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Third Court of Appeals

Supreme Court sticks its nose in

I suppose this was to be expected.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday temporarily put on hold an expansion of voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

Siding with Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Supreme Court blocked a state appeals court decision that allowed voters who lack immunity to the virus to qualify for absentee ballots by citing a disability. That appellate decision upheld a lower court’s order that would have allowed more people to qualify to vote by mail. The state’s Supreme Court has not weighed the merits of the case.

It’s the latest in an ongoing legal squabble that in the last three days has resulted in daily changes to who can qualify for a ballot they can fill out at home and mail in.

Federal and state courts are considering legal challenges to the state’s rules for voting by mail as Democrats and voting rights groups ask courts to clarify whether lack of immunity to the coronavirus is a valid reason for people to request absentee ballots. A resolution to that question is gaining more urgency every day as the state approaches the July primary runoff elections.

[…]

The court also set oral arguments for May 20 on Paxton’s request for it to weigh in on whether the appeals court erred and abused its discretion when it allowed Sulak’s order to go into effect.

See here and here for the background. I just want to remind everyone, early voting for the July primary runoffs begins on June 29, and mail ballots are already being sent to voters who requested them. People are going to have to start making decisions about how they’re going to vote. And whatever the state courts ultimately say, there are those federal lawsuits out there as well. This is going to be a whirlwind of uncertainty for some time. The Chron has more.

Appeals court upholds vote by mail order

Second round goes to the plaintiffs.

A state appeals court upheld a temporary order Thursday from a state district judge that could greatly expand the number of voters who qualify for mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, rebuffing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to have the ruling put on hold while he appeals it.

In a 2-1 split along party lines, a panel of the 14th Court of Appeals of Texas said it would let stand state District Judge Tim Sulak’s ruling from last month that susceptibility to the coronavirus counts as a disability under state election law and is a legally valid reason for voters to request absentee ballots. Paxton has been fighting that ruling and had argued that his pending appeal meant the lower court’s ruling was not in effect.

[…]

“Eligible voters can vote by mail during this pandemic,” Chad Dunn, the Texas Democratic Party’s general counsel, said in a statement Thursday. “It is time for a few state officers to stop trying to force people to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to vote.”

In response to the appeals court’s ruling, a spokesperson for Paxton said his office will “look forward to the Texas Supreme Court resolving this issue.”

See here, here, and here for the background. A copy of the court’s order is here, and of the dissent is here. If you believed that Paxton went to the Supreme Court even before the 14th Court ruled on this motion for the purpose of gaining political advantage, the 2-1 partisan split in this ruling is not going to dissuade you. The Supreme Court’s gonna do what the Supreme Court’s gonna do, but that seems to me to not be a great sign. Sorry to be a party pooper, but it’s hard to miss the symbolism of that. The Chron has more.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, they have requested a response from the counties named in Paxton’s writ of mandamus no later than 4 PM on Monday the 18th. I don’t think we’ll have to wait much longer to hear from them.

I should note that despite my pessimism in that first paragraph, there are some Republicans who are fine with pushing mail ballots to anyone who wants them. Like Kathaleen Wall, for example:

[Wall] has sent out mailers in recent weeks telling voters they have the “green light” to vote by mail and that the secretary of state has cleared them to do so if they are worried about contracting or spreading the virus by voting in person.

[…]

The controversy in the 22nd District has caught the attention of state officials. The secretary of state’s office says it “has been made aware of the mailings that have been sent out and have been in touch with representatives of the Wall campaign.”

“We have informed them that certain statements attributed to the Secretary of State’s office are categorically false, instructed them to update voters who have already been contacted, and to immediately cease further distribution,” a spokesman for the office, Stephen Chang, said in a statement.

Wall’s campaign says she is doing her best to keep voters up to date on the fast-changing developments around voting by mail, pointing to posts on her website and social media that have come in addition to the mailers. In a statement, the candidate defended sending out the vote-by-mail applications.

“I’ve distributed over 60,000 face masks to first responders and businesses in CD22 to make sure they have the tools they need to stay safe,” Wall said. “Sending out ballot by mail applications is the same thing. I’m making sure voters know they have options if they want to exercise it and meet the qualifications.”

However, Wall’s questionable vote-by-mail efforts go back to mid-April, when she sent out a mailer with the state seal telling the voters that they had received the “green light” to vote by mail and that their applications would be arriving soon. (Federal candidates are exempted from state law that prohibits the use of the state seal in political advertising.) The mailer also said, “Recently, the Texas Secretary of State ruled that voters’ concerns over contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus and endangering their health by visiting a public polling place meet the election law requirements to be deemed eligible to vote absentee.”

Wall’s campaign used the same language in the subsequent mailer with the application, which featured the “Disability” box pre-checked.

As the story notes, that’s not exactly what the SOS said in that advisory, and indeed this is basically the Democratic plaintiffs’ position in the nine million current lawsuits that have been filed on the topic. Kathaleen Wall is an idiot who maybe doesn’t fully grasp the politics here. Or who knows, maybe this is a sincere statement of her beliefs, in which case all I can say is welcome aboard. I will admit, it’s still a little weird to me that this has become such a partisan issue, since one would think there are plenty of Republican voters who aren’t over 65 that might like to have this option as well. But here we are anyway, and now we have Kathaleen Wall on our side. Hooray?

Paxton tries a Supreme shortcut

They sure are keeping busy.

In a bit of judicial leapfrog, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on his interpretation of how voters can qualify for absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.

Various lawsuits are pending over whether eligibility for mail-in ballots can be expanded to voters who risk contracting the virus by voting in person. Paxton believes it can’t, and Wednesday asked the state’s highest civil court to issue a relatively rare writ of mandamus preventing local election officials from doing so.

In a motion filed Wednesday, the Republican attorney general asked the Texas Supreme Court to order election officials in some of the biggest, largely Democratic counties in the state to follow his reading of existing eligibility requirements for absentee voting, arguing the court must step in quickly because those county officials intend to apply an “incorrect reading” of state law.

[…]

The election officials Paxton is targeting — county clerks or election administrators in Harris, Dallas, Travis, El Paso and Cameron counties — have generally indicated they will process mail-in ballots that cite a disability in accordance with the law and court rulings.

In his filing, Paxton argued that county election officials are refusing “to discharge” their duty to reject applications to vote by mail from voters who don’t qualify under the state’s existing eligibility criteria.

“They have instead determined that the coronavirus pandemic allows them to unilaterally expand the Legislature’s determination of who is eligible to vote by mail,” Paxton wrote. “To the local election officials of Travis, Harris, Cameron, Dallas, and El Paso Counties —all Respondents here —a ‘disability’ does not mean a ‘sickness or physical condition.’ Instead, it means a generalized fear common to all voters of contracting disease.”

It’s unclear how election officials would be able to reject applications from voters who use the disability category of eligibility as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters who cite a disability to receive a mail-in don’t have to provide any information beyond checking a box on the application form. Election officials can reject applications if they know the applicant is ineligible, but they’re unable to require voters to substantiate their disability.

Paxton argued the election officials’ actions were “not only unlawful; they are also unnecessary” because the state is already making changes to the voting process during the pandemic. Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott doubled the early voting period for the July 14 primary runoff.

This is of course in reference to the state lawsuit. As we know, Paxton had previously threatened county election officials who might be accommodating to people requesting mail ballots on the grounds that the original ruling only applied to Travis County and was stayed pending appeal. The TDP, the plaintiffs in the suit, filed a motion with the Third Court of Appeals opposing Paxton’s actions. I should note that this case has been transferred to the 14th Court of Appeals, which includes Harris County. The Trib story about the complaint filed against Paxton in Dallas County contains a reference to this. Here’s a copy of the briefing schedule for the 14th Court of Appeals, which looks to be set for a ruling in mid-June. Assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t take this out of their hands.

This is basically Paxton getting a second bite at the apple. It’s a writ of mandamus – you may remember, the thing that they acted on in 2015 when they ordered the city of Houston to allow the anti-HERO referendum to go forward – and not an appeal, since the appeals court hasn’t been heard from yet. They don’t have to do anything with this, they could just let the appellate court do its job. As the story notes, there’s no way for clerks to vet or verify anyone’s disability claim. I suppose either court could order clerks to shut up and not tell people that they have the right to ask for a mail ballot if they have a disability. I’m not exactly sure how that would work, but the law can be a funny thing. And of course, there are all those federal suits, over which the State Supreme Court has no jurisdiction. So who knows? I don’t know what else to say, we’ll just have to wait and see what they do. The Chron has more.

Criminal complaint filed against AG Ken Paxton

I should say “another criminal complaint”, this one over his bullying tactics about vote by mail.

MOAR MUG SHOTS

Two voting rights advocates have filed a complaint with the Dallas County district attorney, alleging Attorney General Ken Paxton committed voter fraud in each of the state’s 254 counties by contradicting a judge’s order expanding the availability of mail-in voting during the pandemic.

“Attorney General Ken Paxton’s letter intentionally misled Texas elections officials about eligibility to vote by mail,” said Kendall Scudder, one of the complainants. “Mail-in ballots aren’t where the election fraud is happening, it’s happening in the office of our indicted attorney general.”

Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak on April 17 issued a temporary injunction stating that any voter concerned about exposure to the coronavirus can avoid in-person voting and request a mail-in ballot by claiming a disability.

Paxton, a Republican who has argued disability claims should be reserved only for those who currently fall under that category, wrote in a filing that same day that Sulak’s order was automatically stayed when he filed an appeal.

[…]

Two attorneys reached by Hearst Newspapers agreed with Paxton’s assessment that the April 17 order was stayed when Paxton appealed.

Any appeal of an order that grants a temporary injunction or denies a plea to the jurisdiction, both of which occurred in this case, places an immediate stay on that order, said Dallas appellate lawyer Chad Ruback. On top of that, the Attorney General’s office noted in its appeal that governmental entities are entitled to automatic stays in this situation, under Texas law.

