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The Paxton subpoena-fleeing saga gets more ridiculous

Because of course it does.

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Lawyers in an abortion lawsuit tried for days to subpoena Attorney General Ken Paxton before sending a process server to his home Monday, and notified his office that their server was there before Paxton fled in a truck driven by his wife, according to court records detailing the communication.

Paxton said he left his house in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, because a “strange man” made him fear for his safety; his attorneys say they didn’t know he’d be served the subpoena at his home.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman quashed the subpoena on Tuesday, but attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman has not yet ruled on that motion, or the merits of the case, which concerns whether nonprofit groups, known as abortion funds, can help Texans pay to get abortions out of state.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August, names Paxton as one of the defendants, and the plaintiffs sought to call him to testify at the preliminary injunction hearing Tuesday.

Four days before the hearing, on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, Austin attorney Elizabeth Myers emailed assistant attorney general Amy Hilton, saying that since it was not clear whether Paxton intended to be at the hearing, they were going to issue a subpoena out of “an abundance of caution.”

“I assume you’d like for us to serve that through you, but will you please confirm by noon today that you will accept service,” Myers wrote. “Otherwise, we’ll start the personal service process. I’d really prefer not to have to do that, of course.”

Hilton did not confirm whether they could accept the subpoena on Paxton’s behalf, so the lawyers had a process server deliver the subpoena to Paxton’s office Friday afternoon, emails indicate.

But on Sunday, attorneys from the Texas attorney general’s office told Myers that the subpoena was invalid because it was served through Paxton’s office but sought to depose him in his individual capacity, according to the plaintiffs’ motion before Pitman.

Attorneys for the state said that Paxton would be represented in his official capacity at the hearing by assistant attorneys general, and “declined to clearly indicate whether they would accept a revised subpoena,” according to that motion.

“Myers then indicated that this meant General Paxton needed to be served personally, and Ms. Myers asked if General Paxton’s counsel knew where General Paxton was so that he could be located and served,” the filing reads.

The representatives from Paxton’s office declined to provide that information but said they would determine whether they could accept a subpoena on his behalf, the filing says. By Sunday evening, though, Hilton said they did not yet have an answer for the plaintiffs’ legal team.

“Please let me know ASAP if you are authorized to accept service so I can adjust our process server instructions,” Myers wrote in an email sent Sunday at 6:50 p.m.

The attorney general’s office acknowledged in a motion filed Tuesday that they were aware that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were going to attempt to serve Paxton with a subpoena. But they did not know that that meant they “intended to attempt personal service on Ken Paxton at his private residence.”

See here and here for the background. The story goes on from there, with the plaintiffs trying to get an answer from the AG’s office about how best they can do this totally normal procedural thing and getting stonewalled, then a flunky from the AG’s office whining about the plaintiffs doing what they said they would do if they couldn’t get an answer from them. It’s a level of clownishness from the AG’s office that even I hadn’t expected from them, which probably means I need to recalibrate my cynicism again. There was a time when I would have wondered if the people who keep defending Ken Paxton might be feeling even a little bit of shame at these displays, and then I remember that those people haven’t felt any shame since at least 2015, so there you have it. I don’t know what else there is to say.

CCA tells Paxton again that he’s not the supreme prosecutor

Good, but this isn’t over. It just means that the fight will have shifted.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to regain the power of his office to unilaterally prosecute election cases was rejected by the state’s highest criminal court Wednesday.

The Court of Criminal Appeals instead upheld its previous ruling that says that the attorney general must get permission from local county prosecutors to pursue cases on issues like voter fraud. Paxton had been fighting to overturn that ruling as the issue of prosecuting election fraud has become fraught in recent years. Paxton sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and has aggressively pursued individual cases of fraud, outraging some voting rights advocates who see the punishments as too harsh for people who made honest mistakes.

Last December, eight of the nine members on the all-GOP court struck down a law that previously allowed Paxton’s office to take on those cases without local consent. The court said the law violated the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution.

In the aftermath, Paxton, joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, led a political push to get the court to reconsider its decision, warning that it would allow cases of fraud to go unpunished. His office filed a motion asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to rehear the case, vacate its previous opinion and affirm an appellate court’s judgment, which was in his favor.

The court’s decision Wednesday came with no explanation, though one judge wrote a concurring opinion.

“I still agree with our original decision handed down in December, when we recognized that the specific powers given to the Attorney General by the Texas Constitution do not include the ability to initiate criminal proceedings—even in cases involving alleged violations of the Election Code,” Judge Scott Walker wrote.

Two judges dissented in the case.

See here and here for the background. It’s good that the CCA was able to withstand the political pressure to change their ruling to something that sated Paxton’s blood lust, but that pressure isn’t going to just dissipate on its own. The usual suspects are now agitating for the Legislature to step in and change the law. As far as I can tell, the CCA made its ruling not on statutory grounds but on Constitutional grounds (*), and as such it would take a Constitutional amendment to change this. Which is good news because the Lege won’t have a two-thirds Republican majority in both chambers, which would be needed for this to happen. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try it anyway, and if it comes back through the courts again on those grounds, who knows what could happen. You know what the solution to this is, I don’t have to tell you. The Chron has more.

(*) Noted in some of the coverage of this is that the same ruling means that Paxton couldn’t unilaterally decide to pursue prosecutions of any abortion “crimes” he likes, either. The Lege is sure to work on bills that would allow DAs from other counties to prosecute such charges in the event that the DA of the county in question chooses not to, so that may not make much difference. That same logic might also apply to whatever “vote fraud” charges these guys want to include, too.

Hispanic Policy Foundation: Abbott 51, Beto 44

One more poll to look at.

There’s an old adage that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. And according to our new poll, that applies to politics in Texas as well, as support for Republicans remains strong across the board heading into the November elections.

“Texas Decides” is a joint effort between the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) and TEGNA Texas stations WFAA, KHOU, KENS and KVUE. It draws on a survey of 1,172 likely Texas voters that was taken between September 6, 2022, and September 15, 2022. It has a confidence interval of +/- 2.9%. The report reviewed the vote intention for the November 2022 Texas elections.

The election will be held November 8. Early voting starts October 24.

Part 1 of this poll, released here, takes a look at the major statewide races across Texas in the coming election. Parts 2 and 3, which will be released later this week, will respectively focus on the Hispanic population’s opinions of the candidates and on culture war issues.

The poll found that Republican incumbent Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by seven points (51% to 44%) among likely voters. Among most likely (almost certain) voters, the lead grows to 10 points (53% to 43%). Just 1% of voters in both categories (likely/most likely) says they’ll vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios.

“Gov. Abbott’s strength among rural and Anglo voters continues to bolster his intransigent structural support in the 2022 race for Texas Governor,” THPF CEO Jason Villalba says of the poll’s results. “While O’Rourke has shown himself to be a worthy and hard-working adversary, unless there is a marked shift in the composition of the November electorate, Governor Abbott will remain the political and thought leader of Texas politics. Only new voters will be able to shift the tide.”

Perhaps the poll’s most significant finding in the gubernatorial race is the fact that voters seem hardened in their choices, with little room for movement come November. In fact, 95% of all likely voters who say they’ll vote for Abbott tell us they are “certain” about their vote choice. On the other side, 94% of all likely voters who will back O’Rourke say they are “certain” about that choice.

And when you break down support among race, Abbott holds a nearly two-to-one advantage over O’Rourke among white voters, with the incumbent being a 63% choice to his challenger’s 33%. O’Rourke has a strong advantage with Black voters, however, up 79% to Abbott’s 16%. The support margin is closer among Hispanic voters, with 53% intending to vote for O’Rourke and 39% for Abbott.

Poll data is here. In April, this pollster had the race at 50-42 for Abbott. Since I made such a big deal about it the last time I blogged about a poll, this one has a partisan split of 43 GOP, 41 Dem, 14 Indie, 2 “other”. Other results from this poll:

Dan Patrick 48, Mike Collier 42
Ken Paxton 47, Rochelle Garza 42
Dawn Buckingham 46, Jay Kleberg 38
Sid Miller 48, Susan Hays 41
Wayne Christian 44, Luke Warford 37

No love for the Comptroller’s race, I guess. As I have said before, I don’t care for the distinction between “likely” voters and “super duper extra likely” voters, but you do you. This poll shows very little change between April and now, which is to say pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs, so either not much has changed in the Texas landscape since then, or something has changed but pollsters other than the UT/Texas Politics Project aren’t picking it up. I’m just going to leave it there.

Run, Kenny, run!

Peak Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, to avoid being served a subpoena Monday, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, was attempting to serve the state’s top attorney with a subpoena for a federal court hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for abortions out of state.

When Herrera arrived at Paxton’s home in McKinney on Monday morning, he told a woman who identified herself as Angela that he was trying to deliver legal documents to the attorney general. She told him that Paxton was on the phone and unable to come to the door. Herrera said he would wait.

Nearly an hour later, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, Ken Paxton exited the house.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name. As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage,” Herrera wrote in the sworn affidavit.

Angela Paxton then exited the house, got inside a Chevrolet truck in the driveway, started it and opened the doors.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him. Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck.”

Herrera eventually placed the subpoenas on the ground near the truck and told him he was serving him with a subpoena. Both cars drove away, leaving the documents on the ground.

On Twitter, the attorney general said his sudden departure was motivated by concerns for his family’s safety.

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he wrote in a tweet.

You can see the affidavit here. I mean, seriously. If this had been a story in The Onion, I’d have rolled my eyes at it for being too on the nose. All this because Paxton was too much of a weenie to give a deposition in a lawsuit that had little to do with him. Other people have righteously mocked Paxton for his Brave Sir Robin impression, and now I will as well.

I think I’m done now. What a miserable, sniveling coward Ken Paxton is. The kindest thing we can all do for him now is to vote for Rochelle Garza, so that he and his family can go back home.

Spectrum News/Siena College: Abbott 50, Beto 43

A new pollster enters the chat.

Less than two months from Election Day, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has a seven-point, 50-43%, lead over Democratic challenger, former Congressman, Beto O’Rourke. In the race for Lieutenant Governor, incumbent Republican Dan Patrick is up by nine points, 49-40%, over Democratic challenger Mike Collier. In the race for state Attorney General, incumbent Republican Ken Paxton has a five-point advantage, 47-42%, over Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza according to a new Spectrum News/Siena College (SCRI) poll of likely Texas voters released today.

Abbott has a 47-46% favorability rating, while O’Rourke has a negative 39-52% favorability rating. Patrick has a negative 33-36% favorability rating, compared to Collier’s 13-12% favorability rating. Paxton has a negative 29-41% favorability rating while Garza, like Collier is unknown to about threequarters of Texas likely voters, and has a 13-12% favorability rating.

“Governor Abbott, who won a landslide thirteen-point race against Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez four years ago, has a seven-point lead with over six weeks until Election Day. Abbott has the support of 95% of Republicans and O’Rourke has the support of 93% of Democrats, while independents tilt toward Abbott by one point,” said Don Levy, SCRI’s Director. “White voters favor Abbott by over two-to-one, 64-31%, while Black voters prefer O’Rourke 79-10% and a majority of Latinos, 58-36%, plan to vote for O’Rourke.”

The crosstabs are here. The headline on the Chron story for this refers to Abbott’s lead “widening”, which I object to on the grounds that there’s no earlier Spectrum/Siena poll to compare this one to. I don’t like comparing one pollster’s poll to another’s because they all do slightly different things. Nobody asks me these about these things, so here we are.

Now, if we want to do comparisons to other polls, I will note that this one actually has solid numbers for Beto in terms of support from Dems, as well as from Black and Latino voters. Compare to the DMN/UT-Tyler poll from earlier this week that had Beto only winning Dems by a 77-12 margin, and multiple polls saying that Abbott is getting upward of 15% of Black voters. Why is the overall result not so great if these subsamples are so good? My guess would be that this sample’s partisan distribution is a bit weird – 27% Dem, 34% GOP, 32% Indie/Other (the remaining 8% are a mystery). The DMN/UT-Tyler poll had those distributed as 33-40-27, and in general I expect the Dem share to be higher than the Indie share.

