One taxpayer who is fighting to blow the whistle over the illegal use of public funds by his local government has now found even more tax money is being expended to attack him personally.
As the scandal over Collin County Judge Keith Self’s decision to maintain funding for the political prosecution of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton grows, newly released documents show that Collin County taxpayers are not just on the hook for the prosecutors’ fees.
In fact, Collin County taxpayers are paying an entirely different set of lawyers to attack one of their own, Collin County taxpayer Jeff Blackard, after he challenged the payments to the prosecutors in court. Those lawyers are researching how they can get a court to hit Blackard with sanctions for filing suit to question the payments.
Pursuant to orders from District Judge George Gallagher in April, June, and August, Self and the Collin County commissioners have paid $64,379.90 in legal fees to the Houston-based law firm of Feldman & Feldman.
That firm is representing special prosecutors Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer, and Nicole DeBorde against Blackard and the Dallas Morning News. The lawyers’ lawyers are fighting against open record requests and efforts by Blackard to have a court review whether payments being made to the three special prosecutors are illegal under state law.
Collin County taxpayers have paid over $250,000 so far to the three Houston-based special prosecutors despite local rules which limit payments to just $3,000. Succumbing to pressure from the special prosecutors and Judge Gallagher, County Judge Keith Self has argued the payments fit into an exception in the rules for “unusual circumstances” but has failed to describe what those circumstances are.
Blackard is asking the courts to force the prosecutors to answer how the Paxton case fits the “unusual circumstances” exception. If they cannot make a sufficient explanation, then the payments would be illegal and would be cut off.
Records show the payments to the Paxton prosecutors, which only cover a portion of pre-trial preparation, have exceeded by three times the next largest payment ever authorized by the county, an $83,000 payment for the complete prosecution of bribery, money laundering, and judicial corruption charges.
In an effort to avoid having to answer questions, Wice, Schaffer, and Deborde have retained Feldman & Feldman at Collin County taxpayers’ expense to fight against Blackard’s taxpayer suit.
The firms’ bills show that thousands of dollars have been charged for research into whether the lawyers can file a motion for sanctions against Blackard for filing his suit.
This month a federal judge dismissed civil charges brought by the Securities & Exchange Commission against Paxton, finding there was no legal basis for the case based on the facts alleged. Despite being subject to an even higher burden of proof related to the same allegations, Wice, Schaffer and DeBorde have pledged to continue their felony prosecution against the attorney general.
Criminal prosecutors are not subject to the same pre-trial dismissal procedures that exist in civil courts. That means that even though the SEC case dismissal proves the prosecutors will inevitably lose their case against Paxton at trial or on appeal, Wice, Schaffer, and DeBorde can continue to earn $300 for every hour the case drags on.
Payments to the prosecutors and to their lawyers to resist and attack Collin County taxpayers who ask questions can only continue if Judge Self and the county commissioners continue to vote to fund them.