AUSTIN — A Texas district judge has dismissed the state bar’s push to sanction Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top aide, clouding prospects for a similar effort to discipline Paxton for trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
A disciplinary commission of the State Bar of Texas sued First Assistant Brent Webster earlier this year, alleging he acted unethically by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate results in four key swing states.
Last week, Judge John Youngblood sided with the attorney general’s office in determining the suit interfered with the separation of powers.
“To find in the Commission’s favor would stand for a limitation of the Attorney General’s power to file lawsuits on the State’s behalf,” wrote Youngblood, a Republican.
The one-page ruling did not address the suit’s central allegations, but found the court lacks jurisdiction to hear it.
Paxton, a Republican running for a third term in November, applauded Youngblood’s order.
“I am glad that the Court dismissed these utterly meritless charges against my First Assistant and sent the clear message that I work for Texas, not for unelected bureaucrats at the State Bar,” he said Tuesday in a statement.
A spokesman for the bar declined to comment. It’s not clear whether the commission will appeal Youngblood’s order.
While the commission’s suit against Paxton is still active in Kaufman County, the ruling is significant because his legal team has made similar arguments that it’s an unconstitutional attempt to control the office’s work and could have a chilling effect on future attorneys general. The commission has argued that all lawyers should be subject to the same rules of professional conduct, no matter their position. The judge, Casey Blair, has yet to make a decision on whether the suit against Paxton can proceed.
Jim Harrington, one of several lawyers who filed an amicus brief in support of the State Bar, called Youngblood’s order a “legal charade” and called on the bar to appeal.
“The logic of the judge’s decision is that, if a lawyer works for the Attorney General, there is no way to hold the lawyer accountable for ethical violations and professional misconduct,” said Harrington, an Austin attorney. “In other words, the Attorney General’s office is above the law.”
The state bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline asked a court in May to sanction Paxton for his legal filing asking the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate President Joe Biden’s wins in four states. The commission has alleged Paxton made “dishonest attacks, deceptive pleadings and false criminal accusations” that cast doubt on the elections in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan.
While the commission did not specify the potential sanctions, Paxton’s law license could be at risk. The threat adds to the McKinney politician’s growing legal troubles, which include a 6-year-old securities fraud indictment and a more recent FBI corruption investigation. Paxton denies wrongdoing.
Paxton has cast the bar’s effort as a politically motivated “witch-hunt” and said he stands by his work.