Having written that, I decided I had to go back through earlier poll results to do a comparison. With one exception, my expectation matched the data:

UT-TPP: Dem 42, GOP 48, Indie 10

Echelon: Dem 35, GOP 43, Indie 20

UH/Hobby Center: Dem 41, GOP 46, Indie/unsure 13

Quinnipiac: Dem 24, GOP 30, Indie 36, Other 10

I went back as far as June. Not all of the recent results I’ve blogged about included partisan breakdown data that I could find. Color me surprised at some of the ranges here. You can make of all this what you will, it’s what I noticed.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 47, Beto 38

Insert shrug emoji here, and insert link to the unreadable DMN story here. I’ll give you the main results of interest and then a few comments after that.

Abbott 47, Beto 38
Patrick 39, Collier 28
Paxton 37, Garza 30
State House GOP 50, Dem 48

The August poll had Abbott up 46-39. As I said in other posts while resisting the urge to attribute “momentum” to Beto, I find the claim that a one point shift for each candidate represents a “gain” for Abbott to be a bit tendentious. Like with other polls, the subsample that I tend to look at when considering these results is the partisan subsamples. Here, Beto wins Democrats by a lethargic 77-12, with Abbott at 85-8 among Republicans. It was 81-12 for Beto in August, with Abbott at the same level among Rs. I find the claim that more than ten percent of people who would credibly self-ID as Democrats support Greg Abbott to be implausible. I’ll just leave it at that.

I know that the Lite Guv and AG races are lower profile, but as I’ve said before, poll results this late in the cycle that can’t give me a better idea of how many people will vote for “the Republican” versus “the Democrat” are not ones I put much weight in. It is possible to do better than that. It’s especially humorous to me given the near-100% response rate for the Texas House race. The conjunction of these things doesn’t make much sense to me.

One last thing, in their suite of issues questions, this poll finds slightly less support overall for abortion rights, as approval for overturning Roe v Wade went from 42-49 in August to 46-46 in September, while the question on abortion being mostly or completely illegal versus mostly or completely legal went from 44-55 in August to 49-50 in September. This stands at odds with other recent polling. Which doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just that I will cast a skeptical eye at it. The claim I saw in the snippet of the story I could read that this had to do with Abbott doing a lot of advertising strikes me as not very likely. Polls can be weird, which is why we try to look at them in bunches where possible.

UPDATE: I missed on first reading that this was a poll of registered voters, not “likely” voters, which is what all of the other recent polls have been. That explains the lower response numbers in the Lt. Governor and AG races. With their likely voter screen, this poll has Abbott up 50-39. My stated concerns about the likelihood of so many self-described Democrats saying they will vote for Greg Abbott remain.

UT/Texas Politics Project poll: Abbott 45, Beto 40

Feels kind of familiar.

Gov. Greg Abbott leads his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 5 percentage points, according to a new poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The survey found that Abbott received 45% of support among registered voters, while 40% supported O’Rourke and 4% supported third-party candidates. Three percent of respondents named “Someone else” as their choice, and 8% said they have not thought about the race enough to have an opinion.

The result is almost identical to the margin from when the pollsters last surveyed the race in June, finding Abbott ahead of O’Rourke 45% to 39%.

The latest survey also gave Republican incumbents single-digit leads in two other statewide races. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led Democrat Mike Collier by 7 points, and Attorney General Ken Paxton registered a 5-point advantage over Democrat Rochelle Garza. More voters remain undecided in those contests than in the gubernatorial election — 20% in the lieutenant governor’s race and 21% in the attorney general one.

See here for the previous UT/TPP poll, and here for the pollsters’ report. The Lite Guv and AG numbers are 39-32 for Patrick and 38-33 for Paxton, and I just don’t give much weight to results that have such high numbers of non-responses. Joe Biden clocks in with a 40-52 approval rating, up from 35-55 in June. Abbott was at 46-44, up from 43-46 in June.

You may look at this and conclude that there’s been no noticeable boost in Democratic fortunes since the Dobbs ruling. Based just on post-Dobbs polls (minus that Echelon poll) that may be correct. I will note, however, that Abbott has slowly been losing ground to Beto in this particular poll over time:

February: Abbott 47-37
April: Abbott 48-37
June: Abbott 45-39
August: Abbott 45-40

I will also note that this poll, like previous ones, has generic US House/Texas House questions. If you look in the crosstabs for this poll (questions 21 and 22), those numbers are 47-43 and 46-43 in favor of Republicans, respectively. It was 46-41 GOP for both in June, and 48-39 (Congress) and 47-39 (The Lege) for the GOP in April. So while maybe not a sharp turn, there has been a gradual bend all along.

UH-TSU Texas Trends poll: Abbott 49-Beto 42, and Hidalgo 52-Mealer 42

From their webpage, scroll down to Report 1 and Report 2:

  • In the race for governor, Republican Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 7% among likely voters, 49% to 42%, with 7% undecided and 1% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and 1% for the Green Party’s Delilah Barrios.
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  • Abbott holds a 29% (61% to 32%) lead over O’Rourke among white voters while O’Rourke holds a 57% (72% to 15%) lead over Abbott among Black voters, a 15% (53% to 38%) lead among Latino voters and a 9% (48% to 39%) lead among those voters with a mixed or other ethnic/racial identity.
  • Abbott and O’Rourke are deadlocked at 45% among women voters, while Abbott enjoys an 18% (55% to 37%) lead over O’Rourke among men.
  • In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier by 6% among likely voters, 49% to 43%, with 8% undecided.
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  • Patrick holds a 26% (60% to 34%) lead over Collier among white voters while Collier holds a 63% (78% to 15%) lead over Patrick among Black voters, a 14% (51% to 37%) lead among Latino voters and a 5% (44% to 39%) lead among those voters with a mixed or other ethnic/racial identity.
  • Collier holds a narrow 1% lead over Patrick among women voters (46% to 45%) while Patrick enjoys a 15% (54% to 39%) lead over Collier among men.
  • In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Rochelle Mercedes Garza by 3% among likely voters, 45% to 42%, with 10% undecided and 3% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Ash.
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  • Paxton holds a 23% (56% to 33%) lead over Garza among white voters while Garza holds a 61% (75% to 14%) lead over Paxton among Black voters, a 16% (51% to 35%) lead among Latino voters, and a 15% (45% to 30%) lead among those voters with a mixed or other ethnic/racial identity.
  • Garza holds a 5% lead over Paxton among women voters (45% to 40%) while Paxton enjoys a 13% (51% to 38%) lead over Garza among men.

In addition to the statewide election analysis of likely voters, the 2022 Texas Trends survey looks at the race for county judge in Harris County, the nation’s third largest county and Texas’ largest, with a population of more than 4.5 million residents.

While the non-election related reports we will subsequently release focus on all Harris County adults aged 18 years and older, this county-specific election report is based on the analysis of a sample population of 195 likely voters, with a confidence interval of +/- 7.0%. Given the small size of this population, caution should be used in interpreting the results due to the comparatively large margin of errors surrounding all of the estimates.

This county-specific election study is presented as the second report in the overall series, and it includes the preferences for candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in addition to county judge.

  • The vote intention in the race for Harris County judge is 52% for Democrat Lina Hidalgo and 42% for Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, with 6% undecided.

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  • This 10 percentage point lead by Hidalgo is notably higher than the 1 percentage point lead she garnered in the Hobby School election survey released in July.
  • Del Moral Mealer holds a 19 percentage point advantage over Hidalgo among white voters, 58% to 39%.
  • Hidalgo holds a 71 percentage point advantage over del Moral Mealer among Black voters, 79% to 8%, and a 44 percentage point advantage among Latino voters, 69% to 25%.
  • Hidalgo enjoys a 14 percentage point lead over del Moral Mealer among women, 53% to 39%, but only a 2 percentage point lead among men, 50% to 48%.
  • Del Moral Mealer enjoys a 16 percentage point lead over Hidalgo, 56% to 40%, among the combined Silent Generation/Baby Boomers cohort, and Hidalgo a comparable 16 percentage point lead over del Moral Mealer among Generation X, 54% to 38%.
  • Hidalgo is the overwhelming favorite of the combined Millennials/Generation Z cohort, with a 40 percentage point lead in vote intention over del Moral Mealer, 67% to 27%.

That’s a lot to take in, but it’s all there on their site. Note that while this poll references the UH/Hobby poll from July that had Abbott up 49-44 and had Judge Hidalgo only up by one point, 48-47, this one is different in two ways. One is just simply that this poll is a collaboration between UH and TSU whereas the previous one was all UH. I don’t think that makes any real difference, but there it is anyway. The other is that the July poll of Harris County was (I assume, anyway) a separate sample of 321 voters, while this one is (again, I presume) a subsample of 195 likely voters from the larger all-state population of 1,312. I don’t know why they chose to do it this way, and I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s how I read it.

The full data for the statewide report is here, and for the Harris County subsample here. My observations, bullet-point-style:

– The July poll was also post-Dobbs, so at least as far as these surveys go there’s not been any change in the overall environment since then. Insert anodyne statement about individual data points and move on.

– In the July poll, Beto was down five overall and led in Harris County by nine; in this poll Beto is down seven overall and leads in Harris County by 13 (it was 51-42 in July and it’s 53-40 in September, as you can see in the second report). Again, if there were a live feed of me as I typed up this post, you would have seen me shrug right there. Beto beat Cruz in Harris County by a 58-41 margin in 2018, and he’s within range of that in this poll, though as noted one with a higher-than-usual margin of error. All I’m saying here is that historically there’s been a relationship between the statewide percentage for a Dem candidate and that same candidate in Harris County. As such, in general if Beto is doing better in Harris I’d expect him to be doing better across the state. But we’ll see.

– That July poll had Mealer leading Hidlago among Latino voters by three points. This one has Hidalgo up among those same voters by 44. I feel very confident saying that it cannot be the case that both of those figures were accurate. Maybe they’re both off, but if one is right then the other is extremely wrong.

– I didn’t post the generational numbers for the statewide races, but overall Hidalgo did much better than the others. Of course, this is a subsample of a subsample, so be super duper cautious in drawing any conclusions from this. For what it’s worth, in the three statewide races the Dems were around 55% for the Millennial/Gen Z cohort and the Republicans were in the 30-35 range.

– The main reason Rochelle Garza is closer to Ken Paxton than Beto and Collier are to Abbott and Patrick is that Paxton has less support overall, clocking in at 45%. Most likely, this is just a number of Abbott/Patrick voters moving into the “don’t know” pile in this race. Maybe they’re really not sure how they’re voting, and maybe they’re Republicans who don’t want to admit, even in a webpanel, that they’re voting for Paxton. I do think Garza has a chance to be the top Dem performer, but I don’t think you can necessarily conclude that from this poll, as her level of support is in line with Beto and Collier. She did do best in Harris County, leading Paxton 54-36 in that sample, compared to 53-40 for each of the other two Dems.

– This is not the first poll I’ve seen this cycle that had Abbott getting about 15% of Black voters, which is about five points better than I’d normally expect. I don’t know if this is sample weirdness or if there’s something there, like the Trump bump among Latinos was visible in some 2020 polls, though not all.

– Finally, as far as Latino voters go, imagine me shrugging again. Some of what we saw in 2020 was low-propensity voters turning out, but not all of it. I genuinely have no idea what to expect.

Of course the redistricting lawsuit trial will be delayed

All we ever get is delays.

The legal fight over the shape of Texas political representation for the next decade won’t be decided until next year after a federal panel agreed Tuesday to delay a trial over new political maps.

The federal three-judge panel hearing the case pushed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, following a flurry of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.

The court said it would announce a new trial at a later time.

The maps passed by the Legislature in 2021 have already gone into effect and are being used for the first time in this year’s elections, but the litigation could decide whether those maps need to be changed to ensure that voters of color have a fair say in choosing their representatives in elections for years to come.

The state faces a broad catalog of challenges to its four political maps, including its congressional and statehouse maps, that could affect a litany of districts. The legal claims, stemming from nearly a dozen consolidated lawsuits, include allegations of intentional discrimination, vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. The Republican-drawn maps largely serve to bolster the party’s dominance, giving white voters greater control of political districts throughout the state.

At issue in the delay were ongoing fights to compel Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general’s office and other Republican elected officials to turn over thousands of documents that the state has been fighting to keep concealed. With less than a month until the scheduled start of the trial, the state and the plaintiffs groups were also jostling over various depositions in which state lawmakers relied on asserting legislative privilege to avoid divulging information on how the maps were drafted.

