Anti-gay Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could still face sanctions for his opinion encouraging county clerks and judges in the state to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality last June.
The State Bar of Texas’ chief disciplinary counsel initially dismissed a complaint filed against Paxton alleging he violated ethics rules by “counseling a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent,” according to Minor E. Rodriguez of Houston, one of hundreds of attorneys who accused Paxton of professional misconduct.
However, the attorneys appealed the dismissal, and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals has ordered the State Bar to go forward with its investigation, Rodriguez’s office announced in a press release Wednesday morning:
Hundreds of Texas attorneys joined in an ethics complaint against Mr. Paxton when he defied the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of the high court’s recognition of same-sex marriage. The Complaint alleges, among many other ethical violations, that Mr. Paxton illegally encouraged Texas state officials to violate the U.S. Constitution as well as their oaths of office by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Mr. Rodriguez noted, “The Texas ethics rules prohibit any lawyer, including the Attorney General, from counseling a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.”
Mr. Paxton is now required to respond to the full Complaint of professional misconduct.
Christine E. McKeenan, executive director and general counsel for the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, wrote in a letter to the attorneys Feb. 2:
On January 29, 2016, the Board of Disciplinary Appeals appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas considered the appeal from the dismissal from the above grievance by the Office of the Chief Disciplinary counsel of the State Bar of Texas. After reviewing the grievance as filed with the sState Bar Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s office and no other information, the Board grants the appeal, finding that the grievance alleges a possible violation of Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 1.02(c).
The Board of Disciplinary Appeals will now return the case to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for investigation and a determination whether there is just cause to believe that the attorney has committed professional misconduct. The Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel will notify both parties of each step of the process, including asking the attorney to respond to the complaint. For information concerning the handling of the case from this point forward, please contact the Austin Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
Citing Paxton’s opinion, Hood County Clerk K.T. Lang refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of the high court’s ruling, which eventually resulted in a $44,000 settlement after a gay couple sued. And last week, Dallas Justice of the Peace Bill Metzger cited Paxton’s opinion as a basis for his refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Paxton was also threatened with contempt after the state refused to issue accurate birth and death certificates to same-sex couples in the wake of the ruling.
But the ethics complaint over his same-sex marriage opinion is probably the least of Paxton’s worries. He’s also facing first-degree felony charges for alleged securities fraud.
Read the original ethics complaint against Paxton here.