Ethics Claim Against Texas Attorney General

     DALLAS (CN) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton violated rules of professional conduct by urging county clerks and judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court and refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses, a state Democratic Party executive claims in an ethics complaint to the State Bar.
     Glen Maxey, a member of the Texas Democratic Party executive committee and the state’s first openly gay legislator, filed a grievance with the State Bar of Texas on June 30.
     It came two days after Paxton issued a nonbinding advisory opinion urging county officials not to issue the licenses if they have personal religious objections, but warned that if they did so they would probably be sued.
     Paxton’s letter came after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26 that struck down several states’ same-sex marriage bans.
     Maxey said it is “irresponsible” for an elected official and attorney to tell other elected officials to break the law.
     “He’s misleading county and state officials based on a false premise that they can discriminate against same-sex couples,” Maxey said in a July 3 statement. “This past Friday, the Supreme Court was clear with their decision to let same-sex couples marry. Paxton took an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. He must comply with the court’s decision.”
     Maxey added: “Paxton is no stranger to shady business. This just gives us another reason to question his legitimacy as a Texas Attorney General, lawyer, and trustworthy individual.”
     (The “shady business” referred to Paxton’s $1,000 fine and reprimand by the Texas State Securities Board last year for acting as an unregistered investment adviser. That was followed last week by special prosecutors’ announcement that evidence showed Paxton was involved in far more fraud than the Securities Board knew, and that they would call a grand jury and ask for first-degree felony charges against him – punishable by up to life in prison.)
     Paxton said that a “ lawless ” Supreme Court “again ignored the text and spirit” of the Constitution in legalizing same-sex marriage and “manufacture[d] a right” that does not exist.
     “County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” Paxton’s letter stated. “The strength of any such claims depends on the particular facts of each case. Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur.”
     In his complaint to the State Bar, Maxey said Paxton violated several Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. The 18-page document includes 8 pages of grievances and 10 pages of documents and statements from Paxton.
     “Paxton has a conflict of interest because his representation of his client (the State) is conflicted with his own self-interest in demagogic self-promotion to pander to his right-wing Tea Party supporters, even at the sacrifice of the rights of Texas under the United State Constitution,” the grievance states.
     “Paxton has clearly made ‘false statement of law’ to the public, in derogation of the fundamental law of the land, the United States Constitution.”
     Maxey said Paxton “most egregiously” violated his sworn oaths of office.
     “Specifically, he violated the statutory oath that he took to become licensed to practice law in Texas,” the grievance states. “Section 82.037 of the Texas Government Code required Paxton to swear he would ‘support the constitutions of the United State and this state.’ He has violated both that oath and the United States Constitution.”
     On Friday, a group of around 150 Texas attorneys, former State Bar directors and former federal prosecutors told Paxton they will join Maxey’s grievance after the Supreme Court’s 25-day implementation deadline and “cooling off” period expires. The attorneys urged Paxton to follow the law and serve as “an example of compliance” for others.
     “Passion in the pursuit of policy is an admirable attribute for our Texas leaders. Sometimes, however, our zeal for making the world conform to our beliefs conflicts with established law and ethical rules,” their letter states.
     “As Texas Attorney General, you have sworn an oath to protect the People of Texas, whether they be liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, or, as the case may be, ‘gay’ or ‘straight.'”
     The attorneys said Paxton’s opinion violates the preamble of the State Bar of Texas Rules of Professional Conduct and several provisions of Rule 8.04 regarding misconduct.
     Paxton had a rough week. It was announced on July 1 that he may face first-degree felony securities fraud claims relating to a $1,000 fine and reprimand by the Texas State Securities Board last year.
     Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer said a Texas Rangers investigation revealed that laws were broken beyond the admissions Paxton made in May 2014.
     Paxton admitted that while he was in the Legislature he solicited clients for a friend’s investment firm – Mowrey Capital Management – without being registered as an investment adviser.
     Paxton fired back, accusing special prosecutors Schaffer and Brian Wice, both of Houston, of trying the criminal investigation in the media.
     “This appears to be a politically motivated effort to ruin the career of a longtime public servant,” Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm said in a July 2 statement. “These attacks on Ken Paxton appear to have become a political hit job in the media, perhaps having the effect of inappropriately influencing the grand jury .”
     Paxton was heavily criticized in the fallout from his advisory opinion.
     Hood County Katie Lang relied on it to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses for several days, citing personal religious objections .
     She changed her mind said other employees in her office will issue the licenses. Lang, however, said she could not issue the licenses for three weeks, because she needed updated forms to do so. At least one gay couple called that nonsense, saying the forms are available on the Internet, and threatened to sue on Monday (today), if Hood kept stalling.
     Maxey represented Austin in the state House from 1991 to 2003.

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