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‘Abuse of state power’ alleged in Paxton case

By   /   March 21, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 6 of 17 in the series The Problematic Paxton Prosecution
4ourth Wall Media

The Collin County Commissioners Court has been ordered — against its wishes — to pay for a high-dollar special prosecution.

An attorney for a Dallas real estate developer suing to stop three special prosecutors from running up million-dollar bills in the investigation of state Attorney General Ken Paxton has suggested the Texas Rangers are being used to intimidate his client into dropping the case.

Attorney Edward D. Greim represents Jeff Blackard, who last week saw a Dallas County court throw out his petition to block payment to special prosecutors Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer, and Nicole DeBorde for lack of jurisdiction.

Blackard intends to press on and find the court with the proper jurisdiction over the unusual case, which contends that Collin County judges Scott Becker and George Gallagher disregarded state law and court rules in approving payouts in excess of $254,000 to investigate Paxton’s role in a pitch meeting that predates his time as attorney general. Those costs have been compounded by the court’s decision to open an additional investigation, and to pay other attorneys to represent the prosecutors in Blackard’s lawsuit and a public records case.

In a letter dated March 18, Greim asks the attorney defending Schafffer and Wice in Blackard’s lawsuit why there was a Texas Ranger in attendance at a March 11 hearing:

‘The Ranger’s purpose eventually became apparent after the hearing, however, when your clients approached me in the still-bustling hallway. What they said was truly startling: they intended to have the Ranger interview Mr. Blackard, and asked to arrange the interview through me. I replied that they should commit their request to writing. Moments later, they indicated that the interview with the Ranger would relate in some fashion to my client’s relationship with Attorney General Paxton.

“Perhaps aware at some level of how this request would appear, Mr. Schaffer indicated that he wanted the Ranger to conduct the interview after Mr. Blackard’s civil case was “dismissed” and not while the case was actually pending. But this was a fig leaf. We are unaware of any reason at all for Mr. Blackard to be interviewed in the Paxton investigation—either during or after this particular phase of Mr. Blackard’s taxpayer lawsuit. Nor can we conceive why your clients required the Ranger to hover beside them in a civil hearing for several hours during which he performed no official role, and then chose the precise moment of the parties’ first face-to-face encounter to request Mr. Blackard’s presence at a criminal witness interview with the Ranger.

“We have now waited a week without having received the promised written request.”

One reason for Greim’s outrage is the absence of any stated legal basis to have the Texas Rangers investigate Blackard. The implication is that Blackard is coordinating his lawsuit with Paxton’s defense team. But the attorneys offered no evidence of that and, even if that were the case, there would be nothing necessarily illegal about it. The use of state authority in such an instance raises the specter of the off-the-rails John Doe investigation in Wisconsin, where a special prosecutor seized hundreds of thousands of records from political opponents when there had never even been a reasonable suspicion of a legal violation in the first place.

RELATED: Lawsuit has judges in Paxton case playing defense

In pointing out that Wice and Schaffer have been unable to articulate any reasons to involve Blackard, Greim is in effect calling their bluff.

“Based on the timing and setting of your clients’ request to me, many will no doubt perceive the Attorneys Pro Tem to have unlawfully commandeered the Texas Rangers for the private benefit of intimidating a civil plaintiff. See Texas Penal Code § 39.02 (‘Abuse of Official Capacity.’). This is the naked and unrestrained abuse of state power.

“The fact that no written request has been forthcoming from Mr. Wice or Mr. Schaffer may indicate that in a moment of cool and calm reflection, your clients have reconsidered. Perhaps the request was made on the spur of the moment, out of anger regarding the arguments in the courtroom or Mr. Blackard’s public criticism of them in response to questions from the news media. Or perhaps the threat has achieved its original purpose. Nonetheless, please convey to your clients that we will not tolerate more of this conduct—whether the threats come merely on the spur of the moment, or are premeditated attempts to unlawfully leverage resources and personnel paid for by the taxpayers of the State.”

Greim’s letter did not come up at Monday’s meeting of the Collin County Commissioners Court, where a majority opposes paying Wice and Schaffer’s fees.

Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.

Part of 17 in the series The Problematic Paxton Prosecution

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Jon Cassidy was a former Houston-based reporter for Watchdog.org.