Redistricting cases are complex, with plaintiffs carrying the burden of proving wrongdoing by the state. The release of the disputed documents, the plaintiffs argued, could reveal new facts that could require additional depositions.

“Were the September 28 trial setting to hold, the Court could rule in advance of the upcoming legislative session. This would have been a clear benefit to all parties. But a ruling on only partial evidence does justice for none,” some of the plaintiffs wrote in a joint advisory filed with the court last week.

But the delay is not without risk.

This is the joint lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs; the Justice Department lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss in June, is being heard separately. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit scored a couple of wins recently relating to documents that must be disclosed to them. Those rulings obviously weren’t the end of the dispute, and so we have delays. The risk mentioned is that a final ruling would not be made in time for the Lege to make any required adjustments to the maps for the 2024 election. Remember, unless the primaries get moved back, which would affect the Presidential races, we need maps by October or so, to accommodate filing season and any updates that county election officials need to make. That’s not a lot of time. We’ll see when the new trial date is scheduled, but keep that time frame in mind. Unless we want to wait until 2026 – which, as we know from previous decades’ experience, is hardly out of the norm – the clock is very much ticking.

Another lawsuit over Uvalde public information

This all really is ridiculous.

The Texas Tribune, along with a group of other news organizations, filed a lawsuit Monday against the city of Uvalde, the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office and the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District asking a judge to order the release of records related to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School.

The lawsuit states that the local entities have unlawfully withheld information detailing the actions of their dozens of law enforcement officers who responded to the massacre, which the news organizations requested under the Texas Public Information Act. These records include 911 calls, radio traffic, officer body camera footage, police reports, training materials and school surveillance footage.

“For more than three months, the City of Uvalde, Uvalde CISD and Uvalde Sheriff’s Office have resisted the community’s calls for transparency and accountability,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer at Haynes Boone who represents the plaintiffs. “Their obfuscation has only prolonged the pain and grief of this tragedy. Today we are asking the Uvalde District Court to heed the call of the community and recognize that the public is entitled to these records under Texas law. We ask that the court grant our petition so that the people of Uvalde can understand the truth about what happened that fateful day.”

[…]

The Tribune and other news organizations also previously filed suit against the Department of Public Safety over its refusal to release records related to the shooting. The agency’s director publicly pinned much of the blame for the flawed police response on the Uvalde school district police chief, though DPS has repeatedly declined to detail the actions of most of its 91 officers who were on the scene.

The city, county and school district have sought permission from the state’s attorney general to withhold information requested by the news organizations. Under the state’s public records law, documents can be exempted from public disclosure in certain circumstances. The lawsuit states that even after the attorney general informed the city of Uvalde that it could not withhold some documents sought by journalists, the city has yet to release them.

Other news outlets that joined Monday’s lawsuit include ProPublica, The New York Times Co., The Washington Post, Gannett, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and Dow Jones & Co.

See here for some background on the previous lawsuit against DPS. That one was filed in Travis County, this one in Uvalde County. DPS had also been sued by State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, but it was dismissed for not having been filed correctly. I’m about as unsympathetic to the claims of whatever secrecy these entities have made, and even more so for their lack of action where they don’t even have that excuse. The public deserves to know, and these entities are just covering their asses. It’s long past time for us all to find out more about what happened.

Paxton finds a new way to be two-faced

I mean, what were we supposed to believe?

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stunned election administrators across the state last week when he released an opinion that, in theory, would allow anyone to access ballots almost immediately after they were counted.

Records show that, as recently as five days before the office released that opinion, it was providing the exact opposite guidance to counties.

“The information at issue is confidential for at least 22 months after election day,” a public records opinion from the office, dated Aug. 12, reads. “Accordingly, the district attorney’s office must withhold the information at issue.”

Then, five days later, Paxton released his new opinion. “Members of the public” the new guidance read, are welcome to inspect “voted ballots during the 22-month preservation period.”

“What a difference five days makes,” said Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County.

The record shows that Tarrant County did not receive the opinion telling it not to release the ballots until Aug. 22 — five days after Paxton issued his new opinion. This left the county unsure of how to proceed, and by that time, it had already challenged the new opinion in court. Paxton’s office did not respond to questions about what, if anything, changed in the five day period between the contradictory opinions.

[…]

Tarrant County’s court challenge to Paxton’s new opinion was filed as part of an ongoing records dispute. Citing yet another opinion issued to the office this summer, this one dated July 26 and also instructing the county not to release ballots, attorneys for the county’s election department asked the judge to find Paxton’s new opinion “erroneous.”

“On August 17, 2022, the Attorney General issued a formal opinion concluding for the first time in almost 40 years that voted ballots are not confidential,” they wrote. “The Attorney General’s most recent interpretation is erroneous, and the Court should not follow it.”

In addition to the opinions issued to Tarrant County and dated July 26 and Aug. 12, records provided to Votebeat show Paxton’s office provided identical advice in opinions dated June 16 and Aug. 1.

“We have two documents coming from the same office saying opposite things,” Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia told Votebeat. “We’ve got to figure out what’s the path we’re going to walk to do our job.”

Garcia has clear reason to be concerned about the ruling. Earlier this year, after the 22 month window for the March 2020 primary lapsed, a group of activists spent weeks inside his office examining the 300,000 ballots cast by Tarrant County voters. The request took Garcia weeks to fulfill, and then required a dedicated room with videotaped surveillance and a staffer’s supervision.

“You want it as safeguarded as possible in case you actually do have a criminal investigation or some sort of proceeding where [ballots] become evidence,” Garcia said. “Ballots are really easy to alter. You just grab a Sharpie and draw a line on them and now how do you know if it’s been altered or not? Having absolute protection on the physical document, to me, is extremely important.”

See here for the background. I cannot think of a good reason for the sudden turnaround, not to mention the chaos caused by the out-of-order delivery of the contradicting opinions in Fort Worth. The simplest explanation is sheer incompetence. Which would be a surprise given that office’s track record – they’re evil, but they’ve been pretty effective at it. If you have a better idea, by all means say so.

I trust that the irony of Heider Garcia’s words in that last paragraph aren’t lost on anyone. The single biggest threat to the security of the ballots is the idiots that demand to “audit” them, who have to be watched like hawks to ensure they don’t accidentally or deliberately spoil them. I hope that the madness this all represents is helping to drive home the message that Republicans are a clear threat to democracy, as the January 6 hearings and confidential-document-theft-a-palooza have been doing. There are plenty of other things to be talking about as well, from guns to abortion to LGBTQ rights to climate change and renewable energy, but we can’t lose sight of this one. Whatever it’s going to take to convince people they can’t trust the Republican Party as it now exists, we need to be doing it.

Paxton issues deranged opinion on access to ballots

This is utterly chaotic. And completely out of the blue.

Best mugshot ever

A legal opinion released by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last week will almost certainly throw county elections offices into chaos after November, experts say, exposing election clerks to possible criminal charges and materially reducing the security of every ballot cast in the state.

Federal and state law require that ballots be kept secure for 22 months after an election to allow for recounts and challenges — a time frame Texas counties have had set in place for decades. Paxton’s opinion, which doesn’t stem from any change to state law, theoretically permits anyone — an aggrieved voter, activist or out-of-state entity — to request access to ballots as soon as the day after they are counted. Such requests have been used by activists all over the country as a way to “audit” election results.

The opinion from Paxton doesn’t carry the force of law, but experts say it will almost certainly serve as the basis for a lawsuit by right-wing activists. The opinion has already impacted elections administrators across the state, who told Votebeat that they’ve seen an onslaught of requests since Paxton released it.

“[Paxton’s office wants] to throw a monkey wrench into the operations of vote counting, especially if they think they might lose, and Paxton is in a close race as far as I can tell,” said Linda Eads, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law and a former deputy attorney general for litigation for the state of Texas. She said she was “shocked” by the opinion.

[…]

Paxton’s office sought input from the secretary of state’s office prior to issuing the decision, which was requested by state Sen. Kelly Hancock and state Rep. Matt Krause, both Republicans. In no uncertain terms, the secretary of state’s office  — which is run by a Republican appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott — recommended keeping the current waiting period.

“The voted ballots are the core of the election process and the prohibition on disturbing the ballots (except in limited circumstances as permitted by the Election Code) preserves the integrity of the election itself,” wrote Adam Bitter, general counsel for the office, in a letter obtained by Votebeat through a public records request. “Handling of the voted ballots themselves opens up the possibility of accidental or intentional damage or misplacement that could call into question the election after the fact.”

Paxton’s office did not respond to specific questions about why he disagreed with Bitter’s conclusion, nor did he respond to requests for comment.

For months, election administrators in Texas and across the country have been fielding records requests from activists intent on re-examining every ballot cast in every election since November 2020 — or, in some cases, even earlier. In Tarrant County, volunteers with a conservative group occupied a room in the elections office for weeks this summer, examining 300,000 ballots from the March 2020 primary, which were made available by the county 22 months after the election.

Ballots are kept in secure lock boxes for 60 days, and then transferred to another secure facility for the remainder of the waiting period in order to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1960, a federal law which, in part, requires ballots be securely stored for 22 months. In 2017, the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature even amended state law to specify “22 months,” updating state standards to mirror federal requirements.

In the letter to the attorney general’s office, Bitter, the general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, wrote that an election clerk may effectively have to break state law in order to comply with a request for ballots so soon after an election.

Texas law says that if the ballots’ legal custodian, typically a local election official, “makes unauthorized entry into the secure container containing the voting ballots during the preservation period, or fails to prevent another person from making an unauthorized entry, the custodian has committed a Class A misdemeanor,” Bitter wrote.

Paxton’s opinion, experts say, does not appropriately address the potential criminal exposure.

Matthew Masterson, who previously served as the Trump administration’s top election security official and now is Microsoft’s director of information integrity, said that Paxton’s opinion will make it impossible for election administrators to appropriately ensure that ballots are kept secure. The security controls exist for a good reason, he said, and undermining them has serious implications.

“If you open up the floodgates and give anyone access to the ballots throughout that process, you have broken that chain of custody to the point where you would not be able to prove that this was the ballot a given voter cast,” Masterson said.

The opinion itself provides little guidance as to how long or for what reasons election administrators can block access to such ballots, leaving administrators across the state concerned about their ability to appropriately comply.

“If I read this literally as a layman, I think I’m required to provide ballots the day after an election before the results have even been canvassed,” said Chris Davis, elections director in Williamson County, who said such a release would make it impossible for counties to confidently conduct recounts that would stand up to legal scrutiny.

“I don’t know if the drafters of this opinion have a firm grasp on how ballot security and ballot processing is done at the county level,” he said.

There’s more, go read the whole thing, and add on this tweet thread from story author Jessica Huseman. There’s absolutely no justification for this – state and federal law are clear, and nothing has changed about them. It’s just chaos intended to give a boost to Big Lie enthusiasts, and as the story notes later on, it’s potentially a conflict of interest for Paxton since he himself is on the ballot this year, and everyone agrees it’s likely to be a close race.

County election officials around the state are already reporting getting a bunch of requests, some of which appear to be part of a coordinated effort. I think Harris County has the right response here.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee says the county is not releasing the ballots, arguing the opinion Paxton issued in the name of election integrity last week runs afoul of the law.

“Attorney General Ken Paxton is distorting the law to fuel conspiracy theories, encouraging reckless behavior that erodes public trust in our democratic process,” Menefee said in a statement. “The law is clear that these voted ballots are confidential and it’s a crime for anyone to access them unless authorized by law.”

Menefee said Harris County had received more than three dozen requests to inspect ballots since Paxton issued his opinion. The county attorney’s office did not respond to a request for more information about the requests, including who submitted them.

[…]

Federal and state laws requires ballots be securely stored for 22 months after an election, in part to preserve them for recounts or challenges to election results. Menefee said Paxton’s opinion “directly contradicts” a separate opinion his office issued last month, as well as an opinion issued by the AG’s office more than 30 years ago, which both concluded that ballots are confidential for 22 months following an election.

“Our election workers should not have to fear being criminally prosecuted because the attorney general wants to play politics and try to rewrite laws,” Menefee said. “Everyone who has closely read the law agrees the ballots are confidential: the Secretary of State’s Office, counties across the state, and his own office just a month ago. Harris County will continue to follow Texas law, not the Attorney General’s ‘opinion.’”

