It is bad enough that the current President of the United States cannot spell, cannot speak grammatically correct, does not know basic geography, does not understand history at a grade school level, and whose thought processes, more often than not, rambling incoherently like a drunken sailor, but now Texans must suffer an Attorney General who does not understand the basic protocols of his ethical duties and fails continuingly to fulfill the responsibilities of his office.
Ken Paxton, often referred to as the “indicted attorney general,” has five basic duties and responsibilities spelled out in the Texas Constitution and State statutes:
- Defending the State of Texas and its duly enacted laws by providing legal representation to the State, its officials and agencies, rendering legal opinions, reviewing bonds of public security, and ensuring compliance with the Texas Public Information Act.
- Serving the children of Texas through enforcement of the State’s child support laws and the collection of child support on behalf of Texas families.
- Securing justice for Texans by investigating and prosecuting criminal activities, including crimes of human trafficking, internet crimes against children, election fraud, assisting local law enforcement in prosecutions and appeals, investigating Medicaid fraud, apprehending fugitives, and providing support to victims of violent crime and administering victim assistance programs.
- Protecting Texans from fraud, waste and abuse by enforcing consumed protection and antitrust laws, educating consumers on fraudulent scams, and seeking recovery from Medicaid fraudsters in civil action.
- Safeguarding the freedoms of Texas as guaranteed by the United States and Texas constitutions.
Texas AG Has No Judicial Oversight Power
There is nothing in those duties and responsibilities that vests Attorney General Paxton with any judicial oversight to either instruct or criticize Texas judges in criminal sentencing matters. But that is precisely what Paxton, a right-wing Republican “Tea Party conservative,” did when he sent a letter on May 6, 2020 to Dallas County Judge Eric Moye criticizing him for a criminal sentence the judge imposed on Shelly Luther, a beauty salon owner, for violating State and local “shelter-in-place” orders then in place.
Luther gained statewide and some national media prominence after she solicited a “cadre of guards” to stand in front of her salon after she opened the non-essential business establishment in defiance of the “shelter-in-place” orders. Judge Moye sentenced her to 7 days in jail and imposed a $7,000 fine. The judge offered Luther a chance to apologize, but she refused. She was determined to be an intentional and defiant wrongdoer.
Paxton, who never misses an opportunity to play politics with the law, took the side of Luther by saying in an email statement that Judge Moye had “abused his authority” with the sentence imposed. Paxton’s email statement, which he made sure was publicly disseminated, went on to State:
“I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table. The trial judge did not need to lock up Shelley Luther. His order is a shameful abuse of judicial discretion, which seems like another political stunt in Dallas. He should release Ms. Luther immediately.”
Texas Attorney General Engaged in Ex Parte Communications, Misconduct
What is “outrageous” is that the Attorney General for the State of Texas would stick his political nose into judicial matters with an ex parte communication to Judge Moye. The twelve Civil County Judges sitting in Dallas County were not pleased with Paxton’s blatant political interference in a judicial matter. They sent the unethical AG a letter that effectively educated him about the ethical obligations of his elected position and his role as a licensed attorney in the State of Texas.
“Your correspondence of date has been received by the Fourteenth Judicial District Court of Texas, sitting in Dallas. Please accept this collective response.
“At the outset, we, the twelve Texas Civil District Judges sitting Dallas County are troubled by what appears to be an ex parte communication about a pending case, directed to the Court without consideration of the other litigants. As a current Member of the Bar, you certainly should be aware of the impropriety of this contact, as prohibited by Canon 3(b)(8) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
“‘ … A Judge shall not initiate, permit or consider ex parte communications or other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties …’
“In this context, for you to ‘Urge’ a Judge towards a particular substantive outcome in this matter is most inappropriate and unwelcome. Please do not communicate with the Court in this manner further.
“Similarly, your comment in the penultimate sentence of your correspondence is also inappropriate. The Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court will ultimately make any determination as to any alleged “abuse of discretion” by this or any other Court. That will ONLY occur after all parties are afforded due process and an opportunity to be heard. It is contrary to the concept of an independent Judiciary and offends the tradition of separation of powers for any member of the Executive Branch of Texas government to interject itself into the proceedings of the Judicial Branch.
“We trust that this shall not happen further. For the sake of ALL of the citizens of Texas, please let the Judicial process play out without any further interference.”
Attorney General Paxton put his Tea Party conservative ideology before his ethical duties and legal responsibilities. And he did so in the middle of the nation’s worst medical crisis in modern history. Paxton’s conduct during his tenure in office demonstrates that he is both unfit and unstable to be Texas’ chief law enforcement officer.
We share the sentiments expressed by Dallas City Councilman Omar Narvaez in a Facebook post on May 6, 2020 about Paxton’s letter to Judge Moye:
“Where is the indicted Attorney Generals letter to release black and brown minor offenders that were/are sitting in jail now? Where is his letter to release the moms and dads that are sitting on Texas detention centers that were seeking asylum after walking thousands of miles literally because they wanted to have the basics of life to feed their children most of whom were or are seeking asylum which is completely legal.
“All I know is that ‘those people’ (which includes me) are always told to fall in line because ‘we are a nation of laws’. We are told to stand up straighter and not rock the boat. Everyone watches us with a microscope for when we make a sudden move. Black men are literally slain on running trails or arrested trying to get into their own homes. Black and brown trans women are murdered at the highest rate of any other demographic. Where is your outrage indicted Attorney General Paxton?
“What makes this one woman different? She has child support, a very nice home, nice cars, beautiful furniture and was the recipient of a fully funded small business loan through the CARE ACT. Good for her for having a successful business. She said she needed to feed her kids, get in line at a grocery give away like tens of thousands have. There is no shame in having to ask for help. Oh, and now she has well over $350K raised in her go fund me account. Her difference is her privilege of being a well to do ultra conservative white woman. If she cared so much about her kids all she had to do was apologize and she’d have been home with those same kids she was so worried about feeding and preparing to open her salon on Friday like all the other folks that all followed the law and were waiting.
“There are literally two Hispanic women sitting in Laredo jails for doing nearly the same thing except it was from inside their homes. Where’s the indicted Attorney General’s outrage and letter for them to be released? I’m sure they just wanted to feed their children, too.”
The truth of the matter is this: Attorney General Paxton’s Tea Party conservative ideology would never allow him to speak truth to power about injustices done to people of color. On the contrary, he will do everything in his power to make sure that people of color receive less justice and harsher treatment than his Tea Party constituents.
AG Paxton Exceeds Authority, Abuses Power
The Texas Attorney General followed up his Moye letter with yet another threatening letter to officials in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio officials “warning” them against putting out orders to fight the Covid-19 virus that are “stricter” than state orders issued by the governor. It is another petty political stunt by a compromised attorney general trying to promote a political ideology over the rule of law.
We suggest that the attorney general stick to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of his office and let local officials run their own affairs, which to date, they have been more successful and statewide elected officials.