ExxonMobil Defeats Climate Change Subpoena

June 30, 2016
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker agreed Wednesday to drop a subpoena asking ExxonMobil for its knowledge about climate change, which ExxonMobil denounced as an unconstitutional fishing expedition.
“After conferring on the matter, the parties mutually agreed that Attorney General [Claude] Walker will withdraw the subpoena and ExxonMobil will stipulate to the dismissal without prejudice of this action,” a 4-page joint stipulation of dismissal states. “Accordingly, ExxonMobil hereby stipulates to the dismissal of this action without prejudice to its right to assert the same or similar claims against some or all of the defendants and Attorney General Walker agrees to withdraw the subpoena.”
The oil giant sued Walker, the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm and attorney Linda Singer in Tarrant County Court in April, claiming the demand for four decades of documents was “little more than a weak pretext for an unlawful exercise of power.”
It sought declaratory judgment that the demand violates its rights under the state and federal constitutions.
ExxonMobil claimed it did not violate Virgin Island laws because it has no physical presence in the territory, and “owns no property, has no employees, and has conducted no business operations” in the Virgin Islands in the past five years.
The lawsuit was removed to Federal Court. It cited the “Green 20” group of attorneys general who announced one week after the subpoena issued that they will “com[e] up with creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuel industry.”
ExxonMobil filed a second lawsuit two weeks ago against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Tracy Healey, fighting another subpoena for the same records.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is not among the Green 20. His office in May filed a plea to intervene and quash the subpoena in the Walker lawsuit, on ExxonMobil’s behalf. Joined by Alabama, Texas claimed that Walker’s use of New York-based Cohen Milstein to issue a subpoena for the records “violates the First Amendment and that the participation of Cohen Milstein, allegedly on a contingency fee basis, is an unconstitutional delegation of prosecutorial power.”

From Courthouse News.

Texas AG Continues Fight Against School Bathrooms

June 29, 2016
By David Lee
AUSTIN (CN) – Fort Worth Independent School District’s transgender-friendly restroom policy illegally instructs school employees to not out transgender children to their parents, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday.
Paxton wrote in a 6-page non-binding advisory opinion that the guidelines “relegate parents to a subordinate status” because they allow for information only on a “need-to-know” basis. The policy, announced in April after being in place for two years, directs teachers and school officials to allow transgender students to use a single stall in bathrooms of the gender with which they identify, when other students are not present.
Paxton wrote: “Limiting parents’ access to information in this way impairs their ability to ‘actively participate’ in the children’s education, contrary to state law. Furthermore, the provision requiring school personnel to ‘work closely with the student’ to determine to what extent, if any, a parent will be involved in the student’s transitioning suggests that employees could, pursuant to these restrictions, encourage some children to withhold information from a parent. Such action is both against state law and grounds for discipline under the Education Code.” (Citation to Education Code omitted.)
Paxton said that Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner exceeded his authority by approving the guidelines without school board approval. He said state law allows the superintendent to implement policies set by the board of trustees “by developing administrative regulations.”
Paxton was asked to weigh in by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who demanded Scribner’s firing or resignation in May because of the restroom policy. Scribner refused to step down.
Both Paxton and Patrick are Republican.
“As I said from the beginning, Superintendent Kent Scribner violated the Texas Education Code when he unilaterally adopted his so-called transgender policies without school board approval,” Patrick said in a statement Tuesday evening. “Today, the attorney general agreed.”
Patrick was booed and jeered when he appeared at a May 10 school board meeting to ask for Scribner’s removal. He described the policy as “ill-advised” and doing “nothing to improve a student’s chance of graduating.”
Paxton’s opinion comes one month after he warned Target that its policy of allowing transgender people to use restrooms and fitting rooms corresponding to their gender identity could lead to crime and “otherwise unwanted activity.”

From Courthouse News.

Ex-Dallas DA Official Admits Taking Bribes

June 29, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – The former chief investigator for the Dallas County district attorney admitted Tuesday he took $200,000 in bribes disguised as a cattle investment to make a criminal case go away.
Anthony L. Robinson, 53, of Mesquite, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe or reward an agent of an organization receiving federal funds. He worked for the district attorney’s office for around 22 years, serving as chief investigator under former District Attorney Craig Watkins from 2007 to 2014.
Robinson faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. He was charged by a federal grand jury in June 2015; the indictment was unsealed Tuesday.
Robinson agreed in a plea agreement to pay more than $31,000 in restitution. He is free on bond and will be sentenced on Oct. 12.
Prosecutors did not identify the defendant who paid the bribe. They said that from September 2012 to May 2013, Robinson “solicited, demanded, and accepted” a bribe that was “disguised as an investment in a cattle business.”
“On approximately September 13, 2012, Robinson traveled to Las Vegas, at Dallas County expense, to take custody of this individual and return him to Dallas County to face a criminal charge,” prosecutors said in a statement. “On the return trip, Robinson told this individual that he wanted to enter the cattle business. This individual told Robinson that he was wealthy and would be willing to enter into business with Robinson if Robinson would assist in getting his criminal charges dismissed. Robinson agreed.”
Five months later, Robinson drafted a proposed business partnership in which the unidentified defendant “would supply the initial funding” while Robinson “would handle all day-to-day activities.”
“On March 26, 2013, this individual deposited $200,000 into a joint checking account, and on March 27, 2013, Robinson signed paperwork adding himself as a co-owner of the joint checking account,” prosecutors said. “The next day, Robinson wrote a $5,000 check from that joint account to his wife. Robinson also made additional withdrawals from the account that he used for personal expenses, and he also withdrew some money that he sent back to this individual.”
Robinson used his position to persuade an assistant district attorney to dismiss the charge two months later, prosecutors said.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on Robinson’s plea.