In the Dallas County case, complainants Scudder and Woot Lervisit, who live and vote in the county, say that under the Texas election code, their complaint should trigger a criminal investigation of Paxton’s conduct.

See here and here for the background. You can see the press release relating to this action here, a copy of the complaint here, and a copy of the tweets submitted as supporting evidence here. This is another one of those times when I don’t feel qualified to evaluate the action, but if as the lawyers quoted in the story indicate, Paxton was correct to assert that the order was stayed, then I don’t know what the case is for action against him. I presume the Dallas County DA is better positioned to answer that question, and we’ll know his answer by the action he takes. In the meantime, it’s at least fun to note the irony of Ken Paxton being tripped up by a voter fraud charge. I don’t expect to get any more out of this than that, but we’ll see.

UPDATE: The DMN notes that Dallas County DA John Creuzot declined comment on the complaint. It also reports that Paxton has asked one of the Houston-area appeals courts to vacate the Sulak ruling. I don’t understand the jurisdiction there, given that the lawsuit originated in Travis County, but that’s all the story says.

TDP petitions appeals court to get Paxton to knock it off

Good.

The Texas Democratic Party has asked a court to order state officials not to interfere with a previous court order that opened up mail-in voting in the state.

In their filing Tuesday with the Third Court of Appeals, lawyers accused the state of thrusting voters and local election officials into “legal limbo” by contradicting the earlier ruling.

[…]

Earlier this month, Attorney General Ken Paxton accused local election officials of “misleading the public about their ability to vote by mail.”

“Fear of contracting COVID-19, however, is a normal emotional reaction to the current pandemic and does not amount to an actual disability that qualifies a voter to receive a ballot by mail,” Paxton said in a statement last week. ““My office will continue to defend the integrity of Texas’s election laws.”

In its filing, the Texas Democratic Party said the court needs to step in to ensure counties and voters do not fear applying for and processing vote-by-mail applications.

“The State has taken the extraordinary action of publicly disregarding an order from a coequal branch of the government, asserting that its view of the Texas Election Code, which was rejected by the trial court, is law of the land and threatening those who follow the trial court’s interpretation with prosecution,” lawyers wrote in their motion. “This includes calling into question the validity of the injunction within Travis County and intimidating Travis County voters.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the TDP’s motion. Here I am Not Being A Lawyer again, but it sure seems weird to me that Ken Paxton would simply announce what Judge Sulak’s ruling meant, when the 3rd Court is right there. I get that the AG’s job includes offering non-binding legal opinion about things, but he’s also a party in this lawsuit, so his opinion in this case is hardly disinterested. Anyway, we’ll see what the 3rd Court makes of all this.

Paxton threatens county clerks over vote by mail instructions

Seems to me this should get a bit more attention.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton informed county judges and election officials Friday that if they advise voters who normally aren’t eligible to apply for mail-in ballots due to a fear of contracting COVID-19, they could be subject to criminal sanctions.

His warning came in a letter to local officials Friday and two weeks after a state district judge had issued a temporary injunction allowing eligible voters who are fearful of contracting COVID-19 by voting in-person to cast their ballots by mail.

In order to qualify to vote by mail under state law, Texans must submit an application and be either 65 years or older, disabled, out of the county on election day and during early voting, or be eligible to vote but confined in jail.

During a hearing last month, the Texas Democratic Party argued that Texans following stay-at-home orders and exercising social distancing fall under the Texas Elections Code’s definition of a disability, which is “a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.”

In Friday’s letter, Paxton said that while a person ill with COVID-19 would qualify under the state’s definition of “a sickness,” a fear of contracting the virus is simply “a normal emotional reaction to the current pandemic and does not, by itself, amount to a ‘sickness’” that would meet the eligibility requirements to vote-by-mail.

Therefore, officials and “third parties” should not advise voters to apply for mail-in ballots for those “who lack a qualifying sickness or physical condition to vote by mail in response to COVID-19,” the letter reads.

Chad Dunn, the general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party, which is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement Friday that the court has already overruled Paxton’s arguments.

“Paxton can keep on stating his opinion over and over again for as long as he wants but the bottom line is he needs to get a court to agree with him,” Dunn said. “We all have opinions. In our constitutional system, what courts say is what matters.”

In his letter, Paxton also said the lawsuit “does not change or suspend these requirements” due to his appeal of the judge’s ruling.

“Accordingly, pursuant to Texas law, the District Court’s order is stayed and has no effect during the appeal,” Paxton wrote. “Moreover, even if the order were effective, it would not apply to any county clerk or election official outside of Travis County. Those officials must continue to follow Texas law, as described in this letter, concerning eligibility for voting by mail ballot.”

Dunn disagreed with that assertion, and Thomas Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, which had also joined the lawsuit, said Paxton’s letter misinterprets the law.

“Ken Paxton’s letter — which is not binding — gets the law wrong and serves no other purpose than to attempt to intimidate voters and county officials. The simple fact is that no Texan should have to choose between their health and exercising their fundamental right to vote,” Buser-Clancy said in a statement.

See here for the background. You can see a copy of Paxton’s letter here, and a copy of the ACLU and Texas Civil Rights Project’s responses here. The Austin Chronicle adds more:

The letter, also distributed as a press release, presumably has been sent to officials in all 254 Texas counties. Asked to respond to the Attorney General’s explicit threats of “criminal sanctions” in the letter and his interpretation of state election law, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said, “This is [Paxton’s] opinion and he’s stated it a couple of times previously. We are waiting to hear from the courts.”

State District Court Judge Tim Sulak recently granted a temporary injunction, ruling that the risk of infection by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is sufficient to enable all Texas voters to apply for mail ballots for the July 14 elections (Congressional run-offs and a Senate District 14 election in Travis County, other contests elsewhere). Paxton appealed that decision to the Third Court of Appeals, and has adopted the position that while the appeal is pending, “the District Court’s order is stayed and has no effect.”

However, some election officials have said they are planning for a surge in voting by mail. Earlier this week, DeBeauvoir told the Chronicle that Travis County normally receives about two VBM applications a day for an interim election like the July run-off. “Right now they’re running at about 200 a day,” she said.

[…]

An earlier, “advisory” Paxton letter to state Rep. Stephanie Klick – issued prior to the District Court’s official ruling – made the same general argument about the disability provisions of state election law. The latest letter is addressed to County Judges as well as election officials. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the Chronicle that Paxton’s invocation of possible “criminal sanctions” is a “threat designed to suppress voter turnout.”

Eckhardt added that Paxton’s argument that the temporary injunction is “stayed” during the Third Court appeal is simply “one lawyer’s opinion, and the higher court may have a different opinion.”

As for the reiteration of Paxton’s earlier advisory letter, DeBeauvoir said, “He wants to make certain his threat is being heard.”

I mean, I know I’m not a lawyer and all, but usually you have to ask for a court order to be stayed pending appeal. If any of that has been done, then all I can say is that it has not been reported in a form that was visible to me. If there hasn’t been a subsequent order to stay Judge Sulak’s ruling pending appeal, either from Judge Sulak himself or from the appellate court, in this case the Third Court of Appeals. For what it’s worth, the official order from Judge Sulak says at the end:

“It is further ORDERED that for this Temporary Injunction Order to be effective under the law, cash bond in the amount of $0 shall be required of the Plaintiffs and filed with the District Clerk of Travis County, Texas. The Clerk of Court shall forthwith issue a write of Temporary Injunction in conformity with the law and terms of this Order. Once effective, this Order shall remain in full force and effect until final Judgment in the trial on this matter.”

Seems pretty clear to me. As for the matter of the claim that even if there’s no stay on the order it only applies to Travis County, there’s nothing in the text of the order that looks to me (again, Not A Lawyer) like it supports that interpretation. The judge does refer to the Intervenor Plaintiffs and the fact that they represent voters “throughout the state of Texas”. I suppose this could be clarified, but the interpretation that it’s a statewide ruling seems just as reasonable to me. I know Ken Paxton is full of bluster, but this seems to me to dance close to the line of blatantly disregarding the judge’s order. Is he gonna send in the Texas Rangers to arrest Diane Trautman? Maybe the plaintiffs need to ask the judge to please remind Ken Paxton where the lines are here.

UPDATE: The Chron now has a story about this, which mostly draws from the Paxton letter and ACLU/TCRP responses.

Shepherd ISD update

They’re the other district being taken over by the TEA due to failing performance.

Four days after a court order temporarily stopped Texas from taking over Shepherd Independent School District, elected school board members voted to effectively cede their control over the four-school East Texas district. They also fired the lawyers who got the takeover halted without a directive from the full school board.

With Friday’s school board vote, Texas education officials are poised to appoint their own board of managers to oversee hiring, budgeting and operations in Shepherd ISD, a result of the long-standing academic failure at two of its schools. It would be Texas’ first state takeover as a result of a 2015 law requiring harsh penalties for districts that fail to improve long-struggling schools.

“I’m opposed in principle to this,” said Mike Courvelle, the loudest school board voice in disagreement with the decision. “Once the state comes in…we’re granting them total control.”

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin, which issued an order Monday that temporarily blocked the takeover, must still give the state permission before it can appoint a new board. Almost all the discussion Friday on the school board’s votes happened behind closed doors in executive session.

Courvelle did get one win Friday: He and his colleagues unanimously tapped internal candidate Dianne Holbrook to serve as the district’s new superintendent, refusing the option chosen by the state. They did so knowing the state would likely overturn that decision.

“We know her. She’s here. We trust her,” Courvelle said. “We expect it to be a short-lived decision anyway.”

Jeff Cottrill, the Texas Education Agency’s representative in Shepherd, agreed with the latter part of Courvelle’s statement. “We look forward to the Third Court of Appeals bringing resolution to this litigation so the state-appointed superintendent Dr. Jason Hewitt as well as the board of managers can begin serving and uniting this community around improving student outcomes,” he told The Texas Tribune after the vote.

