primary jobs is to keep the court papers in proper order. Unfortunately, this did not happen in the 311th District Court,”says Yates.

“The problems with the court documents emanated from the number of deputy clerks that were assigned to this court; more than 20 in the last three years. Some of these clerks were not properly trained and were otherwise unqualified for the position of deputy clerk,” says Yates.

Yates added, “Judge Pratt is very relieved that this matter is behind her and she is working hard to serve the citizens of Harris County.”

See here for previous blogging. It’s been a rough few weeks for Judge Pratt, and I’m sure she’s happy to get a bit of good news going into the holidays. She’s not out of the woods yet, however. Here’s the Chron story with more details.

Several family court lawyers who have sought to recuse Pratt from their cases in recent weeks have presented documents from her 311th family district court that appear to be backdated. A pair of visiting judges approved nine of those requests earlier this week.

[…]

District Clerk Chris Daniel, who launched his own investigation after receiving a copy of Enos’ complaint, released a statement saying that “our office’s own investigation of these alleged backdating incidents found only one instance of backdating by a court clerk.”

His spokesman, Bill Murphy, said the office found another document that appears to be backdated, but no one initialed it, so it is “unclear who processed” it.

[Greg] Enos said in an e-mail that the backdating of court orders “was always just the tip of the iceberg of problems with her, but that was what happened to arguably be a crime.”

The 53-year-old family lawyer filed a similar complaint last year against a Galveston County judge that preceded an investigation by the state attorney general and multiple indictments that led to the judge’s suspension and eventual resignation.

Enos’ complaint detailed other problems with Pratt. Lawyer Fred Krasny said Pratt regularly shows up to morning and after-lunch hearings an hour late, costing lawyers time and clients money. Others have said she sometimes has not shown up to hearings at all.

[…]

Lawyers who have spoken out against Pratt since Enos filed his complaint expressed frustration on Friday with the grand jury’s decision.

Matthew Waldrop, a lawyer who had eight cases removed from Pratt’s court this week by a visiting judge, said he is considering filing another criminal complaint.

Lawyer Robert Clark, who still has more than a dozen cases in Pratt’s court, said he is readying motions asking her to be removed from some or all of them. Clark argued a case in Pratt’s court in January for which she issued a ruling in May. The official court record now says the ruling was issued on Jan. 30, the day before the two-day trial actually ended.

“I don’t want my clients to suffer any adverse actions as a result of my being a vocal opponent of the judge,” Clark said.

See here and here for stories about those recusals. Even if Judge Pratt survives further complaints, she still has that primary and a November election to get through. I’m thinking she’s got a very tough road ahead of her.

Lehmberg beats the rap

Good for her.

Rosemary Lehmberg

District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg will remain in her position as the top felony prosecutor in Travis County, visiting Judge David Peeples ruled Wednesday.

Lehmberg hugged her supporters in the courtroom after the decision was read, shedding tears.

In closing arguments, Jim Collins, an assistant county attorney prosecuting the case, argued that keeping Lehmberg in office would harm the public interest. He said Lehmberg had a pattern of lying and was not managing her problems with alcohol.

On April 12, when she was arrested for drinking and driving, she was so drunk she could not walk and did not know where she was, Collins said. But it was not her single instance of intoxication, he said, pointing to receipts from Twin Liquors that he said showed she had spent about $8 on vodka a day.

“It is nothing else but by the grace of God that we’re here for a removal hearing and not a funeral,” Collins said. Later he said, “She lies even under oath — mostly she lies about what she drinks.”

But Lehmberg’s attorney, Dan Richards, argued that the state had not proved its case. Lehmberg had pleaded guilty within a week of her arrest and served her punishment. She was seeking treatment and her duties had never been affected, Richards said.

“I am a believer in redemption. I am a believer in Ms. Lehmberg,” Richards said. “And I am a believer in recovery.”

Not the most compelling argument I’ve ever heard, but it worked. I have no idea how much of a running punchline she may be in Austin, but I never thought she committed a firing offense, and I thought she was right to stand her ground against Rick Perry. She’s already said she won’t run again in 2016, so here’s hoping she can get her personal life in order and rehab her image between now and then. In the meantime, we’ll wait to hear more from the special prosecutor who is investigating Rick Perry in regard to the veto threat. Isn’t the term of that grand jury up around now?