A new petition filed by Collin County taxpayer Jeffory Blackard has raised concerns that Collin County Judge Keith Self and the Collin County commissioners’ court are losing control of the county’s finances as they relate to the embarrassing prosecution of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Blackard filed suit last year complaining that payments being made by Collin County to the special prosecutors on the Paxton case exceed the amount allowed by law.

Special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice, both of Houston, were appointed by Judge George Gallagher of Fort Worth to prosecute two indictments against Paxton in Collin County. Disgraced Collin County district judge Chris Oldner, who is the subject of complaints alleging judicial misconduct in the case, obtained the indictments against Paxton before withdrawing from the case. Lawyers knowledgeable in securities law have questioned the validity of the indictments, which are currently being challenged on appeal in Dallas.

In January, in fear they would be held in contempt by Judge Gallagher if they did not comply with an order for payment from his court, the Collin County commissioners’ court voted 3-2 to disburse to Schaffer and Wice hundreds of thousands of dollars in Collin County tax funds at a rate that appears to exceed limits prescribed by law and Collin County court rules. Despite later voting to approve the release of funds, Collin County Judge Keith Self expressed his belief that the disbursements were excessive and contrary to law.

Now a new petition filed by Blackard with the Dallas Court of Appeals raises concerns that the illegal payments are ballooning out of the control of Self and the commissioners’ court. The petition alleges that Judge Gallagher has issued a secret order to the commissioners’ court compelling them to disburse legal fees not to Schaffer and Wice, but to other attorneys who are defending the two special prosecutors in a separate civil suit. Without intervention, the petition alleges that the Collin County commissioners’ court is set to disburse funds at its weekly meeting under only the notice that “disbursements” will be made.

The new order again appears to grant to the attorneys representing Schaffer and Wice fees at a rate of $300 per hour, which again would appear to exceed the limits in statute and court rules for special prosecutors.

More disturbingly though, the fees are not directly related to the Paxton prosecution, but to a separate civil case involving Schaffer and Wice.

Self and the commissioners’ court made a mistake in approving the initial disbursement without first resolving the legality of Judge Gallagher’s order. If they don’t take action now, it appears they will have established a policy of rubber-stamping any judge’s order for payment to any attorney for any amount on any case the judge sees fit, even when the disbursements appear contrary to law.

Collin County taxpayers need Judge Self and the commissioners’ court to reassert their control over the county’s finances and ensure that the law is followed.

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.