(The Center Square) – Attorneys representing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have sent a cease and desist letter to Texas House Republicans and to two Houston attorneys prosecuting Paxton, saying they are not allowed to contact potential witnesses or employees according to state law.
Attorneys Judd Stone and Christopher Hilton from Stone Hilton PLLC sent a cease and desist letter June 8 to House Speaker Dade Phelan, the co-chairs of the Texas House General Investigating Committee, Reps. Andrew Murr and Ann Johnson, and to Houston attorneys Rusty Hardin and Dick DeGuerin.
In response to questions about the letter, DeGuerin told The Center Square in an email, “We are preparing for trial in the Senate, as any lawyers should do.”
Requests for comment from the other recipients of the letter were not immediately returned.
The letter states, “It has come to our attention that you and your agents have been contacting potential witnesses, including employees of the Office of the Attorney General, regarding the House's meritless impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Presumably this is an after-the-fact attempt to gather facts to support your sham investigation, which has made a mockery of all Texans who believe in justice and the constitution. But whatever the reason for your refusal to conduct your investigation in public, it must stop.”
Stone and Hilton also argue the House members and prosecuting attorneys “have no authority to request documents, approach witnesses, or do anything else regarding this matter until the Senate establishes the rules for this proceeding,” citing Texas Government Code § 665.024.
They sent the letter after Paxton's attorneys and others have argued the House impeachment proceedings were a “sham” and didn't follow due process, the rules of evidence or rules of procedure.
Stone and Hilton said there are only two ways the recipients of the letter can submit a Public Information Act request to obtain information from any public agency or employee. They can do so as ordinary citizens but then would “have no right to obtain confidential or privileged information,” citing Texas Government Code § 552.101. They could do so in a legislative capacity but only for legislative purposes, citing Texas Government Codes § 552.008 and § 552.008(a), and “not for purposes of exercising any judicial power such as impeachment.”
Efforts to have “‘ex parte' contact with witness are wholly improper,” they continued. “Your clandestine fact-gathering without the opportunity for the Attorney General's participation means that the Senate's rules and process are being undermined before they have even been written,” they said.
DeGuerin and Hardin have spoken about their beliefs about Paxton's guilt in a news conference, on a podcast and in media interviews. Murr made the case for impeachment before the House and in an op-ed published by The Houston Chronicle. Murr and the GIC have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Stone and Hilton argue the House GIC investigation and impeachment plan was “concocted behind closed doors and without any public scrutiny, due process, or presentation of evidence that would in any way detract from [their] Machiavellian political objective.”
They also wrote in the letter, “You have chosen to wield the awesome power of impeachment – and you purport to override the will of the voters – by means of a process that is repugnant to the principles of justice and fairness and that makes an anti-democratic mockery of our State. Even as you hide behind these cowardly tactics, you are repeatedly claiming to the public that you believe in a transparent process that affords the Attorney General an opportunity to defend himself.”
The Texas Senate is expected to announce impeachment trial rules June 20. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said a trial will begin no later than August 28.
Paxton, the third elected official to be impeached by the Texas House in state history, was impeached on May 27 by a vote of 121-23. He and his attorneys argue the investigation and impeachment proceedings are illegal.
The Texas GOP argues the impeachment process was a sham and an attempt to overturn the will of voters who overwhelmingly elected Paxton three times to office.