Texas Threatens to Sue Nonprofit for Helping Syrian Refugees

November 30, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Texas has threatened to kill funding and sue social services organizations if they defy Gov. Greg Abbott’s refusal to accept Syrian refugees – an order Abbott issued without the legal power to do so.
Chris Traylor, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, issued the threat in a Nov. 25 letter to the International Rescue Committee in Dallas.
The threat came a week after 31 governors – 30 of them Republican – claimed their states would refuse to accept any more Syrian refugees, though states, and governors, have no legal authority to exclude legally admitted refugees.
Citing the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed more than 130 people, Abbott said, “Security comes first.”
“Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees & I demand the U.S. act similarly,” Abbott tweeted on Nov. 16.
In his letter to the International Rescue Committee, Traylor wrote: “Failure by your organization to cooperate with the State of Texas as required by federal law may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action.”
He said the International Rescue Committee had not been cooperating with Texas.
“I must ask that you fulfill your statutory duty to conduct your activities ‘in close cooperation and advance consultation’ with the State of Texas pursuant to section 1522 of Title 8 of the United States Code,” the letter states. “If you remain unwilling to cooperate with the state on this matter, we strongly believe that a failure to cooperate with the state on this matter violates federal law and your contract with the state.”
Traylor gave the group until Monday, Nov. 30, to respond.
“Rather than continue on your current path, in violation of the governor’s directive, please contact my office no later than Monday, November 30, so that we can, indeed, work together ‘in close cooperation’ as required by federal law,” the letter states.
Traylor claimed that Texas has settled 10 percent of the Syrians in the country, that 28 refugees per every 100,000 Texans were accepted last year, more per capita than in Florida, California and New York.
“Texas has shouldered its share in supporting refugees from around the world,” Traylor wrote.
He said Abbott banned Syrian refugees because President Barack Obama has shown “no willingness to improve the security screenings” of refugees in spite of “the abundant evidence that the screens are ineffective.”
International Rescue Committee Executive Director Donna Duvin said her group has responded to Texas, and hopes to work with it, but that it is “still anticipating a need to work” with the federal government to resettle families.
“If that needs to be done without state support, then we would be looking for resources outside of state support to make that possible,” she told The Dallas Morning News.
Unlike political asylees, who generally enter the United States without permission and then apply for legal status, refugees enter the country legally after applying for refugee status at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in a foreign country. The State Department’s vetting process can take up to two years.
Once a refugee is admitted to the United States, he or she is legally present here. States and governors have no more power to bar them from entering than they could bar entry to a U.S. citizen.

From Courthouse News.

Ken Paxton Might Get Money From Cutouts

November 30, 2015
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – The Texas Ethics Commission may approve guidance for indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton to accept money from out-of-state donors to defend himself from felony securities fraud charges.
A draft opinion issued before the Monday, Nov. 30 commission meeting states how one of Paxton’s unidentified employees can avoid violating state gift-giving law by accepting a “benefit” from a donor with no ties to Texas, who is not subject to the agency’s jurisdiction, the San Antonio Express-News reported Friday.
Paxton, a Republican from McKinney, was indicted in July by a Collin County grand jury on two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the Texas State Securities Board.
Paxton is accused of fraudulently selling more than $100,000 in Servergy stock to two investors in July 2011 without disclosing that he would be paid commissions on it. He also failed to disclose that he had been given 100,000 shares in the company but had not invested in the company himself, according to the indictment.
The securities fraud charge is punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in state prison, the failure to register charge by 2 to 10 years. The charges date back to 2011, when Paxton was a member of the Texas House of Representatives. He was elected attorney general last year and began his term in January.
The securities board fined Paxton $1,000 last year after he admitted he had solicited clients for a friend’s investment firm, Mowery Capital Management, without being registered as an investment adviser. Paxton paid the fine and was reprimanded. The harsher criminal charges resulted from a Texas Rangers investigation that began after the board’s findings.
Paxton is banned from using campaign money to cover his legal fees in the case because the charges are not related to his official duties. He also is banned from accepting a “benefit” from someone under the agency’s jurisdiction.
But Paxton’s employee is not prohibited “from accepting a benefit from an individual who does not reside in Texas or from an entity that does not operate in Texas if the donor’s only connection with the jurisdiction of the public servant and [Paxton’s office] is the act of giving the benefit,” the draft opinion states.
Accepting the benefit would not break the law if a diligent records search was conducted, the donor is contacted to establish “identity and circumstances,” and the state official is “unaware of any substantial risk the donor is subject to jurisdiction of the public servant of” Paxton’s office,” according to the draft opinion.

