Texas AG Paxton Defends Taking $100,000 Gift

July 28, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday denied that he violated the rules of his office when he accepted a $100,000 gift from the leader of a company being investigated for Medicaid fraud.
Paxton accepted the money last year from James Webb, head of Dallas-based Preferred Imaging LLC, though policies of the Texas Attorney General’s Office prohibit employees from taking gifts from an entity “the employee knows is being investigated,” The Associated Press reported Wednesday, providing a link to a copy of the policies.
The gift was part of $330,000 that Paxton, R-McKinney, raised in 2015 to cover his mounting legal bills.
The Department of Justice announced on July 22 that Preferred Imaging would pay $3.51 million to resolve a whistleblower’s False Claims Act and Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act claims that the company engaged in improper billing.
Preferred Imaging admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. On July 22 federal prosecutors acknowledged the assistance of the Texas Attorney General’s Civil Medicaid Fraud Division in their investigation.
On Wednesday, Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander denied that Paxton had violated his office’s gift rule, saying that no investigation of the company had occurred because his office’s unit “never received a referral.”
Rylander told The Associated Press on Tuesday that federal prosecutors “took the lead” in the investigation and settlement and that Paxton was not involved.
Paxton faces a federal securities fraud civil suit from the SEC, which claims he raised more than $480,000 from investors in Servergy without disclosing that he was given 100,000 shares of stock in the company while he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Paxton is awaiting a trial date on a separate, three-count felony securities fraud indictment in Collin County that largely mirrors the allegations in the civil suit. He faces from five to 99 years in state prison if convicted.
Paxton has denied the accusations in both cases, blaming his legal troubles onpolitical enemies and President Barack Obama.
Paxton is prohibited from using campaign donations or taxpayer money to fund his criminal defense.
In February, the Texas Ethics Commission narrowly rejected an advisory opinion that would have allowed him to use out-of-state donations to fund his defense. If approved, the opinion would have allowed Paxton’s employees to avoid violating gift-giving laws by accepting a “benefit” from a donor with no ties to the state and who is not subject to the commission’s jurisdiction.

From Courthouse News.

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Parental Input Added to Fort Worth Bathroom Policy

July 20, 2016
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – The Fort Worth Independent School District bowed to state pressure Wednesday, announcing a change to its controversial transgender bathroom policy that now includes parental input.
“The new guidelines place a heavy emphasis on involving parents and trusts students, teachers and parents to work together to make the right decisions,” Superintendent Kent P. Scribner said in a statement. “We have great confidence in our school leadership at the campus level and will place our trust in parents, principals, counselors and teachers to take care of our most vulnerable children.”
Enacted in 2011 and clarified three months ago, the policy originally directed 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.
The new policy requires transgender students and their parents to meet with school officials to determine “an individualized support plan” on a case-by-case basis.
Opposition to the original policy was swift, as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick demandedScribner’s resignation for allegedly violating the Texas Education Code.
Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding legal opinion last month thatwarned the policy was illegal because it “relegated parents to a subordinate status” by allowing for information only on a “need-to-know” basis.
Paxton also said Scribner may have exceeded his authority by enacting the policy without school board approval.
The attorney general applauded the policy change Wednesday, saying it is now in line with his advisory opinion.
“This guideline now allows school officials to consider the needs of students and their families on a case-by-case basis while considering the health and safety of all students,” Paxton said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, the Obama administration disagrees with allowing school officials to make common-sense, case-by-case choices.”
Paxton noted the new policy is now in line with that of Harrold Independent School District, which sued the Obama administration along with Texas and 12 other states.
The school district and states claim the president’s directive that ties federal funding for schools to the treatment of transgender students is illegal.
In response to the controversy surrounding the original policy, Scribner held six town hall meetings around the district, received comment from 235 individuals and held four hours of public comment on the matter at four successive board meetings before enacting the change.

From Courthouse News.

