City manager’s government credit card used for football tickets, Christmas gifts

According to city records, Hearne City Manager Pee Wee Drake’s government-issued credit card was used to buy hundreds of dollars worth of football tickets, while thousands of dollars worth of city funds were spent on Christmas gifts, including several flat-screen televisions and a tablet computer. I am also informed that city employees purchased supplies for Mayor Ruben Gomez’s home using city funds.

Mayor Gomez (edited)I suspect the credit card purchases are only the tip of the iceberg. In a letter sent this afternoon, I asked Robertson County DA Coty Siegert, Major Jeffrey Collins of the Texas Rangers, and Robertson County grand jurors to investigate city hall finances and determine, among other things, whether city officials are tampering with electricity bills in order to reward their friends and punish their political enemies.

Rodrick Jackson, a Baptist minister and former city council candidate, originally obtained records of Mr. Drake’s credit card purchases via the Texas Public Information Act, and I drafted a new public information request that focused on utility records. Mr. Jackson submitted the new request on July 21, 2015, and the electricity service to his home was disconnected the same day, allegedly due to a mistake. However, city officials did not reconnect his electricity until the following day, and only after he threatened to call a lawyer. That looks and smells a lot like retaliation, which would be a crime under the circumstances.

Below are some of the suspicious purchases and transactions that appear in the records obtained by Mr. Jackson: … Read more

Kilgore College: Still trying to hide something

Since the East Texas oil boom in the 1930s, Kilgore has always been a brass-knuckle town, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally. Last year, the Longview News-Journal reported accusations that Kilgore College administrators directed employees to illegally dispose of Brian Nuttasbestos, and college trustee Brian Nutt was quoted as demanding an investigation. Less than 24 hours later, he had a bullet through his front door.

The Kilgore establishment – on and off campus – has never been receptive to criticism, and it doesn’t want reformers like Mr. Nutt asking too many questions or challenging the status quo. So I was not particularly surprised when the Kilgore News Herald reported last Wednesday, under the heading “KC attorney wards off watchdogs,” that college attorney Rick Faulkner had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Dean Kinney, Tommy Konczak, and Phil Patterson. Why? Because Mr. Kinney had dared to request a copy of a report about asbestos on the college campus.

This afternoon I sent a letter to Mr. Faulkner in response. As the letter indicates, Kilgore College is about to get sued. In fact, the college – and most of the trustees – will soon be facing multiple lawsuits from multiple plaintiffs, and those plaintiffs may include some former employees who were exposed to asbestos and now suffer from lung diseases.

In the coming months, I also plan to post evidence of serious financial mismanagement at both Kilgore College and the Kilgore Independent School District. Yes, I’m referring to the Kilgore Heights Elementary School property. Stay tuned.

Ken Paxton: The rise and fall of a Peacock Baptist

During my second year at Stanford Law School, I jokingly warned friends about a possible gunfight on campus between the U.S. Marshals Service and the Secret Service. In 1999, we were already accustomed to Chelsea Clinton’s Secret Service escort, but Carolyn Starr was an incoming freshman, and she was bringing her own entourage of deputy U.S. Marshals.

Ken PaxtonCarolyn was (and is) the daughter of Baylor University President Kenneth W. Starr, who at that time was the special prosecutor investigating President Bill Clinton. The most remarkable thing about her armed escort was the very idea that she needed one. I have never heard of any other federal prosecutors whose college-aged daughters were guarded by federal officers, but then you have to remember the extraordinary animosity that President Clinton and his supporters had directed toward Mr. Starr.

Never mind whether Slick Willie had raped women, suborned perjury, or lied under oath, his supporters always diverted attention to Mr. Starr, portraying him as some sex-obsessed prude who was leading a partisan witch hunt. Left-wing feminists were among the loudest hypocrites, openly acknowledging that, because of Slick Willie’s favorable positions on issues such as abortion, they really didn’t care what he had done to actual women. And besides, Slick Willie had been granted a certificate of absolution from his wife, Hillary Rodham “Stand By Your Man” Clinton, who had pronounced him the victim of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.”

I was reminded of all that a couple of weeks ago when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton unleashed his asp-tongued political consultant, Anthony Holm, against against Brian Wice and Kent Shaffer, the two special prosecutors assigned to investigate Mr. Paxton. Never mind the fact that Mr. Paxton admitted violating state securities laws that he voted for as a legislator, never mind the fact that he was sued for violating those laws and then violated them again,and never mind the fact that he voted to make his own actions a third-degree felony, Mr. Holm would have us believe that poor Mr. Paxton is just the victim of a vast, left-wing conspiracy. As a Republican, conservative Christian, and active member of the aforesaid “conspiracy,” I find that amusing. … Read more

UPDATE: Circling the wagons in Collin County

I overlooked a couple of facts in my blog post yesterday, and those facts make it all the more evident that Collin County officials are trying to prevent grand jurors from investigating the suspicious purchase and sale of the Collin Central Appraisal District property.

I reported that District Judge John Roach, Jr. signed an order sealing the names of the grand jurors in his court on July 8, 2015, the same day that I sent a letter to District Clerk Andrea Stroh Thompson requesting the names of those grand jurors. And although I knew that Judge Chris Oldner had signed an identical order on June 25, 2015, I did not realize the significance of the date.