From Courthouse News.

Clock-Making Student Wants $15M for Arrest

November 23, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Ahmed Mohamed is demanding $15 million and written apologies from a Dallas suburb and school district for his arrest after his homemade clock was mistaken for a bomb at school, making the 14-year-old a worldwide celebrity.
His attorney, Kelly D. Hollingsworth with Laney & Bollinger in Plainview, Texas, sent letters Monday to officials with the city of Irving and the Irving Independent School District and demanded $10 million and $5 million, respectively.
The letters give the city and school district 60 days to comply or face civil rights lawsuits. Mohamed’s civil rights were violated and he was “clearly singled out” because he is Sudanese and Muslim, Hollingsworth writes.
“Irving Police officials immediately determined that the clock was harmless. The only reason for the overreaction was that the responsible adults involved irrationally assumed that Ahmed was dangerous because of his race, national origin, and religion,” the 10-page letter to the city states. “Let’s face it; if Ahmed’s clock were ‘Jennifer’s clock,’ and if the pencil case were ruby red bedazzled with a clear rhinestone skull and crossbones on the cover, this would never have happened.”
Mohamed has stated the clock consisted of a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display inside a mental pencil case with a tiger hologram on the front. A photograph of a bewildered Mohamed wearing a NASA T-shirt while being led away by police in handcuffs during his Sept. 16 arrest has been widely retweeted.
“Ahmed never threatened anyone, never caused harm to anyone, and never intended to,” Hollingsworth writes. “The only one who was hurt that day was Ahmed, and the damages he suffered were not because of oversight or incompetence. The school and city officials involved knew what they needed to do to protect Ahmed’s rights. They just decided not to do it. Their after-the-fact attempts to couch their deliberate disregard of Ahmed’s rights as being motivated by concerns for the safety of the other students has only added to the harm Ahmed and his family have suffered.”
Hollingsworth says Mohamed has suffered “clearly severe” monetary damages that are “quite difficult to quantify.” He says Mohamed’s name and likeness are now “forever associated with arguably the most contentious and divisive socio-political issue of our time.”
He says “Ahmed feel[s] the burden of responsibility for his siblings being harassed and scared to go to school, for his father’s business suffering greatly from Mr. Mohamed’s absence, for one of his sisters being fired from her job, and for neither of his older sisters being able to find schools in Qatar.”
Mohamed and his immediate family have since moved to Qatar, accepting a full scholarship from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development for his remaining high school and undergraduate education. Hollingsworth says that other damages are easier to quantify, that Mohamed and his sisters had a right to a free and adequate public education.
“Ahmed first attended Irving Independent School District in pre-K, and he and all of his siblings had gone to school nearly exclusively in the district,” the letter states. “When, two days after the incident, in coordination with the city, [school principal] Daniel Cummings went on the MacArthur High School intercom system and called Ahmed and his family liars, he took that opportunity away from Ahmed and all of his siblings.”
Mohamed wants a written apology from Mayor Beth Van Duyne “acknowledging that she has never been presented with any evidence that Ahmed was a ‘pawn’ in any ‘civilization jihad’ or that the events here were planned by Ahmed’s family or friends as part of an ‘influence operation.'”
He also wants written apologies from school district officials and Police Chief Larry Boyd acknowledging Mohamed “never intended to threaten anyone and that his detention, interrogation, and arrest were wrongful and were made at a point in time when there was no reasonable suspicion to believe that Ahmed had committed a crime or was about to commit any crime.”

From Courthouse News.

