UPDATE: Paxton makes huge concession to avoid contempt of court

Ken Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton

To avoid facing a contempt of court hearing and possible jail time for ignoring a court ruling that declared the Texas marriage amendment unconstitutional, Attorney General Ken Paxton will issue new guidelines to state employees.

Those guidelines include recognizing married same-sex couples for purposes of death certificates but also for purposes of birth certificates. Refusing to recognize a same-sex couple for purposes of a death certificate led to the contempt charges.

The birth certificate issue has been a problem for same-sex couples for years. Judges in only a few counties including Dallas will allow second parent adoptions, but the second parent’s name doesn’t go on the birth certificate. If an opposite-sex couple is married, the husband is presumed to be the father and his name goes on the birth certificate.

Now the names of a couple that adopts together will both go on the birth certificate, just as it does for opposite-sex couples. For gay couples who have children through a surrogate, both names of the married couple will go on the birth certificate. And for lesbian couples who have a baby and one of the women carry the child, both names of a married couple will go on the birth certificate.

—  David Taffet

Paxton asks to be excused from contempt of court hearing

Ken Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton asked that he and interim commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services Kirk Cole be excused from a contempt of court hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

The order to appear was issued by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia because Cole and Paxton refused to recognize a same-sex marriage for purposes of a death certificate. Their refusal defies Garcia’s marriage-equality ruling that declared the Texas marriage amendment unconstitutional.

Garcia ordered the state recognize the marriage of John and James Stone-Hoskins. James died earlier this year before the Supreme Court ruling. But Garcia’s ruling was made in February 2014 and was affirmed by the Fifth District Court of Appeals in July 2015.

Although Garcia ordered the state to reissue the death certificate immediately, it took Cole’s office two days to comply.

Cole and Paxton had until today to respond to the court with any written defense. Instead, they asked to be excused from appearing. They also asked the judge to rule by 3 p.m. so they’d have time to appeal.

I’m sure Garcia will respond to that request “immediately.”

—  David Taffet

Amended death certificate issued to Stone-Hoskins

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James Stone-Hoskins

Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, issued an amended death certificate last night listing John Stone-Hoskins as “husband” rather than ‘significant other.” Stone-Hoskins had to file a motion in the court of U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who declared Texas’  marriage law unconstitutional in February 2014. Neel Lane, attorney for the Texas marriage-equality plaintiffs, filed the lawsuit.

The amended certificate corrects “James Henry Stone – never married” to “James Henry Stone-Hoskins – married” and “John Allen Hoskins V – significant other” to “John Allen Stone-Hoskins V – husband.”

Cole, along with Attorney General Ken Paxton, face contempt of court charges for violating Garcia’s ruling that was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2015 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. They are ordered to appear on Aug. 12.

Death Certificate

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Attorney General Ken Paxton has been booked

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s mugshot

Attorney General Ken Paxton was booked this morning and released from the Collin County jail following a trio of felony indictments handed down by a Collin County grand jury last week.

The three indictments — including two first-degree felony counts  and a third-degree felony count — stem from a months-long investigation by the Texas Rangers and two special prosecutors who looked into Paxton’s securities practices before he took office.

In 2014, while running for attorney general, he admitted to violating state securities law after failing to register with the State Securities Board before soliciting clients for investors. He paid a $1,000 fine.

First degree felonies carry a prison sentence between 5 to 99 years in prison. A third degree felony carries a $10,000 fine and between two to 10 years in jail.

Tarrant County judge George Gallagher has been appointed to lead the trial.

—  James Russell

Anti-LGBT legislator running for state senate failed to disclose affiliation with conservative non-profit

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State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola

A vocally anti-LGBT Republican state representative failed to disclose his affiliation with a socially conservative non-profit organization.

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, failed to disclose his leadership role on the board of the Wilberforce and Lincoln Center, Inc. in his six most recent personal financial statements.

(Those can be found here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.)

The vocally anti-LGBT Republican who is running for state senate has been affiliated with the Waco-based center since 2008, according to records filed with the secretary of state.