See here for the background. The stopped-and-to-be-restarted takeover situation is somewhat of a comedy of errors, stemming from miscommunication between the Shepherd board and the attorneys representing them. That’s not very interesting to me, and I expect that by mid-week or so the initial court order will be lifted. Of greater interest to me is this:

Shepherd’s takeover is due to a 2015 state law intended to hold school districts more accountable for improving their schools, instead of allowing them to languish in a state of low academic performance for years. If one school fails for five or more years, Texas is required to either shut down the school or take over the entire school district.

The same year the law was passed, Shepherd ISD’s primary and intermediate schools, which serve about half the district’s students, received their first failing grades.

Those schools would fail for four more consecutive years: a cohort of students attending elementary schools where less than a quarter of them can read on grade level.

When Ronnie Seagroves took over as principal of Shepherd Intermediate School last year, it had already been considered a failing school for years, not just for its poor academics but also lack of student discipline. Principals came and went, without providing vision or direction for the school and its students, he said.

Seagroves is working hard to turn that around by encouraging collaboration among teachers, providing more individualized instruction for students, and greeting students each day at the school’s entrance. But that same cohort of students who spent each year in a low-performing elementary school is now attending the middle school, which has received failing grades for the last two years.

So how likely do you think the TEA will be to reverse this trend? I suppose the preliminary question to that is, what caused this problem in the first place? Was Shepherd a more-or-less OK school system that suddenly took a nosedive? Was it that when a different (maybe more precise, maybe more random) measuring system was put into place, problems that had been there all along were suddenly exposed? Is there some other potential cause that may not be so readily identifiable? I’m skeptical that the TEA can and will do any better, but if they can at least identify the problem here, then maybe that can help other districts in the future. Whatever happens, I hope it’s done in a transparent manner, so we can learn from it one way or the other.

TEA appeals takeover-delay injunction

This isn’t settled just yet.

Texas Education Agency officials said they filed an appeal Thursday to overturn an injunction by a Travis County judge blocking it from replacing Houston ISD’s trustees with a state-appointed board of managers.

The appeal was sent to the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals, and if a panel of judges sides with the agency, it could resume its work to strip Houston ISD’s board of power.

If the injunction is upheld, the TEA would not be able to move forward until a lawsuit by the Houston ISD board of trustees has been decided. Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy on Wednesday set a hearing date for June 22.

[…]

Shepherd ISD, a small school district just south of Lake Livingston also is targeted for a board takeover by the TEA. That district also sought a temporary injunction this year to stop the education agency takeover. On Thursday, Travis County District Judge Karin Crump denied that application for an injunction.

HB 1842 was not the TEA’s only potential option to replace Houston ISD’s board. It could sanction the district over the state investigation. State law also allows the TEA to take over the board if a district has had a TEA conservator for two or more years.

HISD attorneys argue that the TEA’s investigation was biased and that because the TEA conservator was assigned to one campus, and not the district as a whole, her presence would not trigger a takeover.

The injunction by Judge Mauzy also blocks the TEA from acting under either of those rules.

See here for the background. The conventional wisdom seems to be that while the Third Court of Appeals may uphold the injunction, the all-Republican Supreme Court may be more favorable to the TEA. Make of that what you will. Time could be a factor, depending on how long it takes each court to hear and rule on the appeals. Honestly, I hope this gets decided on the merits in a timely fashion. Whatever the outcome, having some extra clarity on the law would be a good thing.

Omnibus election report

It’s after midnight, I’ve mostly posted stuff on my long-dormant Twitter account (@kuff), and I will have many, many thoughts in the coming days. For now, a brief recap.

– As you know, neither Beto nor any other Dem won statewide, thus continuing the shutout that began in 1996. However, as of this writing and 6,998 of 7,939 precincts counted, O’Rourke had 3,824,780 votes, good for 47.86% of the total. In 2016, Hillary Clinton collected 3,877,868 votes. It seems very likely that by the time all is said and done, Beto O’Rourke will be the biggest vote-getter in history for a Texas Democrat. He will have built on Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. That’s pretty goddamn amazing, and if you’re not truly impressed by it you’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re in a different state now.

– Beto may not have won, but boy howdy did he have coattails. Colin Allred won in CD32, and Lizzie Fletcher won in CD07. Will Hurd is hanging on to a shrinking lead in CD23, up by less than 1,200 votes with about 14% of the precincts yet to report. He was leading by 6,000 votes in early voting, and it may still be possible for Gina Ortiz Jones to catch him. Todd Litton (45.30% in CD02), Lorie Burch (44.21% in CD03), Jana Lynne Sanchez (45.25% in CD06), Mike Siegel (46.71% in CD10), Joseph Kopser (47.26% in CD21), Sri Kulkarni (46.38% in CD22), Jan McDowell (46.91% in CD24), Julie Oliver (44.43% in CD25), and MJ Hegar (47.54% in CD31) all came within ten points.

– Those coattails extended further down the ballot. Dems picked up two State Senate seats, as Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in SD10 (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and Nathan Johnson trounced Don Huffines in SD16. Rita Lucido was at 46.69% in SD17, but she wasn’t the next-closest competitor – Mark Phariss came within three points of defeating Angela Paxton in SD08, a race that wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and in an even less-visible race Gwenn Burud scored 45.45% in SD09, while Meg Walsh got to 41.60% against Sen. Charles Schwertner in SD05 (he was just over 55% in that race). We could make things very, very interesting in 2022.

– And down in the State House, Dems have picked up 11 seats:

HD45, Erin Zwiener
HD47, Vikki Goodwin
HD52, James Talarico
HD65, Michelle Beckley
HD102, Ana-Marie Ramos
HD105, Terry Meza
HD113, Rhetta Bowers
HD114, John Turner
HD115, Julie Johnson
HD135, Jon Rosenthal
HD136, John Bucy

Note that of those seven wins, a total of four came from Denton, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The Dems have officially gained a foothold in the suburbs. They also lost some heartbreakingly close races in the House – I’ll save that for tomorrow – and now hold 12 of 14 seats in Dallas County after starting the decade with only six seats. This is the risk of doing too precise a gerrymander – the Republicans there had no room for error in a strong Democratic year.

– Here in Harris County, it was another sweep, as Dems won all the judicial races and in the end all the countywide races. Ed Emmett lost by a point after leading most of the evening, while the other Republicans lost by wide margins. Also late in the evening, Adrian Garcia squeaked ahead of Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2, leading by a 112,356 to 111,226 score. Seems fitting that Morman would lose a close race in a wave year, as that was how he won in the first place. That means Dems now have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. Did I say we now live in a different state? We now live in a very different county.

– With 999 of 1,013 precincts in, Harris County turnout was 1,194,379, with about 346K votes happening on Election Day. That puts turnout above what we had in 2008 (in terms of total votes, not percentage of registered voters) but a hair behind 2012. It also means that about 71% of the vote was cast early, a bit less than in 2016.

– Oh, and the Dems swept Fort Bend, too, winning District Attorney, County Judge, District Clerk, all contests judicial races, and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Maybe someone can explain to me now why they didn’t run candidates for County Clerk and County Treasurer, but whatever.

– Possibly the biggest bloodbath of the night was in the Courts of Appeals, where the Dems won every single contested race in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th Courts. I count 16 incumbent Republican judges losing, with several more open Republican-held seats flipping. That is utterly amazing, and will have an impact far greater than we can imagine right now.

– Last but not least, both Houston propositions passed. Expect there to be a lawsuit over Prop B.

The Courts of Appeals

The other judicial races where Dems have a chance to gain ground.

Republicans dominate Texas politics — but their stranglehold is especially noticeable in the courts.

Republicans hold all 18 seats on the state’s two high courts. Of the state’s 14 appeals courts, Democrats hold majorities on just three. On the other 11 courts, Democrats have no seats at all.

Democrats are hoping to flip that advantage on Election Day. In their eyes, the stars have aligned. They have a high-profile liberal darling running a competitive race for U.S. Senate at the top of the ticket. They have a controversial Republican president expected to generate backlash in his first midterm election. And enough judicial seats are up for election that Democrats could flip the four sprawling appellate court districts that serve Austin, Dallas and Houston. Hillary Clinton won those districts in 2016, but the courts are currently held entirely by Republicans.

If Democrats can sweep those races in 2018, they’ll take control of half the state’s appeals courts. And strategists say that goal is in sight.

[…]

No Democrat has been elected to the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals since 1992. The six-county district includes liberal-leaning Dallas, but also some of Texas’ most reliably red areas. In Dallas, as in Houston and Austin, large, urban centers contribute the lion’s share of the judicial district’s electorate, but right-leaning rural and suburban voters in surrounding counties have handed victories to Republicans for the past several election cycles. Only the 4th Court of Appeals, based in San Antonio, has a partisan split with Democrats in the majority. The Legislature controls these maps; the districts have changed only twice since 1967, most recently in 2005.

[…]

Ken Molberg, a district judge in Dallas, ran for 5th Court of Appeals in 2014 and came up nearly 72,000 votes short. This year, in another attempt, he’s confident things will be different. Molberg, a former Dallas County Democratic Party chair, has accumulated several hundred thousand dollars — an impressive sum for such an unstudied race — and said his region of the state is “ground zero for the party this go around.”

“The potential to switch this court in one election cycle is there, and it would be somewhat earthquake-like if that happened,” Molberg said. “It’s a tough race all the way around, but my analysis is that it can be done.”

Molberg is the best-funded of the eight Democrats battling Republicans for seats on the 13-justice court. But he said the slate will likely succeed or fail as a group.

“I don’t think individual campaigns have any effect at the court of appeals or district court level. …That’s an example of where you’re almost entirely dependent on straight-ticket voting,” said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor at Texas Southern University. “At the courthouse level, it’s easier for one party to dominate.”

[…]

“There is a real conformity, a uniformity of judicial thought on these courts that I think would really benefit from different experience,” said Meagan Hassan, who’s running as a Democrat for the Houston-based 14th Court of Appeals. She pointed to the tiny fraction of dissenting opinions written by Houston-area appellate judges, arguing that ideological balance is needed for the critical decisions these courts make.

In Tyler, for example, an all-Republican court of appeals struck down as unconstitutional the state’s new “revenge porn” law. The 3rd Court of Appeals is currently weighing the city of Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. And state appellate courts are the last appellate stop for the vast majority of criminal cases in the state — yet many state appellate judges have no background in criminal law.

Democratic wins, Hassan said, “would bring balance to the court that hasn’t existed there in 25 years.”

That’s a theme several of the CoA candidates mentioned in the Q&As I did with them this year. They also point out that a lot of the Court of Appeals rulings stand because they don’t get heard by the Supreme Court or the CCA. I wrote about these races in 2016, when there were several pickup opportunities available, in part due to the wipeout of 2010. Dems did gain one seat each on the 4th and 13th Courts of Appeals in 2016, the latter being one they lost in 2010. They had gained three on the 4th and lost one on the 3rd in 2012, with all of those being up for re-election this time around.

For the 1st and 14th Courts, which are the ones that include Harris County, Dems lost the CoA races by a wide margin in 2014 but came much closer in 2016. Here’s an example from 2014 and an example from 2016. The deficit was close to 150K votes in 2014 but only about 40K votes in 2016. The formula for a Democratic win is pretty straightforward: Carry Harris County by a lot, break even in Fort Bend, and limit the damage in Brazoria and Galveston. That’s all very doable, but it’s likely there won’t be much room for error. It all starts with running up the score in Harris County (or Travis County for the 3rd, and Dallas County for the 5th). If that happens, we can win.

Microbrewery legal setback

Kind of a lousy Christmas present.

Three Texas brewers are going back to battle with the state after an appeals court reversed a decision that would have allowed them to sell their distribution rights for monetary compensation.

In 2014, Peticolas Brewing Co. (Dallas), Revolver Brewing (Granbury) and Live Oak Brewing Co. (Austin) sued the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, saying a newly passed law related to who could sell a brewery’s distribution rights was unconstitutional. The mandate, which passed in 2013 with a bundle of other beer regulation reforms, said breweries may not accept payment for contracting with a distributor, but that a distributor could get a payout if it sold those same territorial rights to another distribution company.

Last year, a judge served victory to the breweries. But on Dec. 15, the Texas Third Court of Appeals reversed that decision. It stated, in part, the law does not prevent the brewers from successfully operating their businesses and that it also upholds the industry’s three-tier system, which aims to avoid conflicts of interest between alcohol manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

The decision will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, according to a statement from Institute for Justice, which is representing the breweries.

“It is well established that the Texas Constitution protects economic liberties, and these rights do not cease to exist when the government begins licensing and regulating individuals and businesses,” said Arif Panju, managing attorney for Institute for Justice’s Texas office, in a statement. “Every business in Texas should be concerned with the court’s ruling in this case. It is dangerous and we will ask the Texas Supreme Court to reverse.”

See here, here, and here for the background. You know how I feel about this. The three-tier system is an anachronism and a travesty, a glaring counterexample to any politician’s paeans to how Texas has a great business environment. Yet it persists, a lasting tribute to the lobbying efforts of the beer distributors and the big breweries that support them. As with so many things in this state, the ultimate solution is going to have to be a political one. Nothing will change until we elect enough people who want it to change. Austin360 has more.

New Braunfels can ban is back

A blast from the past.

New Braunfels officials plan to resume enforcement of the “can ban” and limits on coolers on rivers on Wednesday even as opponents of the controversial municipal codes continue to pursue a legal challenge to them.

The development follows the Texas Supreme Court’s refusal this month to bar the city from enforcing the ordinances, which prohibit bringing disposable containers or coolers over 16 quarts in size onto the Guadalupe and Comal rivers inside city limits.

“Everyone is still invited to enjoy their favorite beverage on our rivers. We just ask that they do so responsibly and in consideration of the health and sustainability of these important community assets,” Mayor Barron Casteel said in announcing Friday that enforcement of the measures would resume this week.

The resumption of enforcement after a lull of more than three years was called premature Monday by attorney Jim Ewbank, who brought suit in 2012 on behalf of local river outfitters and tourism-related businesses who contend the codes are an overreach of municipal authority.

Despite rejecting plaintiffs’ request to issue an immediate stay on enforcement of the contested codes, he noted the Texas Supreme Court did request a full briefing by the parties, “which is a good sign for us.”

The city’s brief is due to be filed by late November, said Ewbank, who expects the high court to decide by January whether to hear the whole case.

[…]

State District Judge Don Burgess granted the plaintiffs a summary judgment in 2014, but that decision was overturned in May by the 3rd Court of Appeals. It held that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge a penal code, therefore Burgess lacked subject matter jurisdiction on the case.

See here for my last update. I apparently missed the appellate ruling. Be that as it may, the city expects to get the ball rolling this week, with an eye on putting the ban back in place next year, assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t set them back. Adjust your tubing plans for the future accordingly.

You are now free to visually blight Texas highways

WTF?

Opponents of billboards and other signs along Texas roadways reacted on Monday with dismay to an appeals court decision striking down significant portions of the Texas Highway Beautification Act, saying the ruling could lead to a litany of signs along federally funded highways.

The Third District Court of Appeals in Austin issued the decision on the state law – cheered as the linchpin of Texas’ scenic roadway efforts – because the 42-year-old act restricts free speech.

Scenic Texas, a statewide group that has fought watering down Texas billboard laws, is urging the Texas Department of Transportation – the defendant in the current case – and state officials to appeal.

“What it appears to do is strip away TxDOT’s authority to regulate outdoor advertising as they have been doing it for the last 40 years,” said Margaret Lloyd, a Galveston resident and vice president of Scenic Texas. “We are concerned that authority has been removed completely.”

The ruling came late last week in a case regarding a 2011 sign erected to support Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. Auspro Enterprises placed the sign on its property along Texas 71.

[…]

TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said the agency is reviewing the ruling and consulting with the Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Highway Administration.

“TxDOT does not regulate or restrict content, as TxDOT has regulations that provide protection for freedom of speech,” Beyer said in a statement. “Texas has the most beautiful roadways in the nation, and as such TxDOT only wishes to further maintain the safety to the traveling public without restricting peoples’ constitutional rights.”

Citing other restrictions on signs and previous court rulings, the appeals court struck down subchapters B and C of the beautification act, which are the centerpiece of the law. Essentially, the court ruled Texas’ law relies on exemptions that differ based on the content of the sign, which is unconstitutional.

“The Texas Act, as both (TxDOT) and the Texas Supreme Court have acknowledged, on its face draws distinctions based on the message a speaker conveys,” appeals court Chief Justice Jeff Rose wrote.

Rather than void parts related to political speech, as TxDOT sought during the case, the appeals court said it cannot sever one type of sign from another and deemed TxDOT’s total authority of signs unconstitutional.

“We strongly disagree with the interpretation the court has come up with,” said Anne Culver, president of Scenic Houston, a local version of the statewide group.

A copy of the ruling is here. It cites a recent SCOTUS case ( Reed v. Town of Gilbert), which the judges say “has arguably transformed First Amendment free-speech jurisprudence”. If that’s so, I don’t care for it, because I think this ruling, which struck down a law that had been in place with no objections for over 40 years, is too broad. Beyond the effect at the state level, this could affect local billboard ordinance as well. Surely we don’t want to go back to the ugly old days in Houston, right? Scenic Texas said in a post on Facebook that they will encourage the AG to appeal this ruling. This is one time where I agree with that advice. Swamplot and the Chron editorial board have more.

La Marque ISD lawsuit tossed

The end of the line for La Marque ISD.

A Texas appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to halt the annexation of the La Marque school district by Texas City ISD.

The 3rd Texas Court of Appeals on Friday dismissed the lawsuit, saying that it lacked jurisdiction and that the lower court erred in accepting the case.

“This is the end. It’s done,” said Terry Pettijohn, a member of the deposed La Marque school board that sued to prevent the Texas Education Agency from dissolving the district.

“It’s just hard to understand how a school district that had met TEA standards and was financially solvent could have been closed,” Pettijohn said.

Former Education Commissioner Michael Williams, replaced Jan. 1 by former Dallas ISD trustee Mike Morath, last year ordered La Marque ISD to merge with the Texas City Independent School District as of July 1. State officials said the district had failed to meet its financial marks.

Morath issued a statement saying, “Our primary focus at the Texas Education Agency is ensuring that students in La Marque have access to a high quality education. We continue our work as the transition to Texas City ISD moves forward.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I didn’t expect La Marque to prevail here, and we did need a resolution one way or the other to be prepared for the next school year. I just hope this works out as planned. I’d feel a lot better about it if there had ever been any statistics published about the effect of HISD taking over North Forest, but if there are it was done in a very low key fashion. We’ll see how this goes.

CCA dismisses remaining charge against Rick Perry

This would appear to be the end of the road.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs for everyone!

The state’s highest criminal court dismissed the remaining indictment against former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday morning, apparently ending the case that started with his threat to veto state funding for a local prosecutor if she refused to quit her office.

[…]

A ruling earlier in the year by a state appeals court dismissed one of the two felony charges against Perry: coercion of a public servant. Perry’s lawyers challenged that decision, arguing that the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals should have also dismissed the abuse-of-power charge.

And that’s what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did on Wednesday. Two of the court’s nine judges dissented in that one ruling, while one abstained.

Tony Buzbee, Perry’s attorney, called the ruling a “long time coming,” and said the case should have never been brought in the first place.

“I said all along this case was foolishness and would be dismissed.”

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor in the case, called the ruling “horrendous.”