From Courthouse News.

Business Groups Win Fight Over Union Rule

June 27, 2016
By David Lee
LUBBOCK, Texas (CN) — A federal judge blocked the Labor Department’s “persuader” rule Monday, agreeing with 10 states that the new requirement for employers to disclose the identities of anti-union consultants they hire infringes on attorney-advice protections.
U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings issued the preliminary injunction against April 25 changes to the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. He said the law “plainly, explicitly and unambiguously creates an exemption” from such reporting.
He said the possible injury to the plaintiffs — the National Federal of Independent Business and other groups — “outweighs any threatened harm” to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“By treating ‘advice’ and persuader activities as mutually exclusive and without any possible overlap, DOL’s new advice exemption interpretation makes section 203(c) entirely superflous,” Cummings wrote in the 90-page order. “Indeed, DOL improperly reads an exception into the statute’s advice exemption that is not there, treating it as exempting all advice except advice that has an object to persuade. Because DOL’s new interpretation violates basic canons of statutory interpretation, this court rejects it.”
The National Federation of Independent Business and four other business groups suedthe Secretary of Labor in Federal Court on March 31, challenging the “persuader advice exemption.”
Texas and nine other states intervened in the lawsuit two months later, arguing the change makes it “more difficult and expensive” for small businesses to get legal advice.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued the rule change may allow the federal government to “invade virtually” any law practice and preempt state regulators who have “absolute authority” to regulate lawyers.
The Labor Department disagreed, saying the rule change “is consistent with traditional protections” for attorney-client privilege.”
Paxton hailed Monday’s ruling as a “victory for the preservation of the sanctity of attorney-client confidentiality” and for states regulating the practice of law. He blasted President Barack Obama’s “repeated attempts to subvert the power” of citizens.
“Every American knows that when they talk to a lawyer, their conversation is confidential,” he said in a statement. “That confidentiality has been the cornerstone of the attorney-client relationship since before our nation’s founding. If information confidentially given to one’s attorney is also accessible by the federal government, it would damage the very foundation of our system of justice.”

From Courthouse News.

Johnny Manziel’s Lawyer Withdraws From Case

DALLAS (CN) – The Dallas attorney who accidentally texted the Associated Press about former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel seeking a plea deal has quit his client’s domestic assault case, Manziel’s spokeswoman said Monday.
Denise C. Michaels tweeted that lead attorney Jim Darnell of El Paso had informed her of Bob Hinton’s withdrawal from the case.
“Hinton has only worked on the periphery of this case,” she said. “Lead counsel Jim Darnell has said from the beginning that he would not have Manziel plead guilty – his position has not changed.”
Hinton reportedly sent the errant text last Wednesday after the Associated Press sought comment about a hit-and-run accident Manziel was involved in two days earlier.
The AP said Hinton indicated he was sent a receipt of Manziel possibly spending over $1,000 on drug paraphernalia one day after the crash.
“Heaven help us if one of the conditions is to pee in a bottle,” Hinton reportedly stated.
The AP reported that Hinton responded to questions about the errant text by saying he meant to send it to Darnell and was not aware the AP received it.
“He insisted the contents were protected by attorney-client privilege and threatened to sue if certain details were published,” the AP reported.
Hinton said there was nothing identifying Manziel on the receipt and that he did not know if the receipt was legitimate or not. Michaels dismissed Manziel’s alleged purchase as a “rumor.”
Manziel is awaiting trial on a misdemeanor assault charge involving ex-girlfriend Collen Crowley, 23, of Fort Worth. He faces up to one year in state prison and a $4,000 fine if convicted.
Crowley was granted a protective order against Manziel in Tarrant County Court in February.
She claims he threw her on a bed at Hotel ZaZa in Dallas in January, then forced her into a car while a valet allegedly ignored her pleas for help.
“He hit me with his open hand on my left ear for jumping out of the car,” Crowley’s four-page affidavit said. “I realized immediately I could not hear out of that ear, and I still cannot today.”
Crowley said she was worried Manziel was on drugs or having a “psychotic break” and claimed he said he was going to kill himself as he drove her back to her apartment in Fort Worth.
“I stated crying even more and he told me ‘Shut up or I’ll kill us both,” the affidavit said. “Then I started begging him not to kill me and he immediately responded, ‘I would never kill you. You don’t deserve that. I would only kill myself!’ He was not making sense.”
Within hours of being booked in May, Manziel tweeted a joke about not having a shirt on during his mugshot for an earlier arrest in college.