Cowboys’ Dez Bryant Fires Back at Former Landlord

July 29, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant countersued a Texas state senator, claiming his former landlord and adviser used Bryant’s celebrity to line his own pockets and those of his associates.
Bryant sued Texas Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and former bail bondsman David Wells, according to NFL.com. The lawsuit reportedly claims Bryant had given power of attorney to Wells on the advice of West. Wells allegedly created Dez Enterprises to get marketing deals using Bryant’s name and likeness without Bryant’s knowledge.
“West would instruct endorsement companies and others to make payments for any endorsement agreements to Wells, not Bryant,” the lawsuit alleges, according to NFL.com. “Many of these payments stopped at Wells and/or West, but never reached Bryant.”
NFL.com reports the lawsuit claims Wells took over $200,000 of Bryant’s money from the endorsements and that West and his law firm allegedly took $300,000.
The counterclaim has not yet been made available by the court clerk.
West first sued Bryant last month in Dallas County District Court, claiming Bryant trashed a 6,400 square foot, gated community home in DeSoto that he rented from West from September 2013 to January 2016.
West said the home was “littered with trash and feces” and “cracked windows and blackened carpeting” that required the entire home to be repainted. He also said the flooring, lighting, ceiling fans, windows, doors, the gate and garage locks had to be replaced.
On Monday, Bryant filed an answer in West’s lawsuit. He said West’s claims are barred “by the doctrine of unclean hands” and that any damages are “reduced by a set-off.”
West’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.
Bryant seeks damages for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and fraud. He is represented by Kenneth E. Broughton with Reed Smith in Houston.
In April 2015, Bryant’s former representatives with Official Brands sued his new agents with Roc Nation. Official Brands claims they helped Bryant build his “Throw up the X” brand and had an exclusive two-year contract to represent him.

From Courthouse News.

Lawyer Wants Cut of Fees From Chesapeake Settlement

July 18, 2016
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – A Texas attorney is demanding one-third of the legal fees from a $51 million natural gas royalty settlement between Chesapeake Energy and 13,000 Texas landowners, claiming he developed the “blueprint for victory” while co-counsel got the public “recognition and spotlight.”
Jim Ward and Wardlaw Services sued Dan McDonald and Fort Worth-based law firms McDonald Law Firm and Circelli, Walter & Young in Tarrant County Court on Friday.
Chesapeake and its partner, France-based Total S.A., announced in May that they had settled the hundreds of lawsuits filed by landowners over the North Texas Barnett Shaleformation, mostly in Tarrant and Johnson counties.
The defendant law firms said last week they had obtained written approval from the required 90 percent of their clients by the July 11 deadline.
Chesapeake agreed to pay $29.4 million in cash and $10 million through a loan payable in 2019. Total agreed to pay $13.1 million in cash.
Ward claims the settlement would not have happened without his “indispensable contribution” as co-counsel. A database of “critical evidence” already existed when McDonald was soliciting clients, Ward says in the complaint.
“Ward, together with his team of consultants and experts, developed and possessed the blueprint for victory,” the 16-page complaint states. “Proving any one royalty owner’s case would be difficult and time-consuming on its own. Moreover, in the case of thousands of plaintiffs, it would be cost-prohibitive, as many plaintiffs only stood to gain a few hundred dollars if they prevailed against Chesapeake. Ward, an attorney with significant oil and gas experience, spent two years piecing together documents, court records, and data which effectively proved the case for all plaintiffs, not just certain plaintiffs.”
Ward says that when he asked McDonald for an accounting of the settlement, McDonald refused. He claims McDonald took the position that “at most, the agreement only pertained to approximately 6 (of the more than 13,000) plaintiffs.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
McDonald Law Firm did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Sunday evening.
Ward seeks a restraining order and injunction, as he expects the settlement money to be wired to a trust account held by Circelli Walter on Monday.
He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, fraud, tortious interference, money had