D.A. Tries to Divert Young & Mentally Ill From Prison

November 23, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Acknowledging her recent struggles with depression, Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk on Monday described new programs to divert first-time nonviolent defendants who are young or mentally ill away from prison.
Speaking at a news conference at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Hawk said the new Reformative Justice Unit programs will begin on Jan. 1 with 50 participants. Defendants with a diagnosed mental illness will stay up to 18 months in a Stabilization Engagement Transition program to help them with housing, medical treatment and employment before their case is dismissed.
Defendants younger than 25 will be sent to state District Judge Brandon Birmingham’s special court, where they will spend up to 12 months in an Achieve Inspire Motivate program to help them complete high school and life skills classes before their case is dismissed.
Hawk said the programs are unique because they do not require probation and a later expungement of the case – they allow defendants to avoid probation and any mention of a crime on their record.
“For too long, prosecution rates have been used to measure the effectiveness of our office,” Hawk said. “That needs to change.”
Hawk called the new programs “the future of criminal justice.” She said 30 percent of Dallas County jail inmates have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and that the program’s first participants will be selected “within hours” of being booked into jail.
“Mass incarceration has not made us safer,” Hawk said. “Sending more people to prison has weakened our most at-risk communities by promoting poverty, racial disparity, dividing families and creating long-term housing and employment issues for so many first-time, nonviolent offenders. It is not just prosecuting when there already is a felony or a new felony case filed. This goes to the very beginning of what can we do to prevent it from happening in the future.”
Hawk has weathered months of criticism after disappearing this summer for psychiatric treatment. She acknowledged that may have played a role in her initiative.
“When you ask me if it’s something to do personally … probably subconsciously, at some level, it was,” she said. “I mean, that is the best way I can answer that.”
Citing her years on the bench as a state district judge before she was elected district attorney last year, Hawk said she has seen diversion programs work.
“I have had a front-row seat to these programs, and my experience as a judge is a foundation for this new unit,” she said.

From Courthouse News.

Texas AG Rules to Keep Booking Records Secret

November 19, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas County can keep its jail booking records secret because they are maintained for use by its courts and not subject to the Texas Public Information Act, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled.
Paxton issued his non-binding opinion on Nov. 13 after The Texas Tribune asked Sheriff Lupe Valdez for booking information for all non-U.S. citizens since 2007. Valdez refused the request and asked Paxton to weigh in, the Tribune said Monday.
“Based on your representations, we conclude the submitted information is information collected, assembled, or maintained by or for the judiciary,” Assistant Attorney General Joseph Keeney wrote in the two-page opinion. “Thus the submitted information is not subject to the act and need not be released under the act.”
Keeney explains that TPIA’s definition of “governmental body” does not include the judiciary, that the courts are instead “governed by rules adopted by the Supreme Court of Texas or by other applicable laws and rules.”
Paxton’s opinion comes two months after Valdez controversially announced she would no longer honor immigration-hold requests outside of a 48-hour federal detainer window for inmates accused of minor criminal offenses. Sixteen Hispanic plaintiffs sued Valdez in Federal Court on Oct. 26, alleging they were unconstitutionally held on such immigrations holds for months in spite of having bonded out of jail already.
Gov. Greg Abbott – a former Texas attorney general – blasted Valdez for the policy change, accusing her of enacting “sanctuary-city policies” that puts Texans in danger. He threatened to withhold grant money from sheriff’s offices that refuse to comply with federal detainer orders.
Texas Freedom of Information Foundation board member Joseph Larsen, an attorney, told the Tribune that Paxton’s ruling is “truly stunning.” He believes the booking records are clearly not part of the court system.
“This is a database admittedly maintained by the sheriff’s office,” Larsen said Monday. “These sorts of rulings happen because the AG, who cannot decide issues of fact, must accept a governmental body’s factual assertions as true.”

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Gives Same-Sex Ex Parental Rights

