At the very least, they don’t want the matter dropped due to blithe indifference.
The head of a public watchdog group said he again will urge law enforcement to launch a probe into Attorney General Ken Paxton’s admitted violation of state security laws after learning that the Collin County District Attorney’s Office, headed by a Paxton friend and business partner, has taken no action in the case.
“The Collin County district attorney is just stonewalling,” said Texans for Public Justice Executive Director Craig McDonald, who added that no one from District Attorney Greg Willis’ office had informed his group the case had stalled or told him how to proceed. “Within the week, I will do something in Collin County, once I find out what I have to do.”
Willis’ office last week said it was not investigating the allegations against Paxton, despite the case being referred to it by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in late January.
“We are not an investigative agency. So a complainant should be directed to the Collin County law enforcement agency where the acts occurred so an investigation could take place,” Collin County First Assistant District Attorney Bill Dobiyanski told the Houston Chronicle on Friday. “If and when that occurs, a case may be filed with our office. Our position is anyone with knowledge of a crime occurring in Collin County should report that to the police department where the acts occurred.”
The Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit began investigating the matter after Texans for Public Justice complained that the violation constituted a third-degree felony under state law.
After punting the investigation until after the 2014 elections, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg in late January said Travis County was not the appropriate venue for the investigation and referred it to prosecutors in Collin County and Dallas County.
Dallas soon confirmed it would take no action, leaving Willis the sole remaining prosecutor considering Paxton’s case. Last week, however, Willis’ office said “we do not have a case from Travis County or anyone else.”
The statute of limitations for a third-degree felony is three years. With neither Collin County nor the Texas Department of Public Safety currently investigating the matter, Paxton could be on a path this year to be clear of any possible further punishment for the violations unless the case is revived.
McDonald said that while he was surprised his Austin-based group was not informed of the need to refile a complaint with law enforcement, he was not shocked that the case had stalled in Willis’ office.
“We’ve never been made aware by Collin County or any other authority that our complaint would sit in a filing cabinet unless we took further action,” McDonald said. “We were always skeptical that the district attorney would do anything but sit on this case because we believe there is a close relationship between Paxton and the Collin County DA. This whole system that sends cases back to the local DA is a system designed to give politicians a walk, especially if that politician happens now to be the attorney general.”
See here, here, and here for the background. TPJ has since confirmed that it will file a new complaint in Collin County. It’s one thing for a DA to investigate and then decline to bring charges. It’s another thing for a DA to go out of his way to avoid having to do an investigation, especially when the person who needs investigating is a crony. Surely the Collin County DA could have at least read over the report from the Travis County DA and maybe placed a courtesy call to TPJ to let them know what their procedures are. Better yet, maybe they should appoint a special prosecutor and get out of the way.
The matter gets tricky for Collin County, where District Attorney Greg Willis could determine whether to prosecute. Willis and Paxton are longtime friends. Both are listed on the most recent board of directors online filing of Plano-based Unity Resources LLC. They are limited partners together in three firms and co-investors in another.
Against that backdrop of multiple conflicts, Willis is hard-pressed to explain why he shouldn’t recuse himself and seek appointment of a special prosecutor who can objectively weigh the merits of the case. The public’s faith in the justice system requires that there be no hint of prosecutorial bias or that staffers under Willis’ direction might fail to pursue justice to protect their boss and his friend.
Willis’ office says there has been no prosecutorial action since the case was referred from Lehmberg’s office. Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
These are not nitpicky issues. State securities law imposes registration requirements to protect the public from victimization by investment frauds and scams.
The fact that Paxton violated the law repeatedly over several years suggests a troubling pattern unbecoming of the esteemed office he now holds. That’s why an independent prosecutor needs to assume control of this case.
Unfortunately, I doubt there will be any consequences for DA Willis if he chooses to continue to do nothing. As things are, he has sent a pretty clear message that he’s not interested. We’ll see if that remains the case after the new complaint is filed.