“This is a situation where the Republican court carved out a special ruling to get Perry off the hook. It changes law for past decades and offers no laws for future courts to follow,” he said. “This is, from what I understand, a special ruling tailor-made for Rick Perry.”

Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, the liberal-leaning watchdog group behind a complaint that led to the indictment, largely echoed that notion.

“A highly partisan court has handed Rick Perry a gift,” he said. “This decision is based on who Perry is rather than what he did.”

You could sort of see this coming when the case was argued last November, but it’s still a bit of a surprise. Clearly, there are limits to how pro-prosecutor this court will be, and Rick Perry joins Tom DeLay in being beneficiaries of that. I don’t feel like spending too much time thinking about it, so I will point you to the Associated Press, the AusChron, Trail Blazers, the Current, and the Press for more.

We have a messed up tax system in this state

The latest exhibit:

BagOfMoney

The volatile oil and gas industry already has prompted Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar to reduce his state revenue estimate, but that may not be the last of the bad budget news.

A court decision potentially could cost Texas around $1.1 billion a year in franchise tax revenue, plus require four years’ worth of refunds totaling another $6 billion, according to the comptroller’s office.

“It could be enormous. Enormous,” Hegar said in an interview about the possible effect of the lawsuit brought by American Multi-Cinema, which so far has won its court battle for a bigger deduction from its franchise tax payments.

If the 3rd Court of Appeals ruling in the case stands, the two-year refund due AMC is calculated at nearly $1.2 million.

But Hegar is predicting a potentially much bigger hit for the state based on the assumption that a wide range of businesses would be quick to take advantage of the deduction awarded Missouri-based AMC. The state is asking the court for a rehearing.

The AMC lawsuit centers on the franchise-tax deduction for “cost of goods sold,” which includes such things as the raw material used to make an item.

The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled in the lawsuit in April that exhibiting a movie amounts to a “good” because it’s “perceptible to the senses,” fitting the definition of tangible personal property. Therefore, the court said, AMC can include its auditorium expenses as production costs when figuring its franchise-tax deduction.

“As a practical matter, the court’s holding could potentially treat a business exhibiting a movie as producing TPP (tangible personal property) in much the same way that a carpenter produces a chair or desk” and allow many other service providers to claim deductions, Hegar wrote to state leaders in June.

“It could be lawyers, accountants, people that mow yards. It’s just unbelievable how broad it was,” he said. It opens the door to deductions for their computers or other equipment. “You can even argue that now when somebody comes and mows your yard, you sit in the back yard and you smell that grass, and it’s real pretty. It’s perception to your senses.

“The list just doesn’t stop,” Hegar said. “It would kind of be like the kids’ Christmas list in a Santa Claus movie. It’s a real long list. It just keeps on rolling out the door.”

In a similar fashion, this ruling could also affect the state sales tax, and that could wind up offsetting some of the franchise tax loss. Or maybe not – estimates of the possible total cost of this ruling are in the $6 billion per year range. That’s getting into some real money, at a time when the state could wind up also being on the hook for a lot more money to public education. Like the public ed issue, this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the Lege, which could clarify what the franchise tax covers or – since abolishing the franchise tax is the current fetish – replace it with something else. I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Perry’s day at the CCA

Now we wait to see if he comes out of this a free man or a man still under one or more indictments.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Never mind the corndogs, here comes the CCA

Lawyers for former Gov. Rick Perry fought Wednesday before the highest criminal court in Texas to finish off the 15-month-old indictment against him, while prosecutors argued it was far too early to let Perry off the hook.

At a critical two-hour hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, both sides fielded a slew of hypothetical scenarios and skeptical questions as they tackled a ruling by a lower court earlier this year that dismissed one of the two felony charges against Perry, coercion of a public servant.

[…]

Two issues were at play Wednesday. One was whether the remaining charge, abuse of power, should also be thrown out, effectively ending the 15-month-old case against Perry. The other issue was whether a statute should be reinstated that was struck down by the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals in July when it dismissed the coercion charge.

Eight judges listened as those issues were aired out in hour-long blocks split between David Botsford, the lead attorney on Perry’s appeal, and State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn. Judge Bert Richardson, who oversaw Perry’s case as a district judge and now sits on the Court of Criminal Appeals, did not take part in the Wednesday arguments.

As Perry’s legal team has done from the get-go, Botsford cast the case as having serious implications for First Amendment rights and a chilling effect on elected officials down the line. The indictment, he said, violates three principles to which Perry was entitled as Texas’ longest-serving governor: separation of powers, free speech and legislative immunity.

“The danger of allowing a prosecutor to do this is mind-boggling,” Botsford said as he sought to convince the eight judges present for the arguments that they should immediately end the indictment.

McMinn argued more than once that the defense was “getting ahead of ourselves” with its discussion of dispensing with the indictment before trial, insisting that not all the facts are out. Botsford later countered that such disclosure is not required for the court to dismiss the remaining charge. The questions before the judges, Botsford said, are “issues of law, not issues of fact.”

McMinn specifically sought to poke holes in Botsford’s argument that Perry had legislative immunity because vetoes are legislative acts, an argument she said “strains credibility” when one considers, for example, a member of the Legislature cannot take the same action. In his remarks, Botsford argued Perry was clearly “wearing his legislative hat” and thus protected from prosecution, regardless of any threats that may have accompanied his veto.

This hearing was originally scheduled for November 4, but you know how it goes. What happens next is we wait. The CCA justices (minus Bert Richardson, who is of course the judge in the actual criminal trial) asked more questions of McMinn than of Botsford, but who knows if that means anything. The trial is on hold pending a resolution of these issues by the CCA, so one hopes we won’t have to wait too long. See Trailblazers, the Express-News, and this Trib story for more from before the hearing.

Perry appeal briefs

The latest update on the appeals before the CCA in the Rick Perry matter.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs, nothing but corndogs

The 3rd Court of Appeals this summer tossed one of two counts against Perry, saying the coercion law underlying it violates the First Amendment. The 3rd Court agreed with Judge Bert Richardson, however, that Perry must face the charge of abuse of official capacity because it’s too early in the case to decide upon the issues he raised.

Perry’s legal team disagreed with the 3rd Court on the remaining charge, arguing in a brief filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals and released Thursday that the count could be thrown out under existing legal precedent before a trial.

And if that’s not so, said the team led by Houston lawyer Anthony Buzbee, the case should be tossed before trial anyway given the issues at stake and to prevent “the irremediable loss of constitutional rights.”

The briefs were filed as a precursor to oral arguments scheduled for Nov. 18 before the state’s highest criminal court.

Among its points, Perry’s defense team cited the separation of powers and argued that allowing “a criminal prosecution of a political decision where there is no allegation of bribery or demonstrable corruption undermines the basic structure of state government.”

The prosecution disagreed, saying the issues raised by Perry can’t be decided at this point in the case.

The defense brief said that even assuming for the sake of argument that Perry’s claims “were not of the type that this Court has already recognized as cognizable, the Court should clarify the law to permit immediate resolution of the merits of his challenges.”

“Governor Perry’s constitutional claims pose fundamental questions about any governor’s authority to exercise one of that office’s core constitutional responsibilities—the review of legislative acts, including the possibility of veto,” said the defense brief.

[…]

State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa C. McMinn said it’s clear that the claims raised by Perry would properly be decided in a trial.

“Whether Appellant’s conduct satisfies the elements of a penal statute is a question of sufficiency of the evidence to be decided at trial, not a pretrial determination that this issue cannot be decided or that he is immune from prosecution because a political question might arise at trial,” she wrote.

“Neither the constitutional separation of powers doctrine nor the political question theory of nonjusticiability creates a right not to stand trial or shields a member of the executive or legislative branch from criminal prosecution,” McMinn wrote.

McMinn also filed a brief urging the state’s high criminal court to rescind the 3rd Court’s decision that the coercion law, at least as applied to public servants, violates First Amendment protections.

She said that “there is no evidence that in the years since the coercion statute was enacted, any public servant … has abstained from any of the valid speech the court of appeals maintains is covered by the statute.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Both sides’ briefs are embedded at the link above – the State Prosecuting Attorney’s brief follows the defense brief and begins on page 127 – so go read them if you are so inclined. I have no idea how the CCA will rule, but I feel pretty confident saying that we won’t get a ruling till some time next year.

What is coercion, anyway?

It could be the defining legacy of Rick Perry’s career, depending on how things go in the courts.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has not been coerced in any way

The coercion law has been used only sparingly in Texas, according to records for the past five years, and some legal experts call it problematic.

Others, however, say its absence will be felt if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agrees with the decision to toss the law.

“I see it not just as a numbers game,” said Melissa Hamilton, visiting criminal law scholar at the University of Houston Law Center.

“To the extent you are taking away tools from prosecutors to charge as well as to plea bargain, they are going to be potentially deterred from bringing more cases. And I don’t see how that’s helpful to the citizens,” Hamilton said.

[…]

The state is appealing the 3rd Court’s decision to throw out the coercion law, saying it should stay on the books to hold public officials accountable. Perry still faces a charge of abuse of official capacity, which he is appealing.

Some agree with Perry’s team and the 3rd Court that the coercion law has problems.

“When something that could fit that coercion of a public servant statute would come in, it was almost always a better fit for bribery or for obstruction or retaliation of a public servant,” said Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Ballantyne, whose job includes handling public integrity cases.

“I think that statute needs to be more narrowly tailored by the Legislature for a lot of the reasons that the 3rd Court cited,” Ballantyne said. “Basically it encompasses too much constitutionally protected speech. Stuff that may just be impassioned criticism of a public servant may technically fall under the letter of that statute. So it’s a statute that’s just too broad a sword given the constitutional issues that are at play.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety criminal history database shows 23 convictions statewide under the coercion law in the past five years. The database is dependent on reporting by local entities.

