The Texas Bar Association is investigating whether state attorney general Ken Paxton’s unsuccessful efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on false allegations of fraud constituted professional misconduct.
The State Bar of Texas initially refused to support a complaint by a Democratic Party activist that Paxton’s petition to the United States Supreme Court to block Joe Biden’s victory was frivolous and contrary to ethics. But a court that oversees grievances against the lawyers overturned the ruling late last month and ordered the bar to review the charges against the Republican official.
The activist was Kevin Moran, 71, a resident of Galveston and chairman of the Galveston Island Democrats.
The investigation is yet another responsibility for the troubled Attorney General, who faces a years-old criminal case, a separate and more recent FBI investigation, and a main Republican adversary seeking to dispel various controversies. election. It also makes Paxton one of the most prominent lawyers to face a professional backlash over their roles in Donald Trump’s efforts to delegitimize his defeat.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Paxton defense attorney Philip Hilder declined to comment.
Moran shared his complaint with the Associated Press as well as letters from the State Bar of Texas and the Disciplinary Appeal Board confirming the investigation. He said Paxton’s efforts to reject election results from other states were an unnecessary embarrassment for which the attorney general would have to lose his law degree.
âHe wanted to deny voters the right to vote in four other states,â Moran said. “It’s just crazy.”
The senior Texas appeals lawyer, who typically pleads state cases in the United States Supreme Court, notably did not join Paxton in filing the election lawsuit. The high court rejected him.
Paxton has less than a month to respond to Moran’s claim that the lawsuit to overturn the results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin was misleading and in bad faith, according to a June 3 bar letter. . All four battlefield states voted for Biden in November.
From there, bar staff will take up the case in a process that resembles the grand jury stage of a criminal investigation. Bar investigators are empowered to question witnesses, hold hearings and issue subpoenas to determine whether a lawyer is likely at fault. This finding then launches a disciplinary process which could ultimately lead to expulsion, suspension or less severe penalties. A lawyer could also be found for doing nothing wrong.
The bar denies thousands of grievances each year and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, 12 independent attorneys appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, overwhelmingly uphold these decisions. Reversals like the one in Moran’s complaint happened less than 7% of the time last year, according to the bar’s annual report.
Claire Reynolds, spokesperson and lawyer for the bar, said state law prohibits the agency from commenting on complaints unless they result in public sanctions or legal action.
In an interview with The Daily News, Moran was clear about his hopes for the investigation.
âKen Paxton did not file the complaint in good faith by any stretch of the imagination,â Moran said. “I hope he’s struck off the bar.”
The bar investigation is confidential and is expected to take months. But it draws renewed attention to Paxton’s confrontational defense of Trump as he and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush vie for the former president’s approval in the Republican primary to run for office. attorney general in 2022.
On the Democratic side, Joe Jaworski, the former mayor of Galveston, has said he will run. Moran said Jaworski is a friend but played no part in the lawsuit against Paxton.
In a press release issued Wednesday evening, Jaworski said he was delighted to learn of the bar’s investigation.
âEvery lawyer in Texas knows he filed a frivolous lawsuit to overturn the 2020 US Supreme Court election last December, and our Texas bar is accused of monitoring such unprofessional conduct by its members. members in accordance with the disciplinary rules that we lawyers are bound to defend, âJaworski said.
âI look forward to hearing the results of a fair and thorough investigation into Mr. Paxton’s unacceptable and unprofessional conduct.
Paxton’s election challenge was filled with demands that did not withstand basic scrutiny. A succession of other state judges and election officials have refuted claims of widespread electoral fraud, and Trump’s own Justice Department found no evidence of fraud that could have altered the election outcome.
Nonetheless, Paxton’s trial won him the political and financial support of Trump’s loyalists at a time when fresh allegations of criminal acts led many in the state’s GOP to keep their distance from the attorney general.
Last fall, eight of Paxton’s top MPs staged an extraordinary uprising in which they accused him of abusing his position in the service of a wealthy donor. The FBI is investigating their allegations.
Paxton has denied any wrongdoing and has separately pleaded not guilty in a state securities fraud case that has dragged on since 2015. He has also been charged with using his office in a way that benefited its allies and other donors.
The new criminal allegations have caused an exodus of top lawyers from Paxton’s office. But Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins was still Texas’ leading appeals lawyer at the time of the election trial.
Although the Solicitor General typically handles cases in the United States Supreme Court, it was a Washington, DC-based private attorney who raised the election challenge with Paxton. Hawkins has since moved into private practice. A spokesperson for his company said “we can’t help you” when asked why he hadn’t taken care of the lawsuit.
Galveston County Daily News reporter John Wayne Ferguson contributed to this article.
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