From Courthouse News.

Grand Jury Clears Former Cop in Pool Incident

June 23, 2016
By David Lee
McKINNEY, Texas (CN) – A North Texas grand jury declined Thursday to indict a white police officer who pulled a gun on unarmed black teenagers at a pool party last year in a viral video that led to his resignation.
A Collin County grand jury “no billed” former McKinney police officer Eric Casebolt, police officials confirmed.
The predominantly white and affluent suburb was thrust into the national debate on race and police after a seven-minute video was posted on YouTube a year ago. It shows Casebolt and 11 other officers responding to a call of fights and uninvited guests at a privately owned community swimming pool at the Craig Ranch master-planned community.
Casebolt is seen wrestling Dajerria Becton, a 15-year-old black girl, to the ground. Several teenagers cry and scream while surrounding Casebolt, who unholsters his service weapon and appears to point it at the two black male teenagers closest to him, who run away.
Casebolt then reholsters his gun and pins the screaming girl to the ground with his knees. She can be heard repeatedly asking for her mother.
Casbolt resigned and apologized for his actions several days later, ending investigations by the police department and city manager. He blamed the stress of responding to two suicide calls earlier that day, and denied racism played a role.
Several of the teenagers filed administrative complaints against Casebolt, accusing him of using excessive force.
McKinney police say the incident was later referred to the Texas Rangers for further investigation.
“The Rangers concluded their investigation and presented it to the Collin County District Attorney’s Office,” public information officer Sabrina Boston said Thursday. “On Thursday, June 23, the District Attorney’s office presented the findings of the Rangers’ investigation to a grand jury.”
The case was presented to the grand jury weeks after Becton and her attorney demanded movement in the case on the incident’s one-year anniversary.
“People still talk about it, they say rude things,” Becton said at a news conference at police headquarters on June 7. “But I am doing really fine.”
Becton’s attorney, Kim T. Cole of Dallas, said Casebolt “must be held accountable to send a message that this is not acceptable.”
Casebolt’s attorney, Tom Mills of Dallas, said Thursday his client wanted the case resolved before looking for work again.
“He was relieved and glad that the Rangers had done the thorough investigation that they did,” Mills told The Dallas Morning News.
McKinney police plan to hold a community forum on Monday with community leaders to discuss moving forward from the incident.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Senator Sues Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant

June 22, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant trashed a suburban Dallas home he rented from attorney and State Sen. Royce West, costing $60,000 in repairs, West claims in court.
West sued Bryant in Dallas County District Court on Friday. He says Bryant rented his 6,400 square foot, gated community home in DeSoto from September 2013 to January 2016.
“The property, owned by Mr. West, also boasts a tennis court, swimming pool and gourmet kitchen,” the eight-page complaint states. “Under the lease, Mr. Bryant undertook to return the property to Mr. West in the same condition in which he received it, excepting normal wear and tear. When Mr. Bryant returned the property to Mr. West in February 2016, however, Mr. West found it in a state of serious disrepair: littered with trash and feces, missing blinds and shutters, with cracked windows and blackened carpeting. Mr. Bryant has been unwilling to accept responsibility for the damage, forcing Mr. West to file this suit.”
West says the entire home had to be repainted, all flooring and carpeting had to be cleaned or replaced, as well as the replacement of lighting, ceiling fans, broken windows, doors, the gate and garage locks. He says heavy cleaning was necessary to clear the home of “distinct odors.”
The senator attached several photographs of the damage to his complaint. They show several large, dark stains in the carpeting of the home, abandoned furniture, piles of trash and cracked windows.
West says he received a response from Bryant’s counsel after his second attempt at collecting in May.
“The letter implied that Mr. Bryant would seek to file a separate and unrelated lawsuit against Mr. West should Mr. West pursue collection of the costs of repair any further,” the complaint states. “The allegations made in the letter were vague, unfounded, and clearly intended as retaliatory.”
West says he has been unable to lease the home out to someone else because of “the continuing repair work” for the damage.
He seeks actual damages for breach of contract and promissory estoppel. He is represented by G. Michael Gruber with Gruber Elrod in Dallas.
West has served in the Texas Senate since 1993, representing the 23rd Senatorial District in Dallas County.
He previously represented Bryant in July 2012, when the football player was accused of physically attacking his mother, Angela. Mother and son later appeared at a press conference at West’s law office, telling reporters that a family disagreement did occur but that there was no “family violence.”
No charges were filed against Bryant.
West most recently made headlines by demanding action from Texas A&M University administrators after several minority high school students from Dallas were subjected to insults and racial slurs during a campus visit.

From Courthouse News.