The number of cases involving public servants such as elected officials or government employees – the category of the law targeted by the 3rd Court decision – is much smaller.

DPS doesn’t capture information on whether those convicted were public officials, according to a spokesman. Ballantyne said of three Bexar County convictions, none were public servants.

[…]

Professor Geary Reamey of St. Mary’s University School of Law said effects of the 3rd Court’s ruling will be minimal, and that lawmakers can move to address problems if need be. The Legislature previously amended the law after an appellate court found constitutional problems.

“I don’t think it’s a terribly big deal. We’ll always have statutes that try to address corruption and malfeasance and misfeasance by public officials,” Reamey said. “It may very well be that the Legislature will decide that they want to come back and address the concerns.”

See here, here, and here for the background. With all due respect to Prof. Reamey, I think the odds of the Legislature acting to clarify or rewrite the existing coercion statue are slightly less than the odds are of Dan Patrick being the grand marshal at next year’s Pride parade. It would be nice if they attempted to fix it, because I do think that what Rick Perry did should fall afoul of a coercion law. It’s not the veto, it’s the threat against another elected official. If what Perry did is okay, then what’s to stop Greg Abbott from threatening to veto every bill John Whitmire authors or sponsors unless he steps down? Again, it is well within the Lege’s capacity to tailor such a law in whatever way they think is best and to aim it at whatever behavior they think should be prohibited, but given that there’s zero incentive for them to do so, and plenty of incentive for them to not do so, I hope the CCA reverses the Third Circuit and leaves the current law standing. Oral arguments are for November 4, so we’ll have some idea soon enough which way they wind is blowing.

CCA will hear appeals of Perry’s indictments

It’s on.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are very appealing

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday granted requests by both Perry and the Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney to determine whether the indictment against Perry should stand. The court set oral arguments for Nov. 4.

[…]

Each side has until Oct. 21 to file briefs with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which said it would not consider any requests for more time. Perry’s lawyers had pressed for an even more compressed timeline, asking the court to skip oral arguments altogether.

The Wednesday ruling is the first major development in the case since Perry dropped out of the 2016 presidential race last month. He has since cited the indictment as a reason his second bid for the White House never gained traction.

See here, here, and here for the background. This is what we’ve waited for, and now we’re going to get it. Note that one of the appeals is to have the indictment that had been tossed by the Third Circuit be reinstated, so there’s risk as well as reward for Perry. He could be cleared, he could wind up back at square one, or he could remain where he is. I can’t wait to see the briefs. Trail Blazers and the Current have more.

CCA gets ready to deal with Rick Perry

The action never stops.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs, nothing but corndogs…

The next move in the felony case against Rick Perry belongs to the state’s highest criminal court, which will decide as early as mid-September whether to accept or reject two appeals in the case.

The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision could go a long way toward determining whether Perry, indicted by a Travis County grand jury in August 2014, will be tried on a charge of misusing his power as governor, which prosecutors classified as a felony with a maximum term of life in prison, though probation is common for similar white-collar crimes.

A second felony charge, coercion of a public official, was dismissed in July when a lower appeals court declared the coercion law unconstitutional because it violated free-speech rights.

[…]

Perry has asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to dismiss the abuse of power charge, arguing that prosecutors cannot criminalize acts that are protected by the Texas Constitution — particularly freedom of speech and the separation of powers in the branches of government.

In a separate appeal, prosecutors asked the court to reinstate the law barring coercion of a public official, saying free-speech protections don’t apply “when a public servant illegally threatens to do indirectly what he does not have the power to do directly.”

The court could accept one or both appeals, or reject both. The first opportunity to make those decisions will be Monday, when judges will meet behind closed doors for the first time since the court’s new term began Sept. 1.

[…]

[State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa] McMinn has asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to schedule oral arguments in the case, but Perry’s lawyers have requested a ruling based solely on briefs, saying arguments would add an unnecessary delay.

Perry’s legal team also has a motion to dismiss the indictments that is awaiting a ruling by Richardson.

See here and here for the background. I believe this has to do with the other motion that Perry has before Judge Richardson, who as the story notes will not be a part of the appellate hearings in any way, but at this point it’s hard to say. I kind of hope that the CCA will do oral arguments and not just briefs, mostly because I think the issues involved should be fully heard if the court decides they’re worth hearing at all. We’ll know soon enough.

State files its appeal of Perry indictment dismissal

It’s official.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn on Friday asked the state’s highest criminal court to reverse the decision by the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, which tossed out the charge that Perry coerced a public servant when he tried to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg out of office. The state’s involvement ratchets up scrutiny of the ruling, the first major breakthrough in the more than yearlong case for Perry, a Republican who is now running for president.

McMinn’s appeal also puts her in the company of Perry’s legal team, which has its own challenge pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Recognizing the potential for an “unnecessary, significant expenditure of resources,” special prosecutor Michael McCrum on Monday requested a hold on all trial court proceedings while the case plays out at the Court of Criminal Appeals.

McMinn was expected to file her appeal, saying earlier this month that the state had an interest in the ruling because the 3rd Court of Appeals struck as unconstitutional a part of the Texas penal code that defines coercion.

In a filing with the Court of Criminal Appeals that became available Monday, McMinn argued the 3rd Court of Appeals “erroneously blended two different First Amendment doctrines” when it tackled the coercion issue. McMinn also suggested the court failed to take into account all the potential consequences of declaring the statute unconstitutional.

See here and here for the background. I have no idea what the CCA will do, and I have no idea how long it will take them to do it. I’ll just say that I’ll be surprised if Rick Perry’s fate in the Presidential race isn’t determined by the time they come to a decision.

Perry appeals his other indictment

More for the CCA to deal with.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are never wrong

Lawyers for former Gov. Rick Perry are urging the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to finish off the remaining charge in his indictment, ratcheting up their push to end the case against the presidential candidate.

The request comes a few weeks after a state appeals court dismissed one of the two counts in the case, delivering Perry’s team its first major victory in the yearlong legal saga. The remaining charge accuses Perry of abusing his power when he threatened to veto state funding for a unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office .

In a filing Tuesday, Perry’s lawyers argued that the state’s highest criminal court should toss out the rest of the indictment as a way of preventing the “judicial system from being complicit in undermining the very structure of Texas government.” Perry’s team sharply criticized how the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals arrived at its July decision letting the charge stand, accusing it of “drawing a wholly incorrect lesson” from previous cases and using an “erroneous framework” for assessing the charge.

Perry had one of his indictments tossed by the Third Court of Appeals, though that decision has been appealed to the CCA as well, by the Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney on the grounds that it invalidated a state law, and that’s not something a lower court should do. You can see a copy of Perry’s latest appeal in the Chron story. Both Judge Richardson – who of course now sits on the CCA and would presumably recuse himself from this hearing – and the Third Court of Appeals have rejected Perry’s claims not on their merits but on the grounds that it’s too early in the process for them to be properly evaluated. Speaking as a non-lawyer with no expertise at all in these matters, I kind of think the CCA will see it that way as well. But who knows? As they say in another context, this is why they play the game on the field. Trail Blazers has more.

Dismissal of Perry indictment appealed

By a new player in the game.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Maybe I could sell corndogs to pay for all this

Former Gov. Rick Perry didn’t need more bad news Tuesday, but a Texas agency is lining up against his legal team in the criminal case against him.

The Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney has decided to appeal a court decision declaring unconstitutional one of the laws under which Perry was indicted last year. He is accused of abusing his veto power while governor.

The involvement of the state prosecuting attorney, Lisa McMinn, adds more firepower to the case opposing Perry. The special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, has been outspent by a margin of 10-to-1 by Perry’s high-powered defense team.

McMinn emphasized Tuesday that her office is getting involved not because of the specific accusations against Perry but due to the 3rd Court of Appeals decision to toss out one of the state laws used to indict him, coercion of a public servant.

“I’m just defending the statute that the court has declared unconstitutional. That’s my only concern,” McMinn said in an interview.

Her small, independent agency has the responsibility of representing the state before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She said that large district attorneys’ offices may handle their own appeals but her office also can get involved.

“We handle a fair amount of the cases ourselves, especially on issues that have statewide importance, such as the constitutionality of a statute,” she said.

McCrum, a San Antonio lawyer, said it made sense for McMinn’s office to pursue the appeal.

“The court wiped out a criminal statute that’s been on the books for decades and that has an effect upon many criminal cases, not just this one involving Mr. Perry,” McCrum said.

See here for the background. Raise your hand if you, like me, had no idea that there was such a thing as the Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney. It makes sense now that I’ve seen it described and given that we split our top court into two distinct entities, but still. The other good thing about this is it won’t add anything to the bill for the special prosecutor. As for what the CCA will make of this appeal, we’ll see. Nothing our courts do surprises me any more. Trail Blazers has more.

Perry wins one and loses one at the appeals court

He’s still under indictment.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This little corndog has only one felony charge against it

Former Gov. Rick Perry must face one criminal count in the abuse-of-power case against him but another would be dismissed under a Friday ruling by an appeals court.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin gives Perry a partial victory but, at least for now, leaves the cloud of an indictment over him as he seeks the GOP nomination for president.

[…]

The former governor repeatedly failed in efforts get the indictment dismissed by state Judge Bert Richardson. Perry then took his case to the 3rd Court.

The 3rd Court agreed with Richardson that it was too early in the case to decide whether one count against Perry, charging abuse of official capacity, was unconstitutional as applied to the former governor.

But the appeals court rejected the second count, coercion of a public servant, saying that the law on which it is based violates the First Amendment.

The count remaining against Perry has been presented and described as a first-degree felony, but [defense attorney Tony] Buzbee said Friday he believes it’s a misdemeanor.

“We believe the only remaining count is a misdemeanor, and raises the question of whether the exercise of a veto can ever be illegal in the absence of bribery. The appeals court is bound by precedent, meaning that the timing of this challenge they believe to be premature. We think when we put that timing question in front of the highest criminal court we will win on that. This thing is hanging by a thread, and in my view is very near to being over,” Buzbee said.