That’s what I, a non-lawyer who has no responsibilities in these matters, would have done. It is highly likely that a lawsuit will result. No one wants that, but sometimes having the fight is the most straightforward way to resolve the dispute. If that’s what we have to do, then so be it.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 46, Beto 39

Here we go again with the DMN/UT-Tyler poll, which if nothing else always provides something to talk about. The unreadable DMN story is here. The Chron has a story with a semi-ridiculous headline about how Abbott has slightly increased his lead in the race. This is semi-ridiculous because the topline result is 46-39 in his favor, exactly what it was in the DMN/UT-Tyler poll from May. The comparison they are making is to polls from July, so if you want to go there it’s up from a five point lead in the UH Hobby Center poll, up from a six point lead in the UT Politics Project poll, but down from an eight point lead in the CBS News poll. This is why I prefer to compare between polls of the same type, and why I specify when comparing to other polls. It’s also why I preferred to stay away from “Beto is gaining” narratives in July, because as I said all it takes is one poll that shows a slightly bigger lead for Abbott and it all gets blown up.

Anyway. The poll data is here and I’ll give you the highlights with a few comments.


Abbott    46
Beto      39
Other     13
DK         1

Patrick   36
Collier   28
Other     15
DK        21

Paxton    34
Garza     32
Other     15
DK        18

Dem       48
GOP       50

“Other” is the sum of named Libertarian and Green candidates (one of each in the Governor’s race, just one in the other two) plus the “Other” response. For obvious historic reasons, I don’t expect any of these numbers to be that high in November; this is mostly people not committing to an answer at this time for whatever the reason. The fourth listing is for the generic “which party are you voting for in the US House race” question. Note that this was 49-48 for Republicans in May, and 52-45 for Republicans in February.

The main thing I’ll say about these individual results is that Beto gets only 81-12 support among Dems, with Abbott getting 85-8 among Republicans. Somehow, this poll reports 21% of Black voters supporting Abbott, which at least would explain the overall Dem numbers. Let’s just say I don’t find that particularly credible and move on. Beto has taken the lead among independents in this poll at 34-31; it was 36-29 among indies for Abbott in February and a bizarre 16-6 for Abbott in May – as I noted in the earlier post, that reporting seemed to be screwed up. Both Mike Collier (20-19) and Rochelle Garza (24-19) lead among indies as well. Neither was tested in May as they were still in primary runoffs.

Next is the approvals questions:


Name       Approve  Disap  None
===============================
Biden           41     56     3
Abbott          47     49     4
Beto            43     43    13
Patrick         41     39    20
Paxton          41     40    19

For Beto, the question is asked as whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. President Biden was at 39-58 in May, so this is an improvement. Abbott was at 46-50 in May, Beto was 42-44, Paxton basically the same at 42-41. Dan Patrick had a strange 50-41 approval result in May – this is more in line with other results and overall expectations.

Two issue questions about abortion:

Do you approve or disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to decide abortion policy?


Strong approve        31
Somewhat approve      11
Somewhat disapprove   10
Strong disapprove     39

Should abortion be illegal in all cases, illegal in most cases, legal in most cases, or legal in all cases?


All illegal     31
Mostly illegal  13
Mostly legal    30
All legal       25

I’ve copied the exact wording. Abortion polling is complex and highly dependent on how questions are worded. The one thing that is totally clear is that there is little support for the current law, which basically allows for no exceptions.

We’ll see if we get more results soon. August and September is usually a busy time for such data. As always, take any individual result with skepticism, not because they are untrustworthy but because they are each just one data point.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: State races

I don’t often follow the campaign finance reports in state races, mostly because they’re usually not that interesting and there’s too many races to look at if I was interested. I didn’t review these in January for the contested primaries, but I decided there are enough races that are worth checking on to have a peek at some July reports. I’ve noted the big Beto numbers, so I’ll skip that here.

Mike Collier, Lt Gov
Rochelle Garza, Attorney General
Janet Dudding, Comptroller
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Susan Hays, Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford, Railroad Commissioner

Morgan LaMantia, SD27

Daniel Lee, HD26
Luis Echagaray, HD52
Sheena King, HD61
Brittney Verdell, HD65
Jesse Ringness, HD66
Kevin Morris, HD67
Mihaela Plesa, HD70
Suleiman Lalani, HD76
Salman Bhojani, HD92
Elizabeth Ginsberg, HD108
Elva Curl, HD112
Frank Ramirez, HD118
Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, HD121
Angela Aramburu, HD122
Stephanie Morales, HD138


Candidate     Raised      Spent       Loan     On Hand
======================================================
Collier      693,806    226,315    450,500     534,242
Garza        518,054    107,134          0     445,817
Dudding       37,956     52,378     45,884      16,908
Kleberg      586,296    433,030    100,000     439,854
Hays          96,085     94,777          0      53,310
Warford      296,516    271,506     23,561     110,066

LaMantia     183,859    427,090  2,980,000      58,024

Lee            2,580        904      1,000      11,345
Echegaray      9,343      9,123          0       9,081
King          20,999     14,635          0           0
Verdell       16,711      4,252          0      16,669
Ringness       2,635      3,212          0       2,635
Morris        20,124     11,589          0       9,266
Plesa         80,030     45,215     59,000      45,793
Lalani        10,742     26,925    145,000      10,617
Bhojani       84,346     77,688    100,000      24,682
Ginsberg     105,297     22,587          0      83,152
Curl          27,622      7,455     10,000      35,274
Ramirez       43,423     32,299          0       6,962
DeFelice      64,110     40,476      5,000      35,460
Aramburu      38,353      8,289          0       5,063
Morales        6,131      3,252          0       8,583

I’m looking at the non-Beto and non-judicial statewide races, the one open State Senate seat that could be interesting, and a handful of State House races based partly on 2020 election data and my own idiosyncrasies. There were a few State House races that might be intriguing on paper, I couldn’t find a finance report for the candidate in question. If there’s a race that I’ve skipped that offends you, let me know in the comments.

Remember that these reports may cover different time spans, depending on the candidate’s primary status. Candidates who had no primary opponent, such as Luis Echagaray in HD52, have reports that include all activity since January 1. Candidates who won their March primary, such as Daniel Lee in HD26, have reports that include all activity since February 21. And candidates who had to win a primary runoff, such as Suleimon Lalani in HD76, have reports that include all activity since May 16. Check the report itself if you’re not sure for a given candidate – the information is there on the first page.

Mike Collier is one of those who had to endure a runoff, so that $693K is since mid-May. That in itself is not too bad – it’s not particularly eye-catching, but it’s a decent pace and will add up over time. To that extent, here are the totals Collier has posted over other periods since last year:

Feb 20 – May 14 – $487,963
Jan 21 – Feb 19 – $124,329
Jan 01 – Jan 20 – $55,989
Jul 01 – Dec 31 – $826,861
Jan 01 – Jun 30 – $757,109

That’s nearly $3 million raised since the beginning of 2021. It’s not a huge amount – you may not be aware of this, but Texas is a big state with a lot of media markets and it costs a crapton of money to effectively advertise statewide as a result – but it’s not nothing. If Collier can continue at the pace from his last report, he’ll collect a couple million dollars by November. Maybe that’s another reason why Republicans are now attacking him.

Rochelle Garza and Jay Kleberg, who were also in the May runoffs, posted their own $500K-plus totals for the six weeks of their periods. I won’t do the same listing as I did for Collier, but I can tell you that Garza has raised about $1.1 million and Kleberg about $2 million since last November. The same caveats as with Collier apply, but I can’t think of any election since maybe 2002 where multiple statewide Dems posted similar numbers. As I’ve said elsewhere, whatever you’ve budgeted to give to Beto, leave a little room for Collier and Garza and Kleberg and the others.

SD27 is the Senate seat that Eddie Lucio is finally vacating. Morgan LaMantia won the nomination in the runoff, so her totals are from May 15. SD27 was moderately Democratic in 2020 after having been much more Democratic in 2016, so it’s one to watch for signs of either a rebound or further decay. There was a recent Trib story that I don’t feel like looking for with a headline that says Republicans are mulling whether to pour money into this one. I don’t know why they wouldn’t, but I guess even they don’t have infinite resources and have to choose their priorities.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to most of these State House races, many of which were uncontested in March. I didn’t even recognize a few of the names before I went looking for their reports. HDs 70 (Collin County) and 92 (Tarrant) are new Democratic districts drawn to shore of neighboring Republican districts. HD76 had been a Democratic district in El Paso, and is now a Democratic district in Fort Bend. The rest for the most part are districts Trump won by less than ten points, with HD118 being a slight Biden seat that the Republicans won in a special election last year. Frank Ramirez is back for a second shot at it, and I’d certainly like to see a bigger cash on hand number in that one. Otherwise, not much here to grab your attention, with the possible exceptions of Elizabeth Ginsburg, who hopes to flip one of the last two red districts in Dallas County, and Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, running in HD121, the Bexar County equivalent of HD134 (and HD108, for that matter).

This concludes my tour of the July finance reports. I expect to look at the 30-day reports for Harris County, and maybe the 8-day reports for it as well. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Texas sues USDA over LGBTQ protections

Here’s the story, which I’ll get to in a minute. It might be best to try to summarize this more accurately, because this is one of those technical situations where it takes a lot of qualifiers to get at what’s actually at stake. So with that in mind:

Clear enough? OK, on to the story:

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton and more than 20 other attorneys general are challenging the federal Food and Nutrition Service’s new policy that recipients of food assistance funds update their nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBTQ people.

In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was expanding its interpretation of discrimination based on sex. As a result, state agencies and programs that receive funding from the Food and Nutrition Service were ordered to “investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation” and to update their policies to specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Paxton and his counterparts claim the guidance issued by the USDA is “unlawful” because states were not consulted and did not have an opportunity to provide feedback, in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act. They also argue that the USDA is misinterpreting the Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, which extended sexual discrimination in the workplace to include discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“[It] will inevitably result in regulatory chaos that threatens essential nutritional services to some of the most vulnerable citizens,” Paxton’s office said in a press release.

And as we know, no one cares more about our most vulnerable citizens than Ken Paxton. TPM adds some details.

In their suit, the Republican attorneys general argued that, in its reasoning behind the new guidance, the USDA had misapplied Bostock v. Clayton. They also argued that the government hadn’t followed procedural notice-and-comment rules for the new guidance, as outlined in a federal law known as the Administrative Procedure Act.

Or, as ACLU communications strategist Gillian Branstetter put it, “The AGs argue schools have the right to deny queer and trans kids lunch money.”

Tuesday’s suit asserted “the States do not deny benefits based on a household member’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” But it challenged the “unlawful and unnecessary new obligations and liabilities” it alleged were associated with the guidance.

The lawsuit cited existing red state laws that “at least arguably conflict” with the USDA guidance, such as rules prohibiting transgender students from participating in sports programs that align with their gender identity, rather than the gender they were assigned at birth.

The Republicans’ suit comes two weeks after 20 Republican attorneys general won a preliminary injunction in the same federal court district — the Eastern District of Tennessee — against similar guidance from the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A federal judge found the federal directive clashed with state laws regarding gender-based laws being applicable to, for example, bathrooms and sports teams.

I don’t know enough to say what the likely effect of this might be if these homophobic AGs get their way, but we can all be sure it won’t be good. If Ken Paxton can sue to force hospitals to let women die, then a few gay kids going hungry won’t bother him.

Paxton so petty

This guy, man. What a stain.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton is escalating his feud with the State Bar of Texas by banning his office’s lawyers from speaking at any events organized by the bar.

Paxton’s office also will not pay for any attorneys to attend bar-sponsored events, according to an internal email obtained by The Texas Tribune.

The state bar is suing Paxton over his 2020 lawsuit challenging the presidential election results in four battleground states. Paxton has denounced the lawsuit, which alleges professional misconduct, as political harassment.

The internal email — sent Monday by Shawn Cowles, Paxton’s deputy attorney general for civil litigation — references the lawsuit, calling it “just the latest instance in the Bar’s ongoing evolution into a partisan advocacy group.”

“Let’s be clear: these are politically motivated attacks that violate separation-of-powers principles and offend our profession’s values of civil disagreement and diversity of thought,” Cowles wrote.

The new office policies are effectively immediately.

[…]

The state bar is an agency of the judiciary that licenses lawyers to practice in Texas and hosts regular training and networking events around the state.