As it happens, I had sent an email on June 25 to Gayle Leyko, the assistant DA in charge of grand jury matters, asking whether she had presented the grand jury with the Lone Star Project’s May 12, 2015 letter about the appraisal district transaction. She ignored the email, but Gail Falco LeykoI later learned from another source that she had not delivered it to the Tuesday grand jury, i.e., the grand jury that had already received my March 21, 2015 letter about the same transaction.

The Tuesday grand jury also had been investigating Attorney General Ken Paxton, and my May 21 letter revealed that Mr. Paxton and District Attorney Greg Willis both were partners in that transaction. Hence all the efforts from Mr. Willis’s office to block the investigation of Mr. Paxton.

But I digress. Here’s what I think happened: Ms. Leyko received my June 25 email and immediately knew that I was going to ask the new grand jurors to investigate the appraisal district transaction (which involved her boss), so she asked Judge Oldner to sign an order sealing the names of those grand jurors. Unaware of that order, I sent a letter on July 8 to Ms. Thompson, the district clerk, asking for the names of both the Tuesday grand jurors and the Thursday grand jurors. I suspect Ms. Thompson immediately notified Ms. Leyko, who then asked Judge Roach to sign an identical order sealing the names of the Thursday grand jurors. We will know for sure when (or “if”) the judges and the DA’s office comply with the public information requests that I sent to them yesterday. … Read more

Ken Paxton, Collin County, and the war on grand jury independence

This afternoon I sent a letter to Collin County district judges Chris Oldner and John Roach, Jr. about their orders sealing the names of all county grand jurors, because it appears that those orders are designed to protect the rear ends of Collin County’s political class rather than the privacy of the grand jurors.

Judge John RoachBoth orders apparently are directed at me, albeit not by name. In identical language, the orders claim that previous grand jurors were contacted at their homes and places of employment, “information was received outside the grand jury process and in violation of the laws of the [S]tate of Texas,” and that the “matter regarding which the prior grand jury was improperly contacted remains under investigation.” As my readers already know, I first sent a letter to the Collin County grand jury on March 6, 2015 about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s shady business dealings, followed by another letter on March 21, 2015. And yes, I delivered some of those letters personally.

As I explained in my letter to the judges (and in the latter half of my June 1, 2015 post), there would have been no grand jury investigation of Mr. Paxton if a nosy citizen (i.e., me) had not Judge Chris Oldnerdirectly notified the grand jurors of the evidence of Mr. Paxton’s lawbreaking, as well as the evidence that Collin County DA Greg Willis was trying to cover it all up. You may recall that the grand jury went rogue after I sent the March 21, 2015 letter revealing the undisclosed business relationships between Mr. Willis and Mr. Paxton. I am not aware of any complaints from the grand jurors, and neither I nor anyone else posted their names publicly, so perhaps we should stop pretending that the orders were designed to protect grand juror privacy.

And let’s get the law straight while we’re at it: yes, it is illegal to solicit confidential information from grand jurors, but nothing prohibits the public from sending information to grand jurors, and nothing restricts grand juries to the information that they are spoon-fed by prosecutors. Grand juries are supposed to be “independent of the control of judges and prosecutors,” Whittington v. State, 680 S.W.2d 505, 512 (Tex.App. – Tyler 1984, pet. denied), and free to “act on their own knowledge and … free to make their presentments or indictments on such information as they deem satisfactory,” Costello v. U.S., 350 U.S. 359, 361 (1956) (cited with approval in Whittington, 680 S.W.2d at 511). So how can grand juries be “independent of the control of judges and prosecutors” if judges and prosecutors are controlling the flow of information? … Read more

All lawyers are treated equally, but some lawyers are more equal than others

The Tenth Court of Appeals in Waco will now decide whether College Station attorney Gaines West gets booted from a Brazos County lawsuit, and that decision could create a conundrum for the State Bar of Texas. An average lawyer could get in serious trouble for doing what Mr. West is accused of doing, but Mr. West is no average lawyer: he previously served as chairman of both the Texas Supreme Court’s Grievance Oversight Committee and its Board of Disciplinary Appeals.

Gaines WestYesterday evening, the Court of Appeals asked Mr. West to respond to a petition for mandamus seeking his disqualification from Clayton Williams Energy, Inc. v. Williamson (full disclosure: I’m one of the attorneys representing Mr. West’s former clients).  As explained in the petition, Mr. West switched sides in the trial court, representing a new party against former clients whom he had already represented in that same case. That’s a big no-no according to the professional rules governing lawyers, never mind the rules of common sense, and it is particularly ironic since Mr. West advertises himself as an expert on attorney disciplinary matters.

On December 30, 2014, another attorney sent a letter to Mr. West demanding that he stop representing the new party against his former clients. In a January 6, 2015 response, Mr. West refused to withdraw from the case. That was not particularly surprising, as Mr. West is not known for his humility. But I suspect there is another underlying reason for his stubbornness: he knows that where the state bar is concerned, lawyers with political connections (i.e., like him) typically do not have to play by the same rules as other lawyers. In other words, Mr. West may have thought that he would be immune from professional misconduct charges because of his political connections. … Read more