Having already paid – under court order – excessive legal bills for the politically motivated prosecution of Texas’ Attorney General, Collin County commissioners today passed a resolution suggesting they may seek appellate review of future bills.
A group of taxpayers was at the commissioners’ court today to testify against further payments to special prosecutors in the case against Ken Paxton.
So far, Collin County has paid more than $300,000 to the Houston-based prosecutors in the Paxton case and to a separate group of lawyers representing them in civil cases related to the legality of the payments and to open records requests.
Earlier this month a civil case against Paxton by the Securities and Exchange Commission that was based on identical allegations was thrown out of Court by a US District Judge. Since the case was thrown out, there have been a chorus of national and local leaders calling on the commissioners’ court to stop funding the criminal prosecution against Paxton, which appears destined to fail on appeal.
After initially opposing funding for the prosecution, County Judge Keith Self has recently said the county lacks the authority to resist orders from a Tarrant County judge to pay the prosecutors’ bills. Critics have pointed out that the payments appear to violate state law and local rules, which should limit the payments to just $3,000.
State law limits the amount of money that can be paid to private practice attorneys, such as the special prosecutors appointed in the Paxton case, to the amount that would otherwise be paid to a private attorney for indigent defense. However, the judge in the case has ordered payments for the prosecution far exceeding the amount that would be made available to a defense attorney.
Hiram Sasser, a local attorney with First Liberty Institute, argues the County has an obligation to challenge the payments. “The law clearly allows – and in this case – requires Collin County to resist paying these outrageous bills,” he said.
After returning from executive session, Collin County Commissioner Chris Hill advanced a resolution that passed unanimously (5-0). It read:
“RESOLVED, the Collin County Commissioners Court is committed to taking a careful review of future fee awards and its committed to taking the necessary steps to protect our opportunity to seek appellate review of an order exceeding the local rules to implement the Texas Fair Defense Act which may include a formal request to stay any such excessive order and filing for a writ of mandamus with the Court of Appeals.”
The resolution appears designed to set up a vote on whether or not future legal bills in excess of the law will be paid, or whether Collin County will appeal any future orders to pay the legal fees.
Sasser, who was in attendance at the meeting, was satisfied with the resolution. “This is a positive step toward ensuring that Collin County honors taxpayers by not paying excessive legal bills,” he told Texas Scorecard.
Until today, it appeared that Self and Commissioners Duncan Webb and Cheryl Williams were unwilling to challenge orders to pay the prosecutors’ legal bills. Their willingness to agree to the Hill resolution is a good sign and win for the taxpayers who showed up to testify on the issue.
The grassroots in Collin County must continue to hold these commissioners’ feet to the fire. Right now there are no invoices and there are no orders to pay them. The commissioners have shown the courage to say they will resist another unlawful order. But talk is cheap. Collin County taxpayers need to demand action when the time comes.