Let’s put aside any question for a minute about whether or not Paxton has a legitimate gripe with the State Bar’s actions against him. (He doesn’t, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend he does.) He’s taking out his anger on his employees. How would you feel if your boss forbade you from doing any professional development because he’s in trouble with the cops? You have to be an exceptionally shitty person to act like this.

Grifters always stick together

Two shitty tastes that taste even shittier together.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is pretty familiar with Catherine Engelbrecht. He’s been a guest on her podcast, chatting about their shared passion: rooting out voter fraud. They both have gone to great lengths to try to support former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

And when Engelbrecht, founder of the nonprofit True the Vote, has found herself in hot water, Paxton’s office has turned out to be a helpful ally.

Most recently, a state judge sided with Engelbrecht’s argument that it should be Paxton’s office – not a court – that should probe allegations made by a True the Vote donor who says he was swindled out of $2.5 million.

But more than a year after the case was dismissed, Paxton’s office won’t say whether it ever investigated the donor dispute. Last month, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that True the Vote had engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million to Engelbrecht and other insiders, while failing to back up its voter fraud claims.

In the reporting of that story, Paxton’s office withheld financial documents and email communications from Reveal and issued contradictory and inaccurate statements about the nonprofit, which has been a leading voice in driving the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to the core of GOP ideology.

The embattled attorney general this year skated through a contested primary race. But he faces potential disbarment for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, is under investigation by the FBI, is getting sued by whistleblowers in his office and awaits trial for a seven-year-old felony indictment for securities fraud. In their lawsuit, former staff members have accused him of using his office to provide legal favors to an ally, saying he appointed a special prosecutor to target adversaries of a donor who was under investigation.

His office advocated on Engelbrecht’s behalf before the Texas Supreme Court in 2016 when she got into legal trouble with her previous nonprofit organization, King Street Patriots, for being overtly political. He appeared on her podcast in July 2020, during which Engelbrecht said she considers Paxton a friend.

“I can’t say thank you enough for the dignity and the respect that you bring to that office,” she said.

“I feel blessed to have this opportunity, especially in a time like this. It’s really a crisis,” Paxton replied.

“God bless you. God bless you, Ken Paxton, God bless you. And thank you for all that you and your team do,” Engelbrecht added.

See here for the earlier story of Engelbrecht’s 2020 election-related grifting. Of course Ken Paxton would be her buddy and would be there to help cover up her misdeeds. It’s his core competency. If Rochelle Garza wins election this year, she’s going to have to create an entire division at the AG’s office to investigate all of the malfeasance that Paxton buried, including his own. She may need multiple terms just to get to the bottom of it all. Go read the rest and remind yourself of what could be if she does win this fall.

A piece of the voter suppression law is blocked

Buckle up, this will take a bit of explanation.

Parts of a 2021 Texas voting law that cracked down on assistance for voters with limited English skills and voters with disabilities can no longer be enforced.

A federal judge in Texas issued a ruling last month striking down provisions in Texas’ new law, known as Senate Bill 1, that set limits on how people can help voters cast their ballots. State officials had until last week to appeal the ruling, but they declined. The office of the Texas attorney general has not responded to requests for comment.

Lisa Snead, a litigation attorney at Disability Rights Texas, said the court decision is a big win for voters with disabilities in the state.

“The provision of SB 1 limiting assistance … really limited what voters with disabilities could receive,” she said. “And it had a grave impact on voters who tried to vote in … elections in March and May.”

[…]

Among its provisions, SB 1 restricted assistance to only reading the ballot for a voter, marking the ballot for a voter, directing the voter to read the ballot and directing the voter to mark the ballot.

Groups including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund went to federal court and argued that the voter assistance parts of SB 1 directly violate a 2018 injunction that ruled that similar limitations in Texas’ election code at the time violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The court agreed and also directed the state to change its training for voting assistants.

In addition, the court barred Texas from including those restrictions in the language of an oath an assistor must swear to when helping voters. SB 1 requires people aiding voters to fill out paperwork disclosing their relationship with the voter and whether they are compensated. It also requires they recite an oath under the penalty of perjury stating they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into choosing them for assistance.

Debbie Chen with Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Houston, which was the plaintiff in the 2018 case, said in a statement earlier this month that SB 1 made assistors afraid to answer voters’ questions in the state’s primary elections.

“Asian American voters with limited English often need to ask questions to understand the ballot and the voting process,” Chen said. “This is especially true for people who provide them with assistance and must translate the English ballot and the whole process on the spot.”

This lawsuit was filed in Travis County in September; there was another lawsuit filed at the same time in Bexar County, but that is not a part of this case. I did not see any news stories about the injunction that had been granted, so this is the first update that I’m aware of. The story refers to a 2018 injunction granted from a 2016 lawsuit over similar issues – see here for more on the lawsuit. I had noted the appeal of that injunction, but it seems I lost track of the litigation after that. Sometimes these things don’t make the news, and sometimes they only make the news in places I don’t see.

Anyway. The allegation here is that the latest voter suppression bill contained language that directly violated the terms of the 2018 injunction – in some cases, SB1 more or less directly quoted things that the court had said were enjoined. Some great work by the staff there, fellas. I’m a little surprised the state didn’t bother appealing this to the Fifth Circuit, even though that 2018 injunction had been narrowly tailored to comply with their order remanding the case back so it could be more narrowly written. Maybe there are some things even the Fifth Circuit won’t do. In any event, while there are still many issues with SB1, at least this won’t be among them. Kudos to all for getting this done. The Chron has more.

When abortion is outlawed, pregnant people will be denied health care

It’s already happening.

The Texas Medical Association is asking state regulators to step in after it says several hospitals afraid of violating the state’s abortion ban have turned away pregnant patients or delayed care leading to complications, The Dallas Morning News reported.

In a letter to the Texas Medical Board — the state agency that regulates the practice of medicine — TMA officials on Wednesday said they have received complaints that hospital administrators and their legal teams are stopping doctors from providing medically appropriate care to patients with some pregnancy complications. They ask the board to “swiftly act to prevent any wrongful intrusion into the practice of medicine.”

TMA is a professional nonprofit that represents over 55,000 medical professionals in the state.

The request comes as confusion and concerns abound among Texas medical professionals over what they can and cannot do under Texas’ abortion ban.

Beyond elective abortions, there are several situations in which a doctor might advise an abortion for the safety of the patient — including ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus, making it unviable — or provide other stabilizing treatments during hypertension and preeclampsia. Delays in treatment can cause serious health complications.

But in a post-Roe world, physicians in states where abortion has been banned have to weigh the legal implications of their actions, instead of making decisions based on what prevailing medical literature recommends. In Texas, doctors can face six-figure fines and be put in jail for any disallowed abortions.

According to the Morning News, the TMA included in its letter examples of some cases in which treatment was denied or delayed but did not name specific hospitals. In Central Texas, a physician was allegedly instructed to not treat an ectopic pregnancy until a rupture occurred, which puts patient health at serious risk, the letter says.

“Delayed or prevented care in this scenario creates a substantial risk for the patient’s future reproductive ability and poses serious risk to the patient’s immediate physical wellbeing,” the letter says.

The TMA letter also accused two other hospitals of telling doctors to turn away pregnant patients and send them home to “expel the fetus” if their water broke too soon, which can put them at risk of infection.

Not only are patients being put at risk of serious injury, but doctors could face lawsuits or the loss of their medical licenses for not providing adequate care, the TMA letter says. Failing to do so might violate the state’s prohibition on the corporate practice of medicine, which generally prohibits corporations or nonphysicians from practicing medicine.

The TMA’s plea comes one day after Texas sued the Biden administration to block new federal guidance reiterating to the nation’s doctors that they’re protected by federal law to terminate a pregnancy as part of emergency treatment.

Yeah, that. Look, I’m sure that was a splendid and appropriately stern letter that the TMA sent to those hospitals and pharmacies. I can’t find a copy of it online, but I believe it said all the right things. You know what would be even better than those words? Some action in the form of supporting candidates that will not sue to stop hospitals and doctors from giving needed treatment to their patients, and will not support the surely forthcoming legislation that will aim to put doctors and nurses and other healthcare workers in jail for providing needed health care to patients. I can think of a few, and I’m sure you can, too. What do you say, Texas Medical Association?

This is why you don’t put a crook in charge of enforcing the law

Y’all, Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

For the past two and a half years, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has declined to sue hundreds of candidates and elected officials who altogether owe more than $700,000 to the state in unpaid fines for campaign reporting violations.

Campaign finance laws are meant to give the public insight into politicians’ possible influences and allow voters make informed decisions and hold officeholders accountable.

The Texas Ethics Commission levies the fines against candidates and elected officials who, for example, fail to file reports on their campaign fundraising and spending in a timely manner. Other violations include filing inaccurate or incomplete reports, misusing campaign or public funds for personal benefit, or producing and distributing misleading political advertising.

The state has few restrictions on political spending by design, with the laws supported by Republican lawmakers who generally oppose government regulation. It’s one of only 11 states that put no limits on individual contributions to campaigns.

And the Texas Ethics Commission, the regulatory agency in charge of enforcing those laws, doesn’t have many tools at its disposal to go after scofflaws aside from letter notifications. Its last line of defense against delinquent filers is to refer their cases to the attorney general’s office.

“We have very few rules when it comes to campaign finance in Texas, and the few that we do have are not enforced, clearly,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a government watchdog group. “What’s the point of even having the rules?”

Refusing to collect the fines is the latest exhibit of the antagonistic relationship between Paxton and the Texas Ethics Commission. In recent years, Paxton’s office has questioned the constitutionality of the agency’s work, and though his office is charged with defending state agencies in court, he has declined to defend it against a still-ongoing suit filed by political allies of his who seek to gut the agency. The unusual move has cost the state over $1 million by forcing it to seek outside counsel.

[…]

Chase Untermeyer, former chair of the Texas Ethics Commission and former Republican state representative for a Houston district, said he was surprised to hear that no suits had been filed. The attorney general’s office always had a threshold dollar amount for filing suits, he said, but it never quit filing them altogether before Paxton. Untermeyer served on the commission from 2010 to 2017 and was chair from 2016 to 2017.

“In theory, I think the attorney general’s office should represent the ethics commission and carry out both the spirit and the letter of the law,” Untermeyer said, “but I recognize they have a limited staff and for very practical and perhaps financial reasons, they may limit or put a floor on the amount of times they consider enforcement.”

Many times, he said, the only option left to the agency is the “naming and shaming” delinquent filers on a publicly available list on its website. As of last month, the list showed nearly 500 people owed fines that summed more than $2 million.

The halt of collections cases comes after the office filed 36 suits in 2019 and 15 in 2018, agency records show.

Democrat Rochelle Garza, Paxton’s opponent as he seeks re-election, said in a statement to Hearst Newspapers that this is “just another example of Ken Paxton’s impotent use of his office.”

“Paxton cares more about his extremist agenda than doing his job and bringing accountability to our electoral system,” she said. “I will bring back integrity and accountability to our government. There will be no more free passes for bad actors under my administration.”

The irony, as the story notes, is that the two biggest fine-owers right now are both Democrats – Rep. Ron Reynolds, and a Dallas County judge. Among many other things, this particular failure by Paxton – which, again, is a choice and not an error – would give Rochelle Garza a prime opportunity right out of the box if she wins to show how a non-partisan law-abiding Attorney General would operate. Imagine that for a minute. Such a simple lesson, not putting a crook in charge of enforcing the law.

UH/Hobby Center: Abbott 49, Beto 44

This one is post-Dobbs.

In the race for governor, Republican Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 5% among likely voters, 49% to 44%, with 5% undecided and 2% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts.

More than nine out of 10 Abbott (95%) and O’Rourke (92%) voters are certain about their vote choice, while 5% and 8% indicate they might change their mind between now and November.

Abbott holds a 27% (60% to 33%) lead over O’Rourke among white voters while O’Rourke holds a 72% (80% to 8%) lead over Abbott among Black voters and a 9% (51% to 42%) lead among Latino voters.

O’Rourke has a 6% (49% to 43%) lead over Abbott among women, while Abbott enjoys a 18% (56% to 38%) lead over O’Rourke among men.