James William Odom, a Baylor University graduate student and former spokesman for the university, founded the Wilberforce Center for Civic Engagement in 2008. An amended filing later added the name Lincoln.

Odom, Hughes, Oklahoma oil and gas executive Jerome Loughridge and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was then a state representative, were all listed as directors of the organization.

It is currently listed at Odom’s home address in Waco.

Paxton recently filed an amended personal financial statement indicating his affiliation with the organization. But personal financial statements filed by Hughes between 2008 and 2014 do not list his role with the organization despite its active non-profit status.

Per state law, elected officials must list all entities, including non-profits, where they serve as members of the board, on their statements said Ian Steusloff, a spokesman with the Texas Ethics Commission.

The commission administers and enforces state election code and oversees the collection of all campaign and personal finance reports filed by legislators.

Failure to disclose this information could result in a civil penalty of $500.

On the six most recent statements, Hughes is only listed as a trustee of the Mineola Foundation and between 2010 and 2012 a brief stint as a director of Central America Mining America Group. A September 19, 2014 required periodic report, however, still lists Hughes as a Wilberforce Lincoln director.

Odom’s résumé, obtained from his Baylor University graduate student profile, indicates he founded Wilberforce Lincoln under the name the Leadership Foundation in Oklahoma in 2000. At the time he was a Republican candidate for Congress. The institute was “dedicated to encouraging principled leadership in the political arena for the preservation of a culture that respects life and cherishes liberty.”

It did not operate again until 2008 when it turned to articulating public policy issues of interest to churches and other religious organizations, including “sanctity of life, family law and national indebtedness.”

Odom, who declined to comment for this story, wrote it has remained dormant because he didn’t have “time or resources to develop its programs.”

Cody Terry, Hughes’ chief of staff, said he was unaware of the organization’s existence.

First elected in 2002, Hughes is currently running for state senate to succeed retiring Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. In 2014, on The Anderson Cooper Show, he defended a plank on the state GOP’s platform affirming reparative therapy.

Among those endorsing his senate campaign are Texas Values’ Jonathan Saenz, Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackleford and Texas Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams and Attorney General Paxton.

—  James Russell

Maxey files complaint against Paxton with state bar

Glen MaxeyFormer state Rep. Glen Maxey filed a complaint against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton related to his opinion issued last weekend to county clerks. Paxton wrote that although same-sex couples would have to be accommodated, clerks could follow their religious beliefs and not issue the marriage licenses made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s a link to the full grievance.

From a press release sent by Maxey:

Paxton has violated the following Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. The violations are as follows:

*R 1.06(b)(2): Paxton has a conflict of interest because his representation of his client (the State) is conflicted with his own self-interest in demagogic self-promotion to pander to his right-wing Tea Party supporters, even at the sacrifice of the rights of Texans
under the United States Constitution.

*Rule 4.01(a): in representing his client (the State), Paxton has clearly made “false statement of law” to the public, in derogation of the fundamental Law of the Land, the United States Constitution.

*Rule 8.04(a)(1): in assisting and inducing Assistant Attorneys General to make knowingly false statements of fact and law in patently erroneous legal opinions that are flatly inconsistent with the United States Constitution, as declared by the United States Supreme Court.

*Rule 8.04(a)(3): in engaging in conduct involving deceit, dishonesty, and misrepresentation, in issuing the false and misleading opinion.

*Rule 8.04(a)(12): Mr. Paxton has violated the statutes setting out his official duties, including Government Code sections 402.041-402.042, by failing to issue an opinion setting out truthfully “the legal reasons and principles on which it is based.”

*Rules 8.04(a)(3), 8.04(a)(12): Finally, and most egregiously, Paxton violated his sworn oaths of office. Specifically, he violated the statutory oath that he took to become licensed to practice law in Texas. Section 82.037 of the Texas Government Code required Paxton to swear that he would “support the constitutions of the United States and this state.” He has violated both that oath and the United States Constitution.

Additionally, Mr. Paxton violated his State Oath of Office, required under Article 16, Section 1, of the Texas Constitution, in which he stated that he “will faithfully execute the duties of the office of Attorney General the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”

—  David Taffet

I’m applying to be game warden so I can refuse to issue hunting licenses

Taffet,DavidI’ve decided to apply to Texas Parks and Wildlife to become a game warden.

