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Paxton’s State Bar disciplinary hearing

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

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2 Comments

  1. Kibitzer says:

    Disciplinary proceedings are civil in nature, not criminal.
    Also, if heard by the court the sanction (if any) would be imposed by the court, not the Bar. The disciplinary counsel would be a party to the case, ie plaintiff. And the sanction could then be appealed to the court of appeals.

  2. Kibitzer says:

    Okay, so to be technically more precise the prosecuting party on the pleadings is the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a committee of that State Bar of Texas. They have several attorneys who actually work the cases under the oversight of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel.