Sat August 1, 2015 2:54 pm By Erica Grieder

WFAA reports that a Collin County grand jury has indicted Ken Paxton on several felony charges. The charges, per WFAA, will be unsealed on Monday, so it’s unclear what he’ll be charged with, but we can make some educated guesses:

Special prosecutors in the Paxton case told News 8 they planned to present a third-degree charge of failing to register with the state securities board, as the law requires. They also said they planned to present a first degree felony charge against Paxton accusing him of securities fraud. All indications are that charge is related to Servergy, a McKinney-based company that has been under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

As WFAA notes, Paxton can continue to serve under indictment, as his predecessor Jim Mattox did back in the 1980s, and as Rick Perry did more recently. Like all indicted people, Paxton should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the Perry example illustrates why Texas law is so sanguine about indicted officials. Our former governor was indicted on charges of coercion and abuse of power in 2014; the former charge was thrown out by a state appeals court last week, and I would be shocked if a jury finds him guilty of the latter. Paxton, however, is unlikely to be so lucky. 

Will the public pay attention, though? The potential third-degree felony charge they mention is, again, the one that Paxton admitted to more than a year ago. Here, again, is what I wrote about it at the time. Here’s what Jay Root wrote about it at the time, May 2014, for the Texas Tribune. Here’s Christy Hoppe, with the Dallas Morning News, on how the McKinney police reacted to the news, more than a year ago. Here’s Joshua Fechter, San Antonio Express-News, writing in May 2014 about a complaint filed with the national Securities and Exchange Commission, days after Paxton was reprimanded by the state Securities Board.

I could go on, but I think the point is clear enough. Paxton admitted to a felony before he was elected attorney general—before he even won the Republican nomination, in fact. This was widely documented in the Texas press at the time. That didn’t stop Paxton from winning the primary runoff in late May, buoyed by a pseudo-endorsement from Ted Cruz and the Texas conservative grassroots’ unhinged animus against anyone—in this case, state representative Dan Branch—with a known professional or personal association with Joe Straus. 

In other words, our attorney general isn’t the political equivalent of a lemon. It was a matter of public record, during his campaign for statewide office, that Paxton could easily face felony charges while serving as Texas’s top law enforcement official, or—best case scenario, if you believe his spokesman, Anthony Holm—that Paxton’s election would leave Texas with an attorney general who commits the occasional felony by accident, and gets away with nothing more than a formal reprimand from the state Securities Board because no one bothers to follow up with the prosecutors.

The good news is that, as far as anyone knows, Paxton’s travails are Paxton’s alone; the charges relate to his private legal practice. Texas still has a competent attorney general’s office, with plenty of talent in critical roles, including Scott Keller as solicitor general; Bernard McNamee as chief of staff; Chip Roy as first assistant attorney general; and David Maxwell as director of law enforcement, among others, not to mention countless attorneys and other professionals who work for the office, rather than whoever happens to be the attorney general at the time. The bad news? We get the elected officials we deserve. I’d like to think Texas deserves better. In 2014, a majority of voters decided we did not. 

Fri July 31, 2015 3:38 pm By Erica Grieder

No good deed goes unpunished. As a result of my stated interest in the ongoing showdown between Governor Greg Abbott and the Legislative Budget Board, I am now in possession of a 62-page-long document related to the situation, which I should probably read before weighing in further.

Since I promised you all a new post today, though, I’ll offer a brief comment on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, as a Collin County grand jury is expected to start hearing evidence against him imminently, and may soon charge him with securities fraud. My full comments will be in a forthcoming issue of the magazine, and so my brief comment is just this: if you are surprised that Texas’s new attorney general was under investigation less than three months after he was sworn in as the state’s top law enforcement official, you have only yourself to blame, because Paxton (literally) admitted to a third-degree felony more than a year ago, between the Republican primary and the Republican primary runoff, as it happens. 

With that said, if the current proceedings have finally piqued your interest in potentially felonious attorneys-general of Texas, you may be interested in a couple of pieces from our archives. I’d recommend “The Man in the Black Hat,” Paul Burka’s National Magazine Award-winning 1984 two-parter on Clinton Manges, a crony of Jim Mattox (who was elected attorney general in 1982, indicted in 1983, acquitted in 1985, and re-elected, to acclaim, in 1986). Less favored by fate was Mattox’s successor, Dan Morales, who made it through his time in office okay but later saw his political future go up in smoke after pleading guilty, in 2003, to conspiracy and other crimes related to his work related to the state’s tobacco settlement. Lou Dubose laid out the story in this 2002 piece: “So What’s the Truth About Dan Morales?”

Thu July 30, 2015 3:39 pm By Erica Grieder

Apparently it’s easier than I thought to get a conspiracy theory started. I’m referring, of course, to the idea that Texas Governor Greg Abbott is in cahoots with the Church of Scientology, which was picked up by the national press, in the guise of Newsweek, earlier today.

This rumor arose in relation to Abbott’s veto of Senate Bill 359, which would have given hospital staff—doctors and whatnot—the ability to detain patients for several hours, if personnel deemed them a threat to the public safety. For emphasis, let me say that again: as far as I can tell the rumor arose in relation to Abbott’s veto, not as a result of it; the veto statement was issued on June 2nd. The proximate cause of the conspiracy came on July 14th, about six weeks later, with a curious story in the Texas Tribune that heavily implied it was the opposition of the Church of Scientology, via a shell group masquerading as a human-rights outfit, that spurred Abbott to veto the legislation, which had sailed through the Lege without difficulty. On July 23rd, the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News chimed in, and now here we are.

My take is as follows: Come on. Abbott is a Catholic. If I had to guess he probably thinks less of Scientologists than of LULAC (another group that opposed the bill). He’s also an attorney who spent twelve years as attorney general of Texas prior to becoming governor and, as such, is probably familiar with the intermittently discouraging reality that even if someone is mentally ill, their civil rights can’t be arbitrarily abridged, despite the fact that their concerned loved ones might wish the opposite could be allowed, and despite the fact that many doctors would be glad to appropriate as much authority over other peoples’ affairs as the state would grant them. Occam’s razor, people.

Further, it doesn’t matter why Abbott vetoed the bill; he’s the governor, and the Texas Constitution gives him the authority to veto bills for any reason at all, whether it be constitutional principle, sheer malice, or that his hand slipped on the rubber veto stamp. The line-item veto, though: that’s another story. A story for tomorrow. Stay tuned. 

Thu July 23, 2015 4:03 pm By Erica Grieder

As most of you have no doubt heard, national embarrassment Donald Trump invaded Texas today, bound for the city of Laredo, which is no doubt feeling a pang of nostalgia for the days when it was an independent republic, vulnerable to Mexico and Texas but at least not to draft-dodging, profiteering scions of privilege from New York.

Trump may have been hoping for a warm welcome from Rick Perry, because—as Abby Johnston explained earlier this month—he is apparently doing his best to boost our former governor’s presidential prospects. Alas, Rick Perry is not having it. Neither is Judith Zaffirini, Laredo’s longtime state senator, although she did take the time to offer Trump some useful economic and cultural information, which I am sure he will read in an unbiased frame of mind.  

As for me, I’d like to add the following thoughts on Trump: Trump is a grotesque and repulsive clown. He is not worth my time, or yours. But if you insist on caring what he thinks about Laredo—a city that is home to a couple hundred thousand Texans, which was settled before the United States or Mexico were even countries, and which Donald Trump has been spewing lies about for weeks on the basis of no knowledge or personal experience, perhaps because he delusionally believes that by doing so he is putting himself in “great danger”—have at it in the comments.

Tue July 21, 2015 10:23 pm By Erica Grieder

Over the past week questions have been building about the series of events that began with a routine traffic stop, on July 10th, and ended with the death of the driver. Sandra Bland, a young black woman from Illinois, had been preparing to start a new job at her own alma mater, Prairie View A&M, when she was pulled over by DPS Trooper Brian Encinia after failing to signal before changing lanes. During the course of the encounter, she was arrested on charges of assaulting a public servant, thus taken into custody at the Waller County Jail. Three days later she was found in her cell, hanging by a trash bag, not breathing.

This is obviously a bizarre and troubling story. Fortunately, law enforcement and elected officials seem to be treating it as such. On July 16th the FBI and the Texas Rangers announced that they would work together to investigate Bland’s death. DPS, for its part, issued a statement saying that on preliminary review, Encinia had violated department policy during the stop, and that he had been put on administrative leave pending further investigation. Yesterday the Waller County DA announced that although Bland’s death was initially ruled a suicide, they would now treat it like a murder investigation after hearing, from a number of people close to Bland, that she had not said anything to indicate suicidal intent. And earlier today, DPS released dashcam footage from Encinia’s car, which documents the entire encounter, although only from the perspective of the dashboard.

Having watched the video, I agree with state senator Royce West, who was among the officials who met in Prairie View for today’s roundtable, which was followed by a press conference: Bland did not deserve to be put in custody. At the beginning of the encounter, Bland was clearly annoyed, and I guess discourteous. But people sometimes do get irritated when they get nabbed for an inconsequential traffic violation. State troopers, one would think, are philosophical about that, and yet it was Encinia who escalated the situation. He requested that she put out her cigarette, and she declined, at which point he ordered her to get out of the car; after she objected and asked why, he opened the car door and reached inside, saying that he would “yank” her out. That’s the first point at which the supposed assault on a public servant could have occurred, and although the dashcam footage doesn’t show what happened inside her car, any physical contact would have been the result of Encinia encroaching on Bland, not the other way around.

I also agree with state representative Helen Giddings: “This young woman should be alive today.” Why isn’t she? That’s a question that the dashcam footage doesn’t clarify, and really couldn’t. We already knew that Bland ended up in the Waller County Jail as a result of a traffic stop. We should continue to examine what role her race played in the clearly disproportionate escalation of the traffic stop. It’s safe to posit that if not for her detention, she probably wouldn’t be dead. But her death, one would hope, wasn’t an inevitable outcome of the situation. And so I agree with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, too: Bland’s family and loved ones deserve answers; since it may take some time to provide them, the search should be handled as transparently as possible, wherever it may lead.