Older Texans belonging to the Silent Generation/Baby Boomer cohort and to Generation X favor Abbott over O’Rourke by margins of 18% (57% to 39%) and 9% (52% to 43%) respectively, while O’Rourke is the candidate of choice among younger Texans belonging to the Millennial/Generation Z cohort, with a 15% (51% to 36%) advantage over Abbott.

Virtually every Texas Democrat (96%) intends to vote for O’Rourke compared to 1% who intend to vote for Abbott, and virtually every Texas Republican (91%) intends to vote for Abbott, compared to 2% who intend to vote for O’Rourke. Texas Independents are more evenly divided, with 48% intending to vote for Abbott and 32% for O’Rourke.

When asked to what extent 15 issues would be important to their gubernatorial vote choice, more than three-fourths of Texas likely voters listed these five policies as being extremely or very important: inflation (84%), crime and public safety (83%), economic growth (78%), government spending and taxes (78%), and health care costs (76%).

Only three issues are extremely or very important to less than half of likely Texas voters when deciding who to vote for in the 2022 gubernatorial election: climate change (48%), COVID-19 policies (47%), and LGBTQ rights (36%).

Four issues are extremely or very important to more than nine out of ten Abbott voters when making their gubernatorial vote decision: inflation (96%), immigration and border security (94%), crime and public safety (92%), and government spending and taxes (91%).

Three issues are extremely or very important to more than nine out of ten O’Rourke voters when making their gubernatorial vote decision: voting rights (94%), gun control (92%), and health care costs (90%).

In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier by 5% among likely voters, 48% to 43%, with 9% undecided.

More than nine out of 10 Patrick (96%) and Collier (92%) voters are certain about their vote choice, while 4% and 8% indicate they might change their mind between now and November.

In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Rochelle Mercedes Garza by 5% among likely voters (46% to 41%), with 9% undecided and 4% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Ash.

More than nine out of 10 Paxton (94%) and Garza (91%) voters are certain about their vote choice, while 6% and 9% indicate they might change their mind between now and November.

The generic Republican U.S. House candidate leads the generic Democratic U.S. House candidate by 6% among likely voters (49% to 43%), with 6% undecided.

Among likely voters, Abbott is viewed favorably by 50% and unfavorably by 47%.

Among likely voters, O’Rourke is viewed favorably by 45% and unfavorably by 50%.

This was an online YouGov poll, fielded between June 27 and July 7, so entirely after the Dobbs decision, the first such poll. It’s more or less the same as the their February poll, so at least in this poll there doesn’t seem to be much difference as a result of that ruling. Well, in this sample Beto is much closer to Abbott among independents. That probably doesn’t mean much, but it’s what I see.

It’s interesting that the Lite Guv and AG races have similar margins, with the Dem candidates doing almost as well as Beto in total support. The norm for these lower-visibility races is that the “don’t know/no answer” contingent is much higher, which tends to drag the Democratic number down further, as those candidates lack name recognition. This poll confirmed that a large number of respondents didn’t really know much about Mike Collier or Rochelle Garza or any other statewide non-Beto Democrat, but they’re willing to vote for them anyway. Make of that what you will. Reform Austin has more.

Who gets to judge Volkswagen?

Fascinating little legal cul-de-sac here.

German car manufacturers Volkswagen and Audi — facing a lawsuit from Texas that could cost the companies millions stemming from the emissions cheating scheme uncovered in 2015 — argue that Gov. Greg Abbott could unfairly tilt the scales in the state’s favor by appointing two temporary justices to help decide the case.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht on June 24 asked Abbott to temporarily commission two justices to the state’s high court in order to decide a case related to an emissions-cheating lawsuit against Volkswagen and Audi. Volkswagen in 2015 admitted to deceiving regulators by designing software that circumvented U.S. emissions tests.

With tens of thousands of vehicles impacted in Texas, several millions of dollars could be at stake in the Texas case, according to the state’s civil penalties code. The issue before the state’s high court centers on whether Texas has jurisdiction over the foreign parent companies, Germany-based Volkswagen and Audi.

Justices Jimmy Blacklock and Evan Young recused themselves from the case, Hecht wrote in the letter, leaving the court with seven remaining members to rule on the case. The Texas constitution requires at least five justices to agree, one way or the other, in order to issue a supreme court decision, suggesting the remaining justices were split.

But because the state is a party in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s cases against the companies, Volkswagen and Audi’s lawyers have argued that allowing the Texas governor to appoint justices to a case for which the state stands to win a substantial amount of money would give “the impression that the State has had undue influence.”

“Although the Governor and the Attorney General are different officers, they both represent the same entity: the state of Texas,” wrote Jeffrey Wall, an attorney for Volkswagen in a letter to the court that was also sent to Abbott.

Hecht declined to comment on the letter, but a spokesperson for the Supreme Court of Texas said that there have been at least 13 other instances since 1995 in which the governor was asked to appoint temporary justices.

But neither the Supreme Court of Texas nor attorneys for the companies could identify another case in Texas history when the governor has been asked to commission temporary justices to a case for which the state is a party.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Volkswagen and Audi’s lawyers say appointing the justices at this point would give the appearance of bias to the court.

“Attorney General Paxton brought these actions on behalf of the state in an effort to recover massive penalties from respondents,” wrote Wall. “Simply put the state may not pick two judges who will help to decide whether it wins or loses before this court.”

If the governor doesn’t commission two more justices, the cases could return to the Texas Court of Appeals, where Volkswagen and Audi had successfully argued that Texas did not have jurisdiction over the foreign companies. The court had found that Volkswagen and Audi’s recall-tampering activities were not “purposefully directed” at Texas, but directed at the U.S. as a whole.

See here for my previous blogging on this. The last entry I have is from 2018, in which settlement money from a different lawsuit was being distributed. There will only be money at stake here if SCOTx disagrees with the appeals court, and I can see why VW and Audi might be skeptical about letting Greg Abbott pick the two replacement justices. One suggestion for how to resolve this is for both sides to agree on a couple of names. I’m thinking maybe put all of the current appellate court justices’ names into a hat and randomly draw two of them. This shouldn’t be that hard to solve. But it’s always cool to see something that hasn’t come up before.

More on finding Baby Holly

Everything about this story continues to fascinate me.

How did investigators find Holly Marie Clouse?

It all came down to a question about spelling — and a birth certificate.

In January, genealogists identified the bodies of Harold Dean Clouse and Tina Gail Linn, a young couple murdered and whose bodies were dumped in the woods east of Houston back in early 1981.

It was a significant break in a decades-old cold case. But that discovery led to a question — what had happened to the couple’s infant daughter?

The answer would come much more quickly. Last week, six months after the identities of the couple were made public, officials from the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced they’d found Holly, safe and well, living in Oklahoma.

During a brief news conference on June 9, First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster provided some of the information officials had about what had happened to Holly, saying that two women who identified themselves as “members of a nomadic religious group” left Holly at a church in Arizona.

That meant the child hadn’t been killed alongside her parents and was probably still alive.

Making the connection between the meeting at the church and Holly’s present-day whereabouts in Oklahoma came down to a question about spelling, people familiar with the case said.

After two genealogists identified the remains found in east Harris County as belonging to Dean and Tina, authorities in Lewisville opened up a missing person’s case related to Holly. It would eventually include investigators in Houston, Florida and Arizona.

As investigators and genealogists continued digging back into the case, they weren’t sure of how to spell Holly’s name: relatives had spelled it both as “Hollie” and “Holly.”

That confusion prompted genealogist Allison Peacock and one of Holly’s aunts to request the (now-grown) woman’s birth certificate from the Florida Department of Vital Records.

[…]

Holly — whose last name has changed — has not yet spoken publicly about her experiences. Her adoptive parents are not suspects in her birth parents’ killings, authorities have said.

Peacock, one of the two genealogists who investigated the mystery of Dean and Tina’s identity, said the saga showed the importance of seeking out documents and reviewing the record.

“In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have had any idea Holly’s birth certificate was attached to a legal adoption,” she said. “And certainly that a quest for the proper spelling of Holly’s name — and being a stickler for details — would end up leading to her being found alive and well.”

While two mysteries related to the murders of Tina and Dean have been solved, significant questions remain unanswered: who killed them and what did the killers have to do with the baby being left at a church in Arizona? Or did other people rescue the child and take her to safety?

One significant avenue of investigation that cold case detectives are examining is the group whose members gave Holly up at the church and other contacts the slain couple might have had with a cult or religious group.

See here, here, and here for the background. It took awhile and some political muscle to wrest the birth certificate from Florida because it had an adoption record attached to it. That’s a subject that will deserve a longer examination in the future prestige podcast or HBOMax series that I seriously hope comes out of this. As to tracking down the murder suspects and the weird religious people that dropped Holly off at the church, I have no idea what the prospects are for that. But we’ve come this far, so who knows. I’ll be ready to read about it when the next chapter drops.

Paxton escapes open records lawsuit

Sheesh.

Best mugshot ever

The Travis County district attorney’s office will not proceed with a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for refusing to release his communications around the time of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Despite determining that the attorney general likely violated the state’s open records law, the district attorney’s office said it would not sue because journalists who had requested Paxton’s records declined to testify in court in order to protect their sources.

The district attorney’s office launched its investigation of Paxton’s office after editors at Texas’ largest newspapers filed a complaint earlier this year alleging that the attorney general was breaking the state’s open records law.

In a hand-delivered letter to Paxton on Jan. 14, Jackie Wood, the district attorney’s director of public integrity and complex crimes, stated her office concurred with the allegations in the editors’ complaint and gave Paxton four days to cure the violations or face a lawsuit.

“We were encouraged that the district attorney agreed that Paxton’s office violated the law,” said Maria Reeve, executive editor of the Houston Chronicle. “We hoped that those facts would be sufficient for a lawsuit to proceed — and that our reporters would not need to testify.”

Paxton’s general counsel, Austin Kinghorn, said the allegations were “meritless.”

Wood later asked the journalists if they’d be willing to testify in court about the roadblocks they encountered trying to obtain records from the attorney general’s office. The newspapers declined to do so over concerns that reporters could be forced to testify about their unnamed sources or newsgathering methods. If they refused to answer, they’d risk being found in contempt of court.

“Therefore, it is the decision of this office not to proceed to seek declaratory and injunctive relief in order to bring Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Office of the Attorney General into compliance with the public information requirements of the Texas Government Code,” Public Integrity Unit Team Leader Rob Drummond wrote in a July 1 letter to Reeve.

See here, here, and here for the background. On the one hand, I understand that the papers didn’t want to put any of their employees in legal jeopardy. On the other hand, I feel like they had some duty to pursue this to a conclusion, since they filed the complaint in the first place. Was there no way for a private citizen, someone who wouldn’t have sources to risk, to testify in their place? I don’t understand the legal subtleties of this. I’m just frustrated by the outcome.

SCOTx re-enables statewide abortion ban

Ugh.

The Texas Supreme Court has blocked a lower court order that had allowed clinics in the state to continue performing abortions even after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it’s landmark 1973 ruling that confirmed a constitutional right to abortion.

It was not immediately clear whether the clinics in Texas that resumed performing abortions just days ago would halt services again following the ruling late Friday night. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

The whiplash of Texas clinics turning away patients, rescheduling them, and now potentially canceling appointments again — all in the span of a week — illustrates the confusion and scrambling that has taken place across the country since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

An order by a Houston judge on Tuesday had reassured some clinics they could temporarily resume abortions up to six weeks into pregnancy. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly asked the state’s highest court, which is stocked with nine Republican justices, to temporarily put that order on hold.

“These laws are confusing, unnecessary, and cruel,” said Marc Hearron, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, after the order was issued Friday night.

Clinics in Texas — a state of nearly 30 million people — stopped performing abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned Roe v. Wade. Texas had left an abortion ban on the books for the past 50 years while Roe was in place.

Attorneys for Texas clinics provided a copy of Friday’s order, which was not immediately available on the court’s website.

See here and here for the background; Steve Vladeck provides a bit more context. You can see a summary of the order (order 22-0527) here. The relevant bits:

The parties are directed to submit briefing by 5 p.m. July 7, 2022 regarding whether the 269th District Court of Harris County, Texas, has jurisdiction to enjoin the enforcement of a criminal statute. See State v. Morales, 869 S.W.3d 941 (Tex. 1994). Real parties in interest are requested to respond to relators’ petition for writ of mandamus by 5 p.m. July 11, 2022. This order does not preclude further proceedings in the court of appeals and district court, including proceedings to address the jurisdictional issue described in paragraph 2 above. The Court is confident that those courts will proceed expeditiously.

