In twist, Paxton prosecutors sue Paxton’s agency to block records


Prosecutors say their mistake shouldn’t require the release of investigation records to a Texas newspaper.

Paxton’s agency, acting without consulting him, ordered the information released under open records laws.

In an unusual and head-spinning twist, prosecutors in the criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the attorney general’s office Thursday to block the release of sensitive case information that could hinder Paxton’s defense but that his own agency ordered to be turned over to a Texas newspaper.

Go ahead, read that sentence again.

The latest twist began Oct. 14 when The Dallas Morning News requested copies of thousands of pages of investigative records that prosecutors had provided to Paxton’s defense lawyers in preparation for a potential trial on allegations that Paxton broke state securities laws in private business deals in 2011 and 2012.

Prosecutors sent a same-day reply email denying the request, saying previous attorney general opinions had declared such information off limits under the Texas Public Information Act. They also sought an attorney general’s opinion on whether the records could be withheld — a step the law requires when requested government information is denied.

On Jan. 4, however, the attorney general’s Open Records Division sent a letter informing the prosecutors that they had failed to take a second step required by the law — submitting their legal reasons for denying the request, along with samples of the requested information so Open Records Division lawyers could verify whether it fell under the law’s exceptions to disclosure.

Because the law wasn’t followed, the requested information must be automatically released, the letter said, adding that the only step remaining to prosecutors is a lawsuit “if you believe the information is confidential.”

That lawsuit was filed in Travis County district court Thursday by Dave Feldman, a Houston lawyer that Paxton’s trial judge appointed to represent prosecutors Kent Schaffer, Brian Wice and Nicole DeBorde in the matter.

The prosecutors were appointed to Paxton’s case after Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis — a friend and former business partner of Paxton — stepped aside in April. They normally work as defense lawyers and aren’t accustomed to responding to open records requests.

“Talk about meeting yourself coming around the corner,” Feldman told the American-Statesman. “We’re having to sue the AG so we don’t have to disclose information adverse to the AG that we shouldn’t have to disclose under the law.”

According to attorney general’s office spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer, established screening procedures kept Paxton and other executive administrators from reviewing the request for an open records ruling in a case that involved Paxton. The review process was instead handled by the chairman of the agency’s opinion committee and the general counsel, she said.

Efforts to reach Paxton’s defense lawyers were unsuccessful Thursday night.

Feldman said defense lawyers and prosecutors have an interest in protecting the information from release to the news media. “Fundamentally, it comes down to the notion of a fair trial and avoiding pretrial publicity that might be prejudicial (to Paxton),” he said.

According to the lawsuit, the Public Information Act exempts from disclosure “information held by a … prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation or prosecution of a crime.”

The mistake by prosecutors, the lawsuit said, shouldn’t result in the release of information that would violate Paxton’s privacy and property interests, including his right to an impartial trial. In addition, the prosecutors argued, releasing the information would violate state District Judge George Gallagher’s written order barring evidence in Paxton’s case from being provided to news organizations before it had been presented in court.

“Such disclosure would hinder ongoing prosecution of the underlying cases, be in direct violation of a court order and violate the privacy and property rights of Ken Paxton,” the lawsuit said.

Reader Comments

Next Up in News

Austin leaders dismayed by Breaion King arrest, back chief’s response
Austin leaders dismayed by Breaion King arrest, back chief’s response
Calling the incident troubling, several Austin City Council members spoke out Friday about a 2015 arrest shown in video made public Thursday in which...
Retired roommates’ friendship began as childhood neighbors
Retired roommates’ friendship began as childhood neighbors
After nearly 80 years of friendship, Wilda Hopingardner and Betty King are right back where they started — living just a room away from each other.
Tim Kaine: Here are 9 things you may not know about him
Tim Kaine: Here are 9 things you may not know about him
Hillary Clinton has named Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her choice for running mate. While Kaine has been on the national stage before (see number 9),...
Police: Munich shooter fascinated by mass killings
 MUNICH — Germany's interior minister said Saturday that investigators turned up no link between Friday's deadly...
80 dead in Islamic State suicide bombing in Kabul
 At least 80 people were killed and  231 injured Saturday when suicide bombers attacked a large demonstration in...
More Stories

You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of free premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on