[Special prosecutor Mike] McCrum, of San Antonio, said he believes the remaining count is a felony.

“The bottom line is that he committed a crime, and you shouldn’t have sitting governors committing crimes,” McCrum said.

A 3rd Court decision can be appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Richardson was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals after the case began but would recuse himself from deciding on the appeal as part of that high court.

In his opinion, Justice Bob Pemberton of the 3rd Court of Appeals pointed out that the case at this point turns on legal issues as opposed to the headline-grabbing facts.

“This appeal arises from an ongoing criminal prosecution that, as the district court observed, involves ‘unique circumstances’ that ‘have been widely reported, argued, and discussed by many with no standing in the case.’ Whatever the focus of such commentary, our disposition of this appeal turns on legal issues — primarily procedural in nature — that may be of somewhat less public renown,” Pemberton wrote.

A copy of the 97-page opinion is here. That post, by Robert Wilonsky, highlights the key bits of the ruling neatly:

To summarize the proceedings below, the appellant — James Richard “Rick” Perry, who until recently served as Governor of Texas — sought dismissal, through a pretrial writ of habeas corpus, of two pending criminal charges (“abuse of official capacity” and “coercion of a public servant”) that are predicated on alleged acts preceding or relating to his line-item veto of a proposed legislative funding appropriation. In seeking dismissal, Perry has contended chiefly that the statutes on which each charge is based, “as applied” to him, violate constitutional protections related to free expression and the separation of powers. Even while terming these “as applied” constitutional challenges “compelling,” the district court determined that it could not decide their merits at that juncture, let alone grant relief, due to procedural limitations the Court of Criminal Appeals has imposed on the ability of lower courts to address such “as applied” challenges when raised through pretrial habeas corpus, as Perry has attempted here. While Perry contends this ruling was error, we reach the same conclusion that the district court did—under the Court of Criminal Appeals’s binding precedents, Perry cannot bring his “as applied” constitutional challenges through pretrial habeas corpus.

Perry has also asserted that the statute on which the “coercion of a public servant” charge is based “facially” violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. While recognizing that defendants may bring such facial constitutional challenges through pretrial habeas corpus, the district court rejected Perry’s claims on the merits. As to this ruling we respectfully disagree with the district court—the statute on which the “coercion of a public servant” is based, as written, and as we are bound to construe it, violates the First Amendment and, accordingly, cannot be enforced.

As a consequence of these holdings, we affirm the district court’s denial of relief as to the “abuse of official capacity” charge, because Perry’s “as-applied” constitutional challenges cannot be addressed through pretrial habeas corpus under current Texas law. However, because the First Amendment bars enforcement of the statute on which the “coercion of a public servant” charge is based, that charge must be dismissed.

The good news for Perry, beyond the fact that one of the counts against him was dismissed – though that can be appealed by McCrum, and I expect that it will – is that the merits of his claims have not yet been decided. He can say, with some justification, that he still expects to get the charges dismissed, and he may be right. Of course, he’s still under a legal cloud, and the next step of the process could take months, by which time his Presidential campaign could be turned to dust. If he was hoping for a clean win, he didn’t get it. He’s still going to be paying those legal bills for the foreseeable future. Trail Blazers, Hair Balls, the Current, Juanita, and the Trib have more.

The cloud still hanging over Rick Perry’s head

Ain’t easy running for President when you’re under indictment.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

A corndog in every deep fat fryer

Yet for all the implications of seeking the White House as a criminal defendant, Thursday’s announcement brings another far less political reminder: The case, quite simply, is still ongoing, unaffected by months of legal bickering and bluster. For Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice, the group whose complaint sparked the indictment, the judicial slog has been anything but surprising.

“We always thought it wouldn’t go away very quickly, and that still is the case,” said McDonald, who expects the case to continue for at least another year. “He’s not going to be able to remove this yoke from around his neck quickly.”

Perry predicted in February that the charges would be “put behind us, hopefully by the end of March-April timetable.” He also declared at the time the case is “never going to go to trial.”

So far, his lawyers have been successful in heading off a trial — but perhaps not in the ways for which they hoped.

“For nine months the parties have exchanged hundreds of pages of briefs on these issues,” special prosecutor Michael McCrum wrote in a court filing earlier this month. “We are no closer to a resolution.”

[…]

Backed by a high-powered legal team, Perry quickly sought to portray the two charges — abuse of power and coercion of a public servant — as a political witch hunt in the heart of Texas’ most liberal county. Fellow Republicans, including some potential 2016 opponents, rallied to his side, as did less likely supporters such as David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Obama, and Alan Dershowitz, the famed liberal law professor.

Nowadays, however, the indictment has become more of a headache for Perry than cause célèbre.

Visiting Judge Bert Richardson, a Republican, has done Perry few favors. In November, Richardson refused to dismiss the indictment on procedural grounds. Two months later, he again declined to toss out the case, that time on constitutional grounds. And in February, Richardson denied Perry’s request to see a pretrial list of witnesses who appeared before the grand jury.

At this point, Perry’s best bet is a breakthrough at the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, where his lawyers are seeking to reverse Richardson’s second refusal to throw out the case. A ruling is expected any day now, but even it could have an asterisk next to the outcome: One of the justices, Bob Pemberton, used to work for Perry and has so far resisted calls for recusal.

See here for the background. Guess that means Justice Pemberton isn’t going to recuse himself. If the Third Court refuses to come to Perry’s rescue, then I don’t see how anyone can make the “partisan witch hunt” claim with any credibility again. I mean, by that point a Republican judge and an all-Republican panel of appeals court judges will have allowed the charges to stand. It would also greatly undercut the arguments made during this legislative session by Republicans about moving the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County DA’s office, not that that would make any difference at this point. If they do let Perry off the hook, then he’ll do a victory dance until we’re all sick of it, and Tom DeLay will crawl out from under a rock to add to the festiveness of it all. One way or the other, it will dominate the news cycle.

To recuse or not to recuse

That is the question.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are never conflicted

More than a week after a judge who once worked for Rick Perry was tapped to hear an appeal in the former governor’s indictment, it’s still unclear whether he’ll see the case through.

Legal experts say Justice Bob Pemberton’s connections to Perry could put him in the tough position of having to decide whether to recuse himself. Pemberton is one of three justices who could decide Perry’s fate at a crucial time; the former governor recently said he is within 30 days of announcing whether he will run for the presidency.

“You’re danged if you do, danged if you don’t,” said L. Wayne Scott, a law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. “There’s not a right answer.”

Some court observers think it’s inevitable that Pemberton, who served as a deputy general counsel in Perry’s office before the former governor appointed him to the 3rd Court of Appeals, will step aside.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before Justice Pemberton recuses from the case,” said Lillian Hardwick, co-author of the Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics. “Even if a recusal motion has not yet been filed, it’s likely in the works.”

But Pemberton hasn’t made that move — and the court hasn’t said whether he will. The case is advancing, legal filings show, and Perry lawyer Tony Buzbee has called Pemberton’s appointment “not a conflict or a story.”

Meanwhile, Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor pursuing the charges against Perry, said Friday he was not planning to file a motion for recusal. Some legal experts say that is not entirely surprising: Lawyers do not want to risk getting on the bad side of a judge hearing their case unless they are 100 percent certain their motion will prevail.

Without a motion for recusal, the decision is largely up to Pemberton, who, in addition to working for Perry, donated to the former governor’s 2002 re-election campaign and clerked for Tom Phillips, the retired chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court who is now on Perry’s defense team.

See here and here for the background. I think it would be for the best if Justice Pemberton recused himself on “avoiding the appearance of impropriety” grounds, but unless Mike McCrum tries to make something of it that’s his call. I also think McCrum is wise to let things play out, at least for now. I’m glad to see that the Trib is staying on top of this.

Perry meets his appellate judges

He knows one of them very well.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are great icebreakers

Rick Perry may be somewhat familiar with one of the judges picked to hear an appeal in the criminal case against him.

That’s because Justice Bob Pemberton has worked for the former governor, representing him in court as his deputy general counsel. After that job, Perry appointed him to the Third Court of Appeals, which is now considering a request from Perry’s lawyers to dismiss the abuse-of-power charges against him.

Pemberton also clerked for Tom Phillips, the retired chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court who is now on Perry’s defense team. Pemberton’s website features a photo of him being sworn in by Phillips — “his friend, supporter, and former boss.”

In addition to once working for Perry, being appointed by Perry and having clerked for one of Perry’s current lawyers, Pemberton has been a political supporter of the former governor. Pemberton chipped in $1,000 for Perry’s 2002 re-election campaign, according to state records.

The justice’s connections to Perry are unusual, even in a state under yearly scrutiny for a judicial system critics say is too tainted by politics. Judicial elections in Texas are partisan, and the Third Court of Appeals is controlled by Republicans.

Judges are bound to have some connection to Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, but Pemberton’s relation is beyond the pale, according to some good-government experts.

“That court has always acted in a partisan manner, but in this case, Justice Pemberton should definitely recuse himself,” said Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal-leaning watchdog group responsible for the complaint that led to Perry’s indictment. “There should definitely be a recusal.”

According to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, a judge must recuse himself or herself in any proceed in which “the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

Yeah, I think that might reasonably be the case here. I don’t know if this is specifically what Team Perry was hoping for when they filed their latest appeal to this court, but I’m sure it wasn’t a disappointment to them. What happens from here I couldn’t say, but if one wants to take an optimistic view of things, one could say that if Perry’s motion is denied by these judges, it will be very hard to continue claiming he’s a victim of politics. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty thin, but it is what it is. One way or another, some number of judges friendly to Rick Perry were going to get involved. That’s the state we live in. PDiddie has more.

