Other people in the AG’s office are doing parts of Ken Paxton’s job because right now he can’t.
The AG’s office has followed agency policy, state rules and laws to screen Paxton from participating in matters where he may have a conflict of interest, wrote Cynthia Meyer, spokeswoman for the Texas Office of the Attorney General, in an email. The office has screened Paxton’s participation in matters pertaining to his pending charges, any of the five law firms that represent him against those charges, and anything involving the State Securities Board or the Texas Ethics Commission, explained Meyer.
“The OAG will revise this screening procedure as needed to continue to avoid any conflicts. Any recusal under this policy is intended to go beyond the letter and spirit of the governing law and rules,” wrote Meyer.
She wrote that when Paxton recuses himself, the appropriate division in the AG’s office keeps handling the matter, and the AG’s authority is delegated to the first assistant AG.
Bill Mateja, one of Paxton’s five criminal defense attorneys, said it makes sense for Paxton to recuse himself.
“That’s a good thing, because what that indicates is that he either has, or may have, or may perceive to have a conflict of interest, and you actually don’t want him presiding over matters in which he may have real or perceived conflicts of interest,” said Mateja, principal in Fish & Richardson in Dallas.
The AG’s office assists local prosecutors when they ask for help, but Paxton would recuse himself from those matters if they are similar to his own criminal case.
Paxton has also recused himself from matters involving the law firms where his five criminal defense attorneys work.
“We were requested to give him a list of the matters where the attorney general’s office is on the other side,” said Mateja. “I would imagine nearly every person on his legal team has at least one matter that the attorney general’s office is involved in.”
Paxton has also recused himself from matters in which the AG’s office represents the Texas State Securities Board or the Texas Ethics Commission in court. He will also recuse himself from any open records rulings involving either agency.
The Texas State Securities Board enforces Texas securities laws and can bring administrative, civil or criminal cases against people or firms that violate the law. Previously, the securities board sanctioned Paxton in an administrative case for failing to register as an investment adviser representative. One of his criminal charges includes the same allegations.
The first public indication that Paxton’s criminal case might be affecting his work in the AG’s office came when he recused himself from signing an AG opinion in late September. The opinion request asked if it was legal for a county to reimburse the criminal defense costs of a county commissioner who was indicted for a crime, but found not guilty in a jury trial. The office determined that common law allowed the county to reimburse the expenses in certain situations.
First assistant AG Chip Roy signed the AG’s opinion, not Paxton.
In a Sept. 28 letter explaining his recusal, Paxton wrote that his administration strives to write opinions with a high degree of legal accuracy and “without any hint of impropriety.
“Staff members involved in the opinion process must recuse themselves from matters in which there may exist an actual or perceived conflict of interest,” wrote Paxton.
Roy wrote a Sept. 28 letter to Brown County to explain why he signed the AG opinion.
“Any such recusal is intended to go beyond the letter and spirit of the governing law and rules in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the highest ethical standards,” Roy wrote.
Link via the Trib. We’re in somewhat unfamiliar territory here. Paxton isn’t the first AG to be under indictment, but offhand I have no idea (and the story doesn’t explore the topic) if those other AGs, like Jim Mattox, did something similar. Anyone with a longer memory than I have want to weigh in on that? As for the question of whether this diminution of duties should be a cause for Paxton to resign, as the Lone Star Project urges, I don’t see anything happening on that front unless Paxton is forced into it, and that won’t happen until Republicans start calling for him to step down. Until then, the crass partisan in me is happy to have an indicted (and hopefully soon convicted) felon putting some taint on the statewide GOP brand and perhaps eventually weighing their re-election bids down. You do you, Kenny.