November 19, 2015
By David Lee
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Unmarried same-sex spouses who are not biological parents but raised a child together have standing to ask courts for parental and custody rights, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said in a landmark ruling Tuesday.
In a unanimous opinion, the nine justices concluded that an Oklahoma County judge erred in finding that plaintiff Charlene Ramey lacked standing as a nonbiological parent when she sought custody and visitation for her son.
She has separated from her same-sex partner, Kimberly Sutton, who as biological parent denied Ramey’s status as a parent. The women were involved with each other before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges this year.
Ramey sued in 2014 seeking custody but the state district judge granted Sutton’s motion to dismiss for lack of standing in March this year.
Writing for the court on Tuesday, Justice Joseph M. Watt said Ramey was “not a mere ‘third party’ like a nanny, friend or relative,” as the trial court concluded.
“On the contrary, Ramey has been intimately involved in the conception, birth and parenting of their child, at the request and invitation of Sutton,” the opinion states. “Ramey has stood in the most sacred role as parent to their child and always been referred to as ‘Mom’ by their child. The community, school, medical providers and extended family have all known Ramey as the ‘other parent,’ all with the knowledge and mutual agreement of Sutton. The uncertainty facing Ramey, as reflected in this litigation, is the exact peril identified in Obergefell.”
Watt said this case is intended to recognize unmarried same-sex couples who before Obergefell participated in family planning and shared responsibility for the child.
“Public policy dictates that the district court consider the best interests of the child and extend standing to the nonbiological parent to pursue hearings on custody and visitation,” the opinion states. “This decision does not extend any additional rights to step-parents, grandparents, or others. Accordingly, we find the district court erred in granting the motion to dismiss, and that Ramey has standing to pursue a best interests of the child hearing.”
Ramey is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. Its director Brady Henderson said the ruling will help address inequities in child custody cases involving same-sex couples.
“This opinion makes it clear that courts can’t penalize children who have same-sex parents,” Henderson said Tuesday.
The ruling will allow the cases of Rebekkah Newland and Jennifer Fleming to go forward. Both women seek access and visitation to their children who were parented by same-sex couples, Henderson said.
Ramey said that Tuesday was “an overwhelming day of emotion and joy” for her.
“Today is relief,” she said in a statement. “Today, our great state recognized that I have been nothing but true as a mom to my son and our relationship. Today starts another chapter of hope. I love you, son.”
Ramey said she was “devastated” when she was evicted from the couple’s home.
Troy Stevenson, executive director of the advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, said the court’s ruling is one of the most important cases to come through the state since Obergefell.
“I’m really proud of the Oklahoma Supreme Court for giving this case its day in court,” Stevenson said. “The worst thing I can imagine is for a child to be ripped away from its mother.”

From Courthouse News.

Charges File for Tulsa County Ex-Sheriff in Fatal Shooting

November 12, 2015
By David Lee
TULSA (CN) – Former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz was charged with two misdemeanors Tuesday for an elderly volunteer’s fatal shooting of Eric Harris, an unarmed black man, when the volunteer mistook his gun for a Taser.
Tulsa County Judge Rebecca Nightingale ordered Glanz to return to court Jan. 20 for a follow-up hearing.
Glanz resigned on Sept. 30 after a grand jury recommended he be suspended for refusing to release records of volunteer reserve deputy Robert C. Bates, who mistook a his gun for a Taser when he shot and killed Harris on April 2.
Bates is awaiting trial for second-degree manslaughter involving culpable negligence.
Bates, 74, a wealthy insurance agent, has donated money, equipment and time to the sheriff’s department.
Glanz has endured intense criticism of the volunteer reserve deputy program, which the ACLU criticized as a ” buy a badge ” program that allowed Glanz’s “favored friends and wealthy donors” to carry guns and badges with far less training and experience than professional deputies.
A body camera video showing Harris running away from deputies as they pulled up to his vehicle went viral on the Internet. Harris was chased down, held to the ground and a single gunshot is heard.
Bates immediately apologized as Harris screamed that he had been shot. As Harris screamed that he couldn’t breathe, an officer said, “Fuck your breath.”
Police said Harris was being arrested in an undercover investigation of illegal gun sales. Three of Bates’ supervisors were transferred after they refused to sign papers stating that he had received state-required training. The supervisors allegedly refused order to falsify Bates’ training records to give him credit for field training he never took, and for firearms certifications he should not have received, according to media reports.
Glanz faces one count of refusing to perform an official duty.
The 2-page criminal information claims Glanz “denied lawful requests” for the results of an internal investigation in 2009 into his office’s reserve deputy program involving Bates.
The investigation indicated that Bates was not as well-trained as professional deputies and received special treatment.
Glanz also is charged with willful violation of the law: taking a $600 monthly stipend for county travel while using county-owned vehicles for the travel.

From Courthouse News.