Unfortunately, hunting is against my religion, so, once appointed, I won’t be issuing any legally sanctioned government licenses. I do expect to be paid my full salary and I expect everyone who likes to hunt to understand because otherwise they’ll be interfering with my deeply held religious beliefs.

That’s because our attorney general, Ken Paxton, believes people who work for the government should have the right to follow their religious beliefs — and I’m sure he wasn’t just talking about same-sex marriage.

John Turner-McClelland serves as president of the Denton County Fresh Water Supply District 11-A. After closely considering what Jesus would do, he decided water and sewer systems aren’t for sinners.

“Shit in a bucket,” this religiously motivated public servant advised.

Following one’s religious beliefs should apply to all government employees who issue licenses. Everyone at the Department of Public Safety needs to take a good look at whom they’re letting drive.

Any Muslims work for the DPS? Well, in Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive. Why should they in Texas? If it’s your deeply held religious belief, don’t issue women driver’s licenses. Paxton says you don’t have to. It’s called accommodating your religious beliefs. Oh, and Paxton will make sure you receive your full pay, because, hell, you answer to a higher authority.

What about voter registration?

What if you happen to work in the registrar’s office and it’s your deeply held religious belief that no damn good comes from bigoted white people voting?

Ken Paxton’s got the answer for you.

Don’t register their bigoted asses. It’s against your deeply held values and to hell with Congress and the U.S. Constitution that says every citizen has a right to vote.

Work at the food counter in the county courthouse? I believe when I passed by there last week I saw B-L-T on the menu. If it was me, I’d refuse to sell it to you because bacon goes against my deeply held religious belief that pork is only kosher when wrapped in a wonton and served on Christmas Eve. In fact, the Levitical prohibition against pork uses the exact same word — toeveh — as against man lying with another man.

Ever wonder why it takes months for a new bar or restaurant to get its liquor license? A number of TABC agents are Baptist. You may qualify, but they don’t think you should be drinking. Or dancing, but that doesn’t take a license, except in Dallas where we still have dance hall permits.

So they just won’t — or shouldn’t — issue your license.

Because Ken Paxton said they didn’t have to if it’s their deeply held religious belief.

And if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness? They don’t believe in the sovereignty of the state, so they don’t have to issue any license whatsoever. But I’m sure they’ll stay on the payroll. Paxton wouldn’t want to discriminate.

Hopefully the next time Paxton gets on a plane, here’s the announcement he hears from the cockpit: “Good morning. I’m Captain Smith. Our flight to Houston would have taken 27 minutes, but I’m Amish and I don’t really believe in this form of transportation.”

—  David Taffet

Attorney General Ken Paxton should resign

James Russell columnIn the seven months that Ken Paxton has served as Texas’ top law enforcement officer, he has slammed the federal government for its immigration policies, the Environmental Protection Agency for its environmental regulations, the Supreme Court for its rulings upholding the Affordable Care Act and legalizing marriage equality nationwide, defended the state’s stringent anti-abortion law and praised in broad terms further deregulation of the Second Amendment.

To be fair, as Texas Attorney General, Paxton’s office must defend the state court lawsuits, including those filed by his predecessor, now-Gov. Greg Abbott. Just like his predecessor he also has ambitions for higher office. Also like Abbott, his statements read like a fundraising letter. While it is clear he inherited a politicized office from Abbott, Paxton has recently done the office nor taxpayers NO additional favors.

Paxton is already under investigation by a Collin County grand jury for violating state securities law, an admission he made freely and then paid a $1,000 fine for. Under state law, it is illegal for an attorney to accept client commissions without registering first with the state securities board. Paxton not only broke the law but also broke a law he helped pass a state legislator.

Despite this revelation on the campaign trail he defeated two Republican challengers, former Rep. Dan Branch and former Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman. In the general election he defeated Democrat opponent Sam Houston, a Houston-area attorney, in a landslide. Of course, in both instances he was boosted by an energized grassroots and the support of wealthy Tea Party backers. They encouraged, or, more likely were encouraged by, his hard-line rhetoric on any number of issues. (Who wrote the talking points remains the question.)

