Ethics Complaint Against|Ken Paxton Reinstated

     AUSTIN (CN) – An ethics complaint must be reinstated against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his nonbinding opinion allowing officials to refuse to perform gay marriages on religious grounds because it alleges a violation of professional conduct rules, the Texas Supreme Court Board of Disciplinary Appeals ruled.
     Filed by Houston attorney Eddie Rodriguez in July, the complaint was co-signed by more than 200 attorneys who said Paxton’s opinion urged county officials to violate the Constitution and their oaths of office.
     The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas dismissed the complaint, but the state supreme court board reinstated it on Feb. 2.
     Paxton issued his opinion days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state bans on same-sex marriage and made it legal nationwide.
     Paxton told judges and county clerks they can invoke their religious rights in refusing, but warned that they might be sued.
     “County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” the opinion stated.
     The attorneys urged Paxton to follow the law and serve as “an example of compliance for others” before filing their complaint.
     They accuse him of violating the preamble of the State Bar of Texas Rules of Professional Conduct and several provisions of Rule 8.04 regarding misconduct.
     “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 July letter stated. “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.'”
     Rodriguez said Paxton faces penalties that include a reprimand or disbarment.
     “Texas ethics rules prohibit any lawyer, including the attorney general, from counseling a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent,” Rodriguez said in a statement Wednesday.
     Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said Wednesday evening that Rodriguez’s complaint “has always lacked merit.”
     “We are confident the legal process for resolving these complaints will bear that out,” Meyer said.
     Paxton’s opinion was cited immediately by Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, who invoked her religious objection to gay marriage within days of the Obergefell ruling. A same-sex couple sued her in Fort Worth Federal Court after she repeatedly refused to issue them a marriage license and “humiliated” them.
     After Lang relented, Hood County officials settled the lawsuit by paying the couple’s $44,000 legal bill.
     Paxton’s opinion returned to the headlines last week when a Dallas County judge cited it as justification for his refusal to perform same-sex marriages.
     Citing Paxton’s opinion, Justice of the Peace Bill Metzger said on Feb. 3 that his “sincerely held religious beliefs” prevent him from being “forced to conduct anything but a traditional wedding.”
     “Recently, I have been asked about my beliefs and stance on traditional marriage,” Metzger posted on Facebook. “I think it is important to point out that this is the law in Texas per Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal interpretation via opinion KG-0025: ‘Justices of the peace retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections.'”
     Dallas County Democratic Party officials immediately demanded Metzger’s resignation, accusing him of violating federal law and his oath of office.

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