(CN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the state bar of political gamesmanship Friday, saying it is suing him for professional misconduct on the eve of his Republican primary runoff election.
The dispute stems from a lawsuit Paxton filed on behalf of Texas at the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2020, challenging Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election in four battleground states and alleging there were “significant and unconstitutional irregularities” in their handling of the election.
The high court promptly rejected it with a paragraph-long, unsigned 7-2 order with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissenting. The majority held Texas had no “judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.”
Critics said Paxton was pushing the unfounded claims of his ally, then-President Donald Trump, that Trump had lost his reelection bid on account of voting fraud. Paxton even gave a speech at Trump’s rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, before Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Trump has endorsed Paxton as the attorney general runs this year for a third term. He is facing Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush, in the May 24 Republican primary runoff, for which early voting starts next week.
Paxton’s election fraud lawsuit came back to haunt him last July when a group of 16 lawyers filed an ethics complaint against him, alleging he had shown a pattern of professional misconduct in part by filing the lawsuit they said was frivolous.
The state bar declined to dismiss the complaint and in early March it gave Paxton a 20-day deadline to decide if he wanted a trial by jury or an administrative hearing to resolve the complaint, the Texas Tribune reported.
Paxton apparently chose a jury trial – which would be preceded by the state bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline filing a lawsuit against him – as he announced on Twitter Friday morning the state bar plans to sue him.
“I have recently learned that the Texas State Bar—which has been waging a months-long witch-hunt against me—now plans to sue me and my top deputy for filing Texas v. [Pennsylvania]; the historical challenge to the unconstitutional 2020 presidential election joined by nearly half of all the states and over a hundred members of Congress. I stand by this lawsuit completely,” he wrote. (Emphasis in original.)
Calling the state bar “a liberal activist group masquerading as a neutral professional association,” Paxton also claimed the agency is conveniently timing its lawsuit a week before early voting in his runoff election.
Asked on Friday afternoon when it will file the lawsuit, the state bar said it could not comment on disciplinary matters unless they are filed in district court or result in a disciplinary action.
If a jury sides with the state bar, it could lead to Paxton losing his license to practice law in the state or having it suspended, though he would appeal any adverse verdict.
The Commission for Lawyer Discipline did, however, sue Texas First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster on Friday in Williamson County district court.
It claims his filing of the December 2020 election results challenge with the Supreme Court violated one of the state bar's disciplinary rules of professional conduct, namely, "A lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."
State Bar of Texas President Sylvia Borunda Firth issued a statement responding to Paxton’s allegations.
“As an administrative arm of the Texas Supreme Court, the State Bar of Texas is dedicated to fostering ethical conduct in the legal profession and protecting the public through the attorney discipline system,” Firth wrote.
She continued, “The system is governed by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. The ethics rules define proper conduct for purposes of professional discipline. The procedural rules provide the mechanism by which grievances are processed, investigated and prosecuted."
“The system is designed to ensure fairness to all parties,” she added. “Partisan political considerations play no role in determining whether to pursue a grievance or how that grievance proceeds through the system. Any claims to the contrary are untrue.”
Hours after announcing Friday morning the state bar is suing him, Paxton revealed he had opened an investigation into the Texas State Bar Foundation “for its possibly aiding and abetting the mass influx of illegal aliens” by giving donations to “entities that encourage, participate in, and fund illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border, and potentially using taxpayer dollars received from the State Bar of Texas, which appoints the Foundation’s trustees.”
The foundation raises money for legal education and services and its members are attorneys.
Refuting Paxton's accusations, its chair-elect Alistair Dawson said Friday it does not receive funding from taxpayer dollars. "To the contrary, our grants are made possible by the generosity of Texas lawyers," he said in a statement, adding the foundation will be happy to cooperate with Paxton's investigation.
Paxton has been embroiled in controversy throughout his tenure as attorney general. Six months after he took office in January 2015, a grand jury indicted him on felony securities fraud charges, stemming from his sale of the stock of a Dallas-area software company while he was a member of the Texas House.
The criminal case is mired in procedural wrangling and a trial date has yet to be set.
Paxton is also facing a whistleblower lawsuit from four former staffers who claim they were fired in November 2020 after they reported to the FBI Paxton had used his office to interfere with criminal investigations into his campaign donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.
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