Regardless of what he may actually believe, when looking for a quick political ascendency, look no further then the Texas GOP grassroots and their wealthy backers for advice. From state representative to one-term state senator to the state’s top law enforcement office,he got what he wanted.

Sadly Paxton’s carelessness, irresponsibility and smugness did not end with an admission or a fine, much less at the door of his private practice. He has also taken those traits to his taxpayer-funded office.

Following Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, his office issued the requisite statement denouncing the decision. He also predictably, following April’s arguments, released a statement defending the state’s marriage ban.

Despite it being out of his responsibility, he then issued an opinion permitting county clerks and other government officials to decline to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it violates their religious beliefs. While responsibly acknowledging clerks may be held liable, he sealed the fundraising envelope when he offered pro bono legal defense to any clerk mired in litigation for the decision. Religious liberty is an inherent right extended to all individuals, including those who genuinely oppose or support same-sex marriage for those reasons.

Even if you disagree politically or morally, issuing a marriage license does not mean you are sanctioning it. You cannot flout federal law.

Sadly that’s not what he told county clerks and potential donors across the state.

Between his politicization of his office and clear disregard for the law as represented by the pending criminal probe and irresponsible opinion on marriage equality, it has become clear Paxton is unfit for office. But in using Paxton’s logic, I can only conclude two things: breaking the law doesn’t violate his religious convictions, but resigning does. Whether or not a criminal indictment decides his professional fate in spite of any religious convictions, however, is an entirely different matter.

—  James Russell

Hood County Clerk refuses to talk to CNN reporter

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Hood County Clerk Katie Lang

We told you earlier today about Hood County Clerk Katie Lang making a public statement that her office would not be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, based on her personal religious objections to same-sex marriage and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s “legal opinion” that she didn’t have to issue those licenses if she didn’t want to.

Since that post, someone has shared the video below, from Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN, of a reporter trying to get Ms. Lang, an elected official, to explain her decision. As you can see, she refuses to answer questions and rather than defend her decision and/or her religious beliefs, she runs for the car.

She mentions posting an explanation on her website. Check it out.

—  Tammye Nash

Hood County Clerk refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

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Hood County Clerk Katie Lang is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s “legal opinion” saying that clerk’s can refuse to issue those licenses based on their own personal religious beliefs. She has even included a post on the county clerk website, under “Services,” noting that she will not issue the licenses and explaining why.

Paxton’s opinion does include some basic CYA language noting that while individual clerks and assistant clerks can refuse to issue the licenses, county clerk offices as a whole have to follow the law and those clerks who do not allow someone in the office to issue the licenses those clerks can be held personally liable and sued. And that the county nor the state will pay for their defense.

A quick call to the Hood County Clerk’s office this morning (Tuesday, June 30), confirmed that the office as a whole WILL NOT issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That, of course, opens County Clerk Katie Lang up to lawsuits. Kelly Shackleford of the far-right-wing Liberty Institute has reportedly said he will represent Lang in any legal action against her.

Personally, I am wondering if Katie Lang is TRYING to get sued, so that she can become a “Christian martyr,” victimized by all those horrible heathen gays, and then use that “martyrdom” as a springboard for a bid for higher political office.

Here’s another personal opinion for you: I respect the fact that some people have religious beliefs that would prevent them for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I don’t agree with those beliefs, but I respect your right to believe that, and I will defend your right to your beliefs. But when you hold a public office or work for the government, then you also have a civil duty to serve all people. If your deeply held religious beliefs keep you from serving all people, then you need to find another job.

Dana Guffey, county clerk for Cleburne County in Arkansas (and no, that’s not Johnson County Clerk in Cleburne, Texas), understands that. She has held that office for 24 years but yesterday announced she is resigning because her religious beliefs prevent her from issuing marriage licenses but the duties of that office require it. I respect Ms. Guffey’s beliefs. I respect her decision. I wish her the best.

—  Tammye Nash