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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Texas Troopers’ Group Picks Beef With AG

AUSTIN (CN) - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is intimidating and trying to silence the Texas State Troopers Association, the union says in a constitutional complaint in Federal Court.

Abbott, who has declared his intention to run for governor, is "engaging in a course of intimidation and discrimination against plaintiffs based on dislike and unpopularity," the state troopers say in the lawsuit. "This may be based on plaintiffs' support of legislation unfavorable to defendants, or plaintiffs' vigorous advocacy on behalf of member troopers, who are employees or retirees of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Defendants' dislike of plaintiffs, however, does not give them the ability to chill constitutionally protected rights and silence a voice of adversity."

Co-plaintiffs Herschel Henderson, Lee Johnson and Anne Johnson are original members of the board of directors of the nonprofit labor association. Lee Johnson is the founder and president. Plaintiff Claude Hart has been its executive director since 1984.

The Texas State Troopers Association (TSTA) often finds itself at odds with the Texas Department of Public Safety on labor and employment issues. The Texas Department of Public Safety in fact urges the public not to support the TSTA. Both Abbott and the DPS have posted consumer alerts on their websites warning donors against contributing to the TSTA.

In an undated consumer warning the Texas Attorney General's website, checked this morning, Abbot said: "Consider, for example, the Texas State Troopers Association (TSTA), which hires professional telemarketers to call potential donors for contributions. While the paid solicitor might have a good sales pitch urging potential donors to support the state police, much of the money raised by TSTA doesn't actually go to officers or their families. According to a recent IRS filing by the TSTA, its telemarketing efforts yielded $3.59 million through telephone solicitations. Of that amount, more than 75% - or $2.78 million - was spent on 'professional fundraising fees.' The IRS documents also indicate the organization spent just $10,800 on trooper death benefits; $22,000 on a 'trooper event;' and $72,000 on contract lobbyists."

In the TSTA's lawsuit, it claims that Abbott's office demanded in September 2012 to examine the records of the TSTA, a demand to which the TSTA says it acceded.

On Jan. 29 this year, Abbott's office proposed an Agreed Final Judgment and Injunction ("Agreed Final Judgment A,") under which all TSTA board members and the executive director would be forced to resign.

"In addition, they would be enjoined from holding any position, such as employee, officer, director, volunteer, independent contractor, or otherwise for TSTA, or any other entity in Texas which purports to benefit public safety in any manner or which the public could reasonably believe purports to benefit the public safety in any manner," according to the complaint.

They also would be barred from using The Parker Law Firm, from using Lee Johnson and/or Don Dickson from any work for the TSTA and its members, and would suffer other restrictions, including, in an amended final judgment, being barred from volunteering from the TSTA.

And Texas would get a $1 million judgment against the TSTA - which could be reduced to $150,000 if it complies with the injunction - plus $25,000 in attorney's fees and expenses.

The troopers association claims Abbott's demands are unconstitutional.

"The terms of the proposed Agreed Final Judgments would obliterate the leadership of this disfavored public safety labor organization, thereby breaking apart a public sector labor union and permanently enjoining their leadership's right to speak on behalf of and associate freely with TSTA and within the public safety cause," the complaint states.

"By naming the individuals in the agreed judgment, the state conveyed the threat that any individual the state does not like can be personally attacked by it, for political purposes or for naught. This is the 'chilling effect' resulting from prior restraint."

The TSTA claims Abbott's proposal violate the First, Fifth, 14th Amendments -freedom of speech and association, due process, and the right to "self-organize" and "designate representatives of their own choosing."

It seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction and costs.

It is represented by Errol Copilevitz with Copilevitz & Canter, of Kansas City, Mo.

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