Passion in the pursuit of justice or religion is noble, except when it conflicts with one's oath as an attorney and the U.S. Supreme Court.
It's no surprise Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton finds himself mired in political quicksand. Democrats, who could not beat him in an election, are leading a charge clamoring for his resignation, ouster, conviction and imprisonment.
In this same vein, Democratic Party official and former state Rep. Glen Maxey filed a grievance with the State Bar of Texas over Paxton's response to the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. Maxey, however, is not a lawyer and didn't allow Paxton the 25-day implementation period, as provided by U.S. Supreme Court Rule 45 and in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals mandate, which specified a July 17 compliance deadline.
Attempting to steer clear of politics, Fort Worth lawyer Brian Bouffard and I sent a warning to the attorney general that he must comply with the law. We posted on Facebook that we would collect attorney signatures, but quit after receiving about 300 in two days. If a grievance becomes necessary, we will have many more.
We allege the Texas attorney general has violated several of the State Bar Disciplinary Rules, most of which are found in Section 8.04 a (4) obstruction of justice, and 8.04 (a) 12 that he has violated his attorney oath to uphold the law of the United States. As the state's top legal officer, he can't be offering county clerks any legal ammunition to circumvent the law when it's clear, to most legal analysts, they would be "shooting blanks."
The State Bar of Texas, the licensing authority for all Texas lawyers, is 100 percent nonpartisan. When a complaint is filed it goes to State Bar disciplinary counsel and if they find grounds, Paxton would be required to file an answer. If his answer is insufficient, he would be given the choice of appearing before a grievance panel of a few lawyers and perhaps one nonlawyer or having his case heard in district court.
The penalties range from a reprimand to license suspension, and in the most egregious cases, disbarment. Usually, these cases are private and confidential; however, the bar has made an exception for public interest cases.
Many believe the State Bar does not go after its own, and it is accurate to say most complaints against lawyers are dismissed. The reason, however, is that the vast majority of filings are rancorous, rambling rants that do not allege a specific violation.
We hoped Paxton would take a deep breath and proclaim that although the Supreme Court decision violated his personal and religious beliefs, he would follow the law.
A few days after we sent the letter, at a media interview in my home, it seems everyone went bonkers. I was informed the attorney general's office was claiming the Supreme Court decision was advisory only. I was shocked because at most law schools, constitutional law is required coursework.
At that moment my duck tolling retriever, Shasharoosticus, sensing my momentary disorientation, sneaked out for a muddy and clearly prohibited "swamp adventure."
Passion and energy are fine, but the mud in my house and on the face of Texas politics will not soon wash away. I just wish my dog, and my attorney general, would make better decisions.
— Steve Fischer is a Rockport lawyer and recent director of the State Bar of Texas. He has served as Willacy County district attorney and taught constitutional law at several Texas colleges.