In recent filings in a Collin County lawsuit in which he and a Florida business partner are being sued for fraud, State Rep. Byron Cook, a Republican from Corsicana, has added a curious name to his legal team: Democrat State Rep. René Oliveira of Brownsville.

So why would a Republican state representative from Corsicana and businessman from Florida hire a Brownsville lawyer? The answer lies in the “legislative continuance.”

In 1929, the Texas Legislature granted its members the right to file for a continuance in any lawsuit they are involved in while the legislature is in session. The idea is that members who are attorneys are unable to handle their cases while simultaneously serving in the legislature.

But the privilege has been much abused, with some members being accused of selling their privilege by signing on to cases simply in order to delay the cases past a legislative session.

Cook is being sued for fraud by Charles Loper, one of his former business partners. That suit involves some of the same factual circumstances involved in Cook’s allegations against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a Collin County criminal prosecution.

The Paxton case is expected to go to trial sometime in the Spring. As a member of the legislature, Cook can invoke the legislative continuance to avoid having his deposition taken in the fraud case before the Paxton case goes to trial.

But Cook needs his Democrat colleague as an attorney in order to shield his fellow defendants from being required to testify before the Paxton case goes to trial. Those defendants include Joel Hochberg of Florida. Hochberg is one of Cook’s long-time business partners who joined him as a witness making felony accusations against Paxton.

Documents recently uncovered by the Watchdog.org Texas bureau revealed that Cook and Hochberg are alleging that Paxton committed a first-degree felony not because he lied to them, but rather because he failed to correct their wrong assumptions.

Likewise, motions filed in federal court have revealed that attorneys for the Obama administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission steered both Cook and Hochberg toward making statements beneficial to them in a civil case against Paxton. The motions also revealed that Cook and Hochberg have conceded through their lawyer that they did not consider Paxton to be their investment broker, a fact that contradicts the case against him.

The move to hire Oliveira appears to be designed to purchase his legislative privilege so it can be used to shield Hochberg and others from having to give testimony that could be beneficial to Paxton in the criminal prosecution and SEC cases.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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