Prosecutors respond to latest Team Perry filings

Back and forth, forth and back.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

The special prosecutor in the case against Rick Perry is asking a judge to deny the former governor’s latest two efforts to quash the indictment against him.

Perry, meanwhile, is once again showcasing a high-profile group of legal scholars who think the case against him should be dismissed.

The two filings by special prosecutor Michael McCrum of San Antonio – and the filing on behalf of Perry by lawyers from Republican and Democratic backgrounds – are the latest moves in a long court dance that has taken place since Perry was indicted last August.

[…]

Perry has maintained that he properly used his veto authority and that the indictment is improper, politically motivated and injurious to free speech and gubernatorial authority.

His high-powered legal team led by Houston lawyer Anthony Buzbee has said that misusing a veto “cannot constitutionally be considered a criminal act” under the statute cited by McCrum, and that McCrum’s effort to fix problems identified in the indictment is “woefully deficient.” Perry’s team also has said the indictment doesn’t give Perry enough notice to defend himself.

McCrum and Austin attorney David M. Gonzalez, who is assisting him in the case, said in a Friday filing that Perry’s third motion to quash the indictment should be denied because the indictment tracks the law, and that Perry doesn’t lack clarity about why he is being prosecuted. They said the matters raised in Perry’s indictment “may be appropriately addressed when evidence has been presented.”

McCrum and Gonzalez said in responding to Perry’s supplemental motion to quash in trial court, “Texas’ highest court for criminal cases has held that the State does not have to lay out its case in the indictment.”

See here and here for the background. The first of the filings mentioned in the third paragraph was filed after the initial ruling by Judge Richardson, which denied his first motions to dismiss but which noted some issues with the indictments. The second filing came after special prosecutor Mike McCrum refiled the charges, in response to the questions Judge Richardson raised. Perry has also filed a motion with the Third Court of Appeals, which is a separate matter. There may be more filings to come – I presume McCrum will respond to the Third Court of Appeals motion if nothing else – and then we wait for rulings. Trail Blazers has more, including a copy of the latest paperwork.

On a side note, it’s interesting that this happened on the same day as the House passing the bill to move the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County DA’s office. The Perry indictments have been repeatedly cited as the fulcrum for getting that long-sought legislation through. A bit ironic, given that the action has been driven by a nonpartisan special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge, but never mind that. At this point, I’d say that if Team Perry succeeds in getting the indictments tossed, that will be a lot of ammunition for the advocates of moving this function elsewhere. If it does go to trial, I don’t know that it changes any of the office-movers’ minds, but it may take some wind out of their sails. We’ll see who if anyone winds up feeling vindicated.

Perry appeals to appeals court again

It had been a few weeks since his lawyers filed any paperwork, so I guess they were getting twitchy.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

As the race for president shapes up, former Gov. Rick Perry is imploring a state appeals court to take quick action in the criminal case against him.

In his latest court filing, Perry said a decision is important not only for him but for his successor, Gov. Greg Abbott.

Perry believes that “time is of the essence because of the forthcoming conclusion of the legislative session and the corresponding minimal time frame afforded to Gov. Abbott to determine in which circumstances, if any, he can exercise his constitutional right to veto items of appropriation,” Perry’s legal team wrote.

[…]

In the most recent motion with the 3rd Court, filed Friday, Perry’s lawyers asked for expedited action without oral argument.

“I believe the issues are clear, and the setting of oral argument would unnecessarily delay matters,” Perry’s lawyer, Tony Buzbee of Houston, said Monday.

Oral argument was suggested as appropriate by the special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum of San Antonio. He said the complexity of the case warrants it and that argument would likely involve a discussion of the “limits – and abuses – of power in our representative democracy and how it can be regulated.”

Perry’s legal team said there’s no need for “the type of open-ended philosophical discussion” that it says McCrum is proposing.

If oral argument is necessary, “Gov. Perry implores the court to expedite this case and set that argument for the very earliest possible date,” Perry’s team said.

Team Perry had filed a motion to dismiss with the 3rd Court of Appeals on February 26. I guess maybe they were getting a bit impatient. Obviously, he wants to have this matter behind him before officially launching his Presidential campaign. The calendar is not his friend right now.

Perry goes to appeals court with latest motion to dismiss

Leave no stone unturned, and no hour unbilled.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are appealing

Rick Perry’s lawyers have asked a state appeals court to dismiss the indictment against the former governor, saying he lawfully used his power to veto funds to the Travis County district attorney’s office and his right to do so is protected by free speech.

“On its face, without the need for any evidence, the indictment must be dismissed because it runs afoul of these constitutional guarantees,” the defense team argued in a filing made late Wednesday with the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin.

The filing, the second part of a two-pronged approached to get the indictment dismissed, is an appeal of a Jan. 27 decision by Judge Bert Richardson that allowed the case to proceed.

[…]

Defense lawyers Tony Buzbee and David Botsford wrote on Monday that this new “woefully deficient” indictment should be dismissed because it fails to allege a crime was committed when Perry, as governor, vetoed state funds that were to go to the Travis County district attorney’s office nearly two years ago.

In their brief before the appeals court, Perry lawyers again zeroed in on the coercion charge and whether Perry’s veto threat was allowed under free speech protections guaranteed by the state and U.S. constitutions.

Defense lawyers offer that while some threats that imply physical harm are not protected by the U.S. Constitution, most threats enjoy “broad protection” under the First Amendment.

The defense team warned that if the case is not dismissed, it will have a “a chilling effect” on any governor who may want to veto items in the state’s budget, Perry’s appeal states.

“At stake is not just the freedom of one man,” Perry’s attorneys argued.

Yawn. See here and here for the background, and here for the filing. I do agree that this indictment is a threat to any future politician who would use his or her power to try to force another elected official to resign. We’ll see which court rules first.

Perry still under indictment

Oops.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

A judge on Tuesday rejected former Gov. Rick Perry’s attempt to throw out a two-count indictment against him, saying it’s too early in the case to challenge the constitutionality of the charges.

Perry’s attorneys immediately filed notice that they will appeal the 21-page ruling, which was issued Tuesday afternoon by Bert Richardson, a Republican; the appeals process could take months. The appeal will be considered by the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals. All five justices elected to that court are Republican; a sixth justice, who has not yet run in a partisan race, was appointed by Perry before he left office.

[…]

Attorneys for the former governor have been trying to get the two-count felony indictment thrown out. Perry’s attorneys have argued that the indictments — one count of abusing official capacity and one count of illegally coercing a public servant — violate both the Texas and U.S. constitutions.

“Texas law clearly precludes a trial court from making a pretrial determination regarding the constitutionality of a state penal or criminal procedural statute as that statutes applies to a particular defendant,” Richardson wrote.

However, the judge agreed with Perry’s attorneys that the second count of the indictment – coercion of a public servant – did not “sufficiently” explain why Perry’s actions were not protected because he was acting in his official capacity as governor.

Rather than dismissing this count, the judge said state law allows prosecutors to amend that count, and he granted them permission to do so.

You can read Judge Richardson’s order here. It gets technical in places, but it’s worth your time to read it; it will make enough sense even if you don’t possess a law degree. Judge Richardson has clearly not foreclosed Perry’s claims about constitutionality, but unless the appeals courts grant him his wish – which my reading of the order suggests would be unusual – those would be questions to ponder after the trial concludes. Needless to say, Perry doesn’t want to wait that long; as this companion Trib story reminds us, that could take years to play out. My guess at this point is that we’re headed towards a trial. I welcome any feedback from the lawyers out there. The Statesman has more, and a statement from TPJ is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Supreme Court re-upholds strip club tax

Technically, they declined to re-review it, but practically speaking I figure it’ll amount to the same thing.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday declined to review whether a $5-per-patron fee at live nude entertainment clubs is an occupation tax in disguise, letting stand a lower appeals court ruling that found alcohol-serving Texas strip clubs must pay up when it comes to the “pole tax.”

Last May, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled that the fee was not an unconstitutional occupation tax and must be paid by Texas strip clubs that serve alcohol.

[…]

It is not clear whether the clubs will continue their legal fight. A call seeking comment from a lawyer for the Texas Entertainment Association, which represents many of the roughly 200 strip clubs in the state, was not immediately returned.

See here and here for the background. The clubs have now lost twice in court. Hard for me to see what the value proposition is for them to give it a third try rather than just collecting and paying the fee at this point, but that’s up to them. I have a feeling there will be another chapter in this story eventually.

Bell ordered to pay $300K to RGA

Ouch.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Unsuccessful 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, once awarded $2 million in his lawsuit against the Republican Governors Association, has instead been ordered to pay the organization $300,000 in legal fees after losing on appeal.

The case dates to the closing days of the 2006 campaign, when the national association wrote two $500,000 checks to the campaign of Gov. Rick Perry, Bell’s Republican opponent.

After losing to Perry by 9 percentage points, Bell filed suit, arguing that the association violated state law by making political donations without appointing a Texas campaign treasurer or supplying a complete donor list. In 2010, Travis County District Judge John Dietz agreed, awarding Bell $2 million, or double the amount of the disputed contribution, as allowed by state law.

Last year, however, the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned Dietz’s ruling, saying out-of-state organizations cannot be penalized for disclosure violations and are not required to designate a state treasurer. Bell appealed, but the Texas Supreme Court declined to accept the case, leaving the appeals court ruling intact.

The appeals court also returned the case to Dietz to determine how much money — if any — Bell owed the association for attorney fees.

Last week, Dietz signed a judgment ordering Bell to pay $300,000 — with an additional $30,000 due if Bell appeals to the 3rd Court of Appeals, plus another $10,000 if he turns to the Texas Supreme Court.

See here, here, and here for the background. Bell is considering an appeal and has until next month to ask for a retrial on the legal fees issue. Judge Dietz is retiring at the end of the year, though, so a new trial would be in front of a new judge. Can’t say I envy him having this hang over his expected Mayoral campaign for next year. Hope he has better luck if there is a next time.