[Note: The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.]

The 269th Civil Court in Harris County, which issued the temporary restraining order that SCOTx has now lifted, has a hearing scheduled for July 12 to determine whether an injunction can be granted. We may get that on the 12th or 13th, and then subsequent rulings from SCOTx shortly thereafter. I assume the writ of mandamus was filed by the Attorney General to supersede all this and just declare that there’s nothing stopping them from enforcing that 1925 law that criminalized abortion. Don’t you just love it when this kind of order drops on the Friday evening of a holiday weekend? Axios, the WaPo, the NYT, and the DMN have more; as of Saturday morning when I drafted this the Trib had not yet published anything and the Chron was carrying this same AP story. Like I said, Friday night, holiday weekend.

UPDATE: Here’s the Trib story.

Temporary restraining order granted to abortion clinics in trigger lawsuit

Some abortions are temporarily legal in Texas again.

Abortions up to about six weeks in pregnancy can resume at some clinics in Texas for now after a Harris County District Court judge granted a temporary restraining order that blocks an abortion ban that was in place before Roe v. Wade.

In the ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Christine Weems ruled that the pre-Roe abortion ban “is repealed and may not be enforced consistent with the due process guaranteed by the Texas constitution.”

“It is a relief that this Texas state court acted so quickly to block this deeply harmful abortion ban,” Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a press release. “This decision will allow abortion services to resume at many clinics across the state, connecting Texans to the essential health care they need. Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory.

Whole Woman’s Health, which operates abortion clinics in McAllen, McKinney, Fort Worth and Austin, said it would resume providing abortions as a result of this ruling.

“We immediately began calling the patients on our waiting lists and bringing our staff and providers back into the clinics,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the organization’s president and CEO.

Abortions can resume only at the clinics named in the lawsuit. Besides the Whole Woman’s Health clinics, the others that will resume operations are Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio, Brookside Women’s Medical Center and Austin Women’s Health Center in Austin, Houston Women’s Clinic and Houston Women’s Reproductive Services in Houston, and Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas.

A hearing has been set for July 12 to decide on a more permanent restraining order.

[…]

On a press call Tuesday, Hearron declined to speculate on what the temporary restraining order on the pre-Roe ban might mean for other clinics and abortion funds in the state.

“I don’t know that I have an answer to that question,” he said. “I think that’s a legal question that the other clients would want to look at.”

While some abortion access has been restored in Texas, current state law still allows abortions only up to around six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people don’t even know they are pregnant.

“So there still will be a large number of Texans who are still going to need to try to find access and appointments outside of the state,” Hearron said.

See here for the background. This will of course be appealed, so as I said before it will ultimately come down to what the Supreme Court says, if they choose to weigh in at all – they may decide to slow roll it, given that the whole thing will be moot in at most about two months. Not deciding when they don’t have to is a specialty of theirs.

As for the question of other providers, the Chron has a bit of input.

It’s unclear whether the injunction applies to clinics that are not party to the suit, such as Planned Parenthood.

The CEOs of Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates said in a joint statement Tuesday that their clinics had no immediate plans to resume offering abortions, but added: “This is a rapidly evolving situation and legal teams are still reviewing this order and its potential implications.”

The case could also offer a lifeline to Texas abortion funds, which provide transportation and other assistance to people seeking abortions, after they shuttered Friday, citing concerns of criminal liability.

Seems like it’s worthwhile to me to at least get the clarity and some assurance that you won’t be arrested for something that may have happened five minutes after Ken Paxton decided it was illegal. I Am Not A Lawyer, your mileage may vary, etc etc etc. I still think they should at least give serious thought to filing their own claims. We’ll see.

Lawsuit filed over Texas trigger law implementation

One last fight before the curtain comes down.

Texas abortion providers are making a last-ditch effort to temporarily resume procedures by challenging a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion ban that has not been enforced for nearly a half-century, but that some abortion opponents argue could be enforced after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

The providers filed a lawsuit on Monday, and a Harris County judge will hear arguments on Tuesday for implementing a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the old ban, which criminalized both performing abortions and assisting anyone who performs abortions in Texas.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, some Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion activists have argued that old state statutes banning abortion may have instantly gone back into effect following the Supreme Court’s announcement that it would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Texas abortion clinics stopped all procedures, and abortion funds ceased operating in the state after the Supreme Court ruled Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that affirmed abortions as a constitutional right for nearly five decades. Some doctors had to halt procedures moments before they were set to perform them because of concerns that old state abortion laws that had been blocked by Roe could now once again be criminally enforced.

“We will fight to maintain access for as long as we can,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights — one of the plaintiffs challenging pre-Roe restrictions — said in a statement. “Every day, every hour that abortion remains legal in Texas is a chance for more people to get the care they need. The clinics we represent want to help as many patients as they can, down to the last minute.”

Last year, Texas passed a “trigger law” to ban abortions if the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade. The law will go into effect 30 days after the court issues a judgment repealing Roe.

Though the court issued its opinion signaling its intention to overturn Roe on Friday, it’s unclear when the formal judgment will come. Paxton said the judgment could take a month. He said his office will announce the effective date for the trigger law as soon as possible.

However, laws predating Roe v. Wade in Texas that ban abortion are still on the books — leading some to argue they’re valid again and that there’s no need to wait for the trigger law to seek criminal penalties for performing abortions in the state. Paxton noted this on Friday, saying “some prosecutors may choose to immediately pursue criminal prosecutions.”

But a 2004 case in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that by passing abortion laws — such as regulations on the availability of abortions for minors and the practices of abortion clinics — the Texas Legislature repealed its old bans and replaced them with regulations that implied those statutes were no longer in effect. And because the Supreme Court has yet to issue its formal judgment, it’s unclear whether the pre-Roe statutes can be enforced until that happens.

[…]

The pre-Roe laws include more detailed provisions than Texas’ trigger ban, including the potential to charge anyone who “furnishes the means” for someone to obtain an abortion. The threat of criminal charges has been enough to chill both abortion procedures as well as funding for Texans to travel and obtain abortions outside the state.

“It’s going to be very difficult for anyone to take on the threat of criminal prosecution in order to test these theories because the harm inflicted by the criminal justice system is immediate,” said Elizabeth Myers, an attorney who represents abortion funds.

Some abortion providers have already said they will resume procedures if a court gives them the protection to do so before Texas’ trigger ban takes effect.

“If these laws are blocked, I plan to provide abortions for as long as I legally can,” Dr. Alan Braid, abortion provider and owner of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement Monday. “I started my medical career before Roe v. Wade and never imagined our country would go back to criminalizing doctors and preventing us from helping women.”

A copy of the complaint is here, and a brief thread from the ACLU of Texas, representing the plaintiffs, is here. I’d find this all fascinating as an academic exercise if it weren’t so fucking depressing. The complaint is long and I didn’t read it, but the bottom line question is simple enough. That said, similar efforts in Louisiana and Utah have succeeded, at least for now, so that offers a bit of hope. I just wonder if SCOTx will let a TRO stand if they are asked to weigh in. The Chron has more.

DAs are not going to be able to avoid enforcing anti-abortion laws

I appreciate the sentiment, but that’s not how it works.

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, local prosecutors in several of the largest Texas counties vowed not to file criminal charges in abortion-related cases, seemingly offering hope for those seeking a way around the state’s impending abortion ban.

But those counties are unlikely to serve as abortion safe havens in post-Roe Texas, legal experts and abortion rights advocates say, largely because clinics still face the threat of legal retribution even in counties with sympathetic district attorneys. And the penalty for those who continue offering the procedure is steep — up to life in prison and at least $100,000 in fines under Texas’ so-called trigger law, which will soon outlaw nearly all abortions, starting at fertilization.

While Attorney General Ken Paxton cannot unilaterally prosecute criminal cases unless authorized by a local prosecutor, he is free to do so for civil matters anywhere in Texas. That means district attorneys may shield clinics and physicians from the trigger law’s criminal penalty of a first- or second-degree felony, but Paxton could still target them for six-figure civil fines, said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a law professor at the University of Houston.

She also noted that abortion providers could be found criminally liable if an incumbent district attorney reconsiders or is replaced by a successor who wants to pursue abortion-related charges.

The trigger law, which takes effect 30 days after a Supreme Court judgment overturning Roe v. Wade, makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, nor for severe fetal abnormalities. It carries narrow exemptions for abortion patients placed at risk of death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

Still, some prosecutors could begin pursuing criminal charges immediately based on Texas statutes that pre-dated Roe but were never repealed by the Legislature, Paxton said Friday. Those laws prohibit all abortions except “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.”

In any case, it’s unlikely that abortion providers will take the risk. They are already bound by the state’s six-week abortion ban, which allows people anywhere in the country to sue providers or those who help someone access the procedure in Texas after fetal cardiac activity is detected. Successful litigants win damages of at least $10,000 under the law.

We’ve discussed this before. There are things that cities and individuals can do to hinder law enforcement or prosecutorial efforts to enforce anti-abortion laws, but one way or another they are going to be enforced, very likely via increasingly intrusive and draconian means. If somehow local DAs refuse to pursue cases, the Lege will change the law to go around them, either to the Attorney General or to neighboring counties – Briscoe Cain is already planning to file bills to that effect. We can’t succeed at this level. The only way to fight it is to have power at the state level, and that’s going to mean winning statewide races and/or winning enough seats in the Lege to take a majority in the House. Even that is at best a defensive position – we are not taking over the Senate, not even in the most wildly optimistic scenario I can imagine – but it’s the best we can do, and it would definitely reduce the harm that is otherwise coming.

One more thing:

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg also slammed the Supreme Court decision, arguing that the “criminalization of reproductive health will cause great harm to women in America.” While she added that “prosecutors and police have no role in matters between doctors and patients,” she stopped short of a blanket vow to not prosecute alleged violations of state abortion laws.

“As in every case, we will evaluate the facts and make decisions on a case-by-case basis,” said Ogg, a Democrat.

I’m including this because as far as I can tell it’s the first time Ogg has spoken publicly about the coming anti-abortion enforcement wave. I seriously doubt that Kim Ogg will want to pursue any cases that are filed with her office, but I also doubt that she’ll just ignore them. Maybe she’ll take a broad “prosecutorial discretion” stance, but again, if she does and if nothing changes with the November elections, that discretion will be taken away from her. There just isn’t much she or anyone in her position can do about this. We need to be clear about that.

Roe v Wade

You don’t need me to tell you what happened yesterday, or what is likely to come. Abortion is still technically legal for another 29 days in Texas, when the trigger law kicks in, but many clinics have already stopped providing abortions because they don’t want to get tangled up in another legal fight that they fear they’ll lose. Local district attorneys will have to handle things from there, though as I said before, if there’s even a hint that local prosecutors and/or police departments are dragging their heels, the enforcement power will be shifted to the state (or to the rabid prosecutors in other counties) so fast it will make you dizzy.

That’s only as long as the Republicans have the power to do that, of course. Governor Beto O’Rourke would be able to veto bills that tried to make that happen, while Attorney General Rochelle Garza would not act as the backup prosecutor if it came to that. We at least have the power to make those things happen. You’re mad now, as you should be. This is where to channel that. It’s our best hope.

Where are we with the Paxton whistleblower lawsuit?

We are in the familiar position of waiting for the drawn-out appeals process to conclude. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.

Best mugshot ever

The appeals process has grown a bit longer in state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to dismiss a whistleblower lawsuit by four top agency officials who claim they were improperly fired in 2020 after accusing him of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

Paxton turned to the Texas Supreme Court 7½ months ago after two lower courts rejected his bids to toss out the lawsuit.

Last month, the Supreme Court told Paxton and the whistleblowers to provide justices with a deeper dive into the legal issues involved, kicking off a second round of legal briefing that was recently extended when the court granted Paxton’s request for an extra month to file his expanded brief.

Paxton’s brief is now due July 27, and although the court told Paxton that additional extensions aren’t likely to be granted, the move means the final brief isn’t due until Aug. 31 at the earliest.

That moves the case into election season as Paxton seeks a third four-year term against a Democrat, Rochelle Garza, who has made questioning Paxton’s ethics a campaign centerpiece. Three opponents tried the same tactic against Paxton in this year’s GOP primaries without success.

The timing also puts the case close to the two-year anniversary of when eight top officials of the attorney general’s office met with FBI agents and other investigators to relate their suspicions that Paxton had misused the powers of his office to help a friend and political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.

See here and here for the most recent updates. Paxton’s argument is that as an elected rather than appointed official, he doesn’t count as a “public official” under the Texas Whistleblower Act, so the employees who fired him have no grounds to sue. He has other arguments, but that’s the main thing that will be of interest to the Supreme Court. I’m sure you can surmise what I think, but if you want to dig deeper you can click the Texas Whistleblower Act tag link and review other posts in this genre.

Just as a reminder, we are also waiting for the FBI to take some kind of action in their investigation of the Ken Paxton-Nate Paul dealings, the State Bar complaint against Paxton for his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election should have a hearing sometime later this summer, and of course there’s the granddaddy of them all, the original state charges that Paxton engaged in securities fraud, which are now eight years old. He’s sure been a busy boy, hasn’t he?

Look for the grifters

In any rightwing political movement, there will always be grifters. It’s absolutely an ants-to-a-picnic situation.

Over the last two presidential election cycles, True the Vote has raised millions in donations with claims that it discovered tide-turning voter fraud. It’s promised to release its evidence. It never has.

Instead, the Texas-based nonprofit organization has engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million combined to its founder, a longtime board member romantically linked to the founder and the group’s general counsel, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

A former PTA mom-turned-Tea Party activist, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht has played a pivotal role in helping drive the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to a central pillar in the Republican Party’s ideology. Casting herself as a God-fearing, small-town Texan, she’s spread the voter-fraud gospel by commanding airtime on cable television, space on the pages of Breitbart News and even theater seats, as a new feature film dramatizing her organization’s exploits, “2000 Mules,” plays in cinemas across the country.

Along the way, she’s gained key allies across the conservative movement. Former President Donald Trump, who shouts her out by name during rallies and held a private screening for the film at his Mar-a-Lago resort, exploited the group’s declarations to proclaim that he won the popular vote in 2016. Provocateur Dinesh D’Souza partnered with Engelbrecht on the film. And she’s represented by the legal heavyweight James Bopp Jr., who helped dismantle abortion rights, crafted many of the arguments in the Citizens United case that revolutionized campaign finance law and was part of the legal team that prevailed in Bush v. Gore.

A review of thousands of pages of documents from state filings, tax returns and court records, however, paints the picture of an organization that enriches Engelbrecht and partner Gregg Phillips rather than actually rooting out any fraud. According to the documents, True the Vote has given questionable loans to Engelbrecht and has a history of awarding contracts to companies run by Engelbrecht and Phillips. Within days of receiving $2.5 million from a donor to stop the certification of the 2020 election, True the Vote distributed much of the money to a company owned by Phillips, Bopp’s law firm and Engelbrecht directly for a campaign that quickly fizzled out.

Legal and nonprofit accounting experts who reviewed Reveal’s findings said the Texas attorney general and Internal Revenue Service should investigate.

“This certainly looks really bad,” said Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch.

And while the claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been dismissed out of hand by courts and debunked by audits, even those led by Republicans, the story of True the Vote highlights how exploiting the Big Lie has become a lucrative enterprise, growing from a cottage industry to a thriving economy.

The records show:

  • True the Vote regularly reported loans to Engelbrecht, including more than $113,000 in 2019, according to a tax filing. Texas law bans nonprofits from loaning money to directors; Engelbrecht is both a director and an employee.
  • Companies connected to Engelbrecht and Phillips collected nearly $890,000 from True the Vote from 2014 to 2020. The largest payment – at least $750,000 – went to a new company created by Phillips, OPSEC Group LLC, to do voter analysis in 2020. It’s unclear whether OPSEC has any other clients; it has no website and no digital footprint that Reveal could trace beyond its incorporation records. The contract, which one expert called “eye-popping” for its largess, did not appear to be disclosed in the 2020 tax return the organization provided to Reveal.
  • True the Vote provided Bopp’s law firm a retainer of at least $500,000 to lead a legal charge against the results of the 2020 election, but he filed only four of the seven lawsuits promised to a $2.5 million donor, all of which were voluntarily dismissed less than a week after being filed. The donor later called the amount billed by Bopp’s firm “unconscionable” and “impossible.”
  • The organization’s tax returns are riddled with inconsistencies and have regularly been amended. Experts who reviewed the filings said it makes it difficult to understand how True the Vote is truly spending its donations.

In one instance, True the Vote produced two different versions of the same document. A copy of the 2019 tax return Engelbrecht provided to Reveal does not match the version on the IRS website.

There’s more, but that will get you started. I hope this story will lead to a criminal investigation of Engelbrecht and Phillips and TTV; it seems to me that perhaps both state and federal laws may have been broken, so there’s room to go around. We know that Ken Paxton won’t touch this, but surely one of the local Democratic DAs could give it a go.

I wrote about Engelbrecht and her crowd a couple of times in 2010 and 2012. I’m honestly a little surprised they’re still around, but given the money people seem to have been willing to throw at them, why wouldn’t they milk that cow till it’s all dried out?

Juanita has far more experience with this crowd, and she just enjoyed the heck out of that story. I can add a little context to the story she tells in return, which you can see here.

Readers with long memories may also recognize the name of Engelbrecht’s co-conspirator, who has his own long history of grifting, which of course later morphed into Trumpian “election fraud” bullshit, because that’s where the money is these days. As I said in one of those posts, guys like Gregg Phillips are basically cockroaches – you just can’t get rid of them. But this time it sure would be nice to try.

C’mon, we should get to see the city’s after-action report on the freeze

This is silly.

Houston will not release its retrospective report on the 2021 winter freeze, citing a post-9/11 law shielding information that could be exposed by terrorists or criminals.

The city drafted a report, called “After-Action Report/Improvement Plans for the 2021 Winter Storm,” after the February freeze, when plunging temperatures crippled the state’s electrical grid and led to hundreds of deaths across Texas.

The prolonged power outages, paired with tens of thousands of burst water pipes, also brought down Houston’s water system. The city at times was unable to send water to customers, including the Harris County Jail and parts of the Texas Medical Center. The system was under a state-mandated boil water advisory for four days. More than a dozen generators failed at city water plants, inhibiting their ability to withstand the electrical outages.

The after-action report includes information about the city’s response and adjustments it has made to plan for future events. It details operational coordination, communication procedures, and emergency medical services, among other information.

The Chronicle requested the report in February 2022 under the Texas Public Information Act, but the city sought the opinion of the attorney general’s office, which said the city must withhold the document. City attorneys argued the information could help criminals or terrorists plot an attack.

The Texas Government Code says municipalities must withhold information that is collected “for the purpose of preventing, detecting, responding to, or investigating an act of terrorism or related criminal activity,” and relates to staffing requirement and tactical plans. It also allows an exemption for assessments about how to protect people, property or critical infrastructure from terrorism or criminal activity. Those exemptions were added as part of the Homeland Security Act, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2003.

[…]

Joseph Larsen, a Houston attorney who has worked on public information cases, said the issue lies in the broad interpretation of the exemptions by governments seeking to withhold documents, the attorney general’s office tasked with enforcing it, and the courts that review those decisions.

“Their hands are not tied, that’s just ridiculous. They can release the report if they want to,” Larsen said of the city. “This is one of the very worst exceptions… It can be used to basically withhold anything.”

Governments often use the terrorism exemption to the Texas Public Information Act to shield weather readiness plans, Larsen said. Similar arguments were made to conceal plans made after Hurricane Ike. And the city is not the only one to use it for the winter storm. The Public Utility Commission, which oversees the state’s electrical grid, has been raising the same argument, according to Larsen.

The open records law is supposed to be “liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information,” the attorney general’s office has said. Exceptions to that rule should be interpreted narrowly, Larsen said.

“They’re not being narrowly interpreted, and that’s just a fact,” Larsen said. “They allow government bodies to cover their behinds for any specific event, and it prevents the public from actually fixing the problems, which is the whole point of freedom of information.”

I can believe that the existing law could be interpreted broadly enough to exclude this after-action report, and I can certainly believe that Ken Paxton’s office would prefer a sufficiently broad interpretation so as to keep most government activity under wraps. That doesn’t mean this is a good idea or that it’s the correct interpretation of the law. I don’t see what’s wrong with just doing a little redaction if there is some legitimately sensitive operational data in there. Blocking the whole thing, especially when there has already been reporting about what the city will do differently now, seems to me to serve no one. We can do better than that.

Long lost daughter of Tina Linn and Dean Clouse found

Incredible. Absolutely incredible.

Donna Casasanta got the call this week, a call she’s spent half of her life praying for.

A call about Holly Marie.

More than 40 years ago, her son, Harold Dean Clouse, moved to Texas from New Smyrna, Fla., with his wife, Tina Linn, and their young daughter. Then, all three abruptly vanished.

Finally, in October 2021, genealogists called Casasanta and her relatives with painful news: Police had discovered the couple’s bodies, back in 1981, in a copse of trees in east Harris County, but only had recently identified them using modern technology.

Dean was beaten to death. Tina had been strangled.

There was no sign of their baby, Holly Marie.

This week that changed. Holly Marie is alive and well and living in Oklahoma, after a family adopted her as a baby.

Investigators from the Texas Attorney General’s office walked into Holly’s workplace on Tuesday and told her who she was.

Hours later, Holly and her grandmother and aunts and uncles met, in a raucous Zoom call.

It was June 7, the day that her father would have turned 63.

“Finding Holly is a birthday present from heaven since we found her on Junior’s birthday,” Casasanta said, in a statement released by a family spokeswoman. “I prayed for more than 40 years for answers and the Lord has revealed some of it.”

See here and here for the background. This whole story richly deserves a prestige true-crime miniseries on HBO, and there are still some huge questions that may never be answered. Read the rest, and read the previous stories of how Linn and Clouse were identified if you haven’t yet. The Observer has more.

Is he Elon Musk’s lawyer now?

Someone please explain this to me.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday he is investigating Twitter over its reporting of how many accounts on the platform are from bots and fake users, saying the company may be misrepresenting the number to inflate its value and raise its revenue.

Twitter has claimed in its financial regulatory filings that less than 5% of its daily active users are spam accounts. But Paxton on Monday alleged that spam accounts could make up as much as 20% of users or more.

“Bot accounts can not only reduce the quality of users’ experience on the platform but may also inflate the value of the company and the costs of doing business with it, thus directly harming Texas consumers and businesses,” Paxton said.

False reporting of fake users could be considered “false, misleading, or deceptive” under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, he said. Paxton sent Twitter a civil investigative demand, requiring the social media company to turn over documents related to how it calculates and manages its user data.

Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment on the investigation.

The investigation comes as Tesla CEO Elon Musk is also raising questions about the number of fake accounts on Twitter. Musk, who is in negotiations to buy the social media company, threatened to walk away from the deal saying that Twitter has not provided data he has requested on spam accounts.

I mean, I guess this could be a matter of interest for the state of Texas under its Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Hard for me to believe that it’s of such urgency right now as to merit action from the Attorney General – the question of how many fake Twitter accounts there are is as old as Twitter is – and of course the fact that it coincides with Elon Musk’s performance art bid to buy Twitter, which if there’s any justice in the world will cause him serious financial pain, makes it even less credible. But hey, surely we can take Ken Paxton’s word for it, right?

I do want to call your attention to the fact that what Paxton has actually done is to send Twitter a “civil investigative demand” for this info. Do you know what that means? Well, I now do, thanks to some research I did when a previous lawsuit filed by Twitter against Paxton, who had been demanding information about their ban of The Former Guy, was dismissed by a California judge. Paxton has made a similar “civil investigative demand”, and the judge ruled that Twitter had no cause to sue over this because a “civil investigative demand” is what the legal folks call “self-executing”, which is a fancy way of saying “completely voluntary”. Twitter was free to ignore the CID by Paxton, who would have had to sue them in federal court to enforce it, with Twitter then having the opportunity to argue that he had no jurisdiction over them in this matter.

That all sure sounds familiar here. If that’s the case – and Paxton clearly knows this – then what we have here is just a bit of trolling, plus some sucking up to another rich dude that Paxton likes. If you want to make the argument that this is a thing the state’s top lawyer ought to be doing, you go right ahead. Reform Austin has more.