DALLAS (AP) — The Texas
Bar Association is looking into whether state Attorney General Ken Paxton
's failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election
on bogus claims of fraud constituted professional misconduct.
The State Bar of Texas initially declined to hear a Democratic Party
activist's complaint that Paxton's petition to the United States Supreme Court
to overturn Joe Biden
's election was frivolous and unethical, but a tribunal that oversees grievances against lawyers overturned that decision late last month and ordered the bar to investigate the allegations against the Republican
The investigation is yet another liability for the embattled attorney general, who is already dealing with a years-old criminal case, a separate, newer FBI
investigation, and a Republican primary opponent seeking to exploit the various controversies. It also makes Paxton one of the highest-profile lawyers facing professional backlash for their roles in Donald Trump
's effort to delegitimize the president.
The attorney general's office did not respond to requests for comment, and Paxton's defense lawyer, Philip Hilder, also declined to comment.
Kevin Moran, the 71-year-old president of the Galveston Island Democrats
, shared his complaint with The Associated Press
, along with letters from the State Bar of Texas and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals confirming the investigation, and said Paxton's efforts to overturn other states' election results were a waste of time for which the attorney general should be barred from practicing law.
“He wanted to deprive voters
in four other states of their right to vote,” Moran said.
Texas' top appeals lawyer, who would normally argue the state's cases before the United States Supreme Court, did not join Paxton in filing the election lawsuit
, which was dismissed by the high court.
According to a June 3 letter from the bar, Paxton has less than a month to respond to Moran's claim that the lawsuit to overturn the results in Georgia
, and Wisconsin
was misleading and brought in bad faith. All four battleground states supported Biden in November.
The case will then be taken up by bar staff in a proceeding similar to the grand jury
stage of a criminal investigation
, with bar investigators empowered to question witnesses, hold hearings, and issue subpoenas to determine whether a lawyer likely committed misconduct, which will then launch a disciplinary process that could ultimately result in disbarment, suspension, or a lesser punishment.
The bar dismisses thousands of grievances each year, and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, a panel of 12 independent lawyers appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, upholds those decisions overwhelmingly. According to the bar's annual report, reversals like Moran's happened less than 7% of the time last year.
According to Claire Reynolds, a bar spokeswoman and lawyer, state law prevents the agency from commenting on complaints unless they result in public sanctions
or a court action.
The investigation is confidential and is expected to take months, but it brings renewed attention to Paxton's divisive defense of Trump as he competes for the former president's endorsement in the Republican primary to run for attorney general in 2022.
Joe Jaworski, the former mayor of Galveston, has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination; Moran says Jaworski is a friend but had no role in the complaint against Paxton.
A succession of other judges
and state elections
officials have refuted claims of widespread voter fraud, and Trump's own Justice Department
found no evidence of fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election.
Nonetheless, Paxton's lawsuit earned him political and financial support from Trump supporters
at a time when new allegations of criminal wrongdoing had caused many in the state GOP
to distance themselves from the attorney general.
Last fall, eight of Paxton's top deputies staged an unprecedented revolt, accusing him of abusing his position in the service of a wealthy donor; the FBI is looking into their claims.
Paxton has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty in a state securities fraud case that has been pending since 2015. He has also used his position to benefit allies and other donors.
The new criminal allegations prompted a exodus of Paxton's top lawyers, but Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins was still serving as Texas' top appellate lawyer at the time of the election lawsuit.
Although the solicitor general typically handles cases before the United States Supreme Court, Hawkins, a private Washington
D.C.-based lawyer, filed the election challenge with Paxton. Hawkins has since moved to private practice, and a spokesman for his firm said “we can’t help you” when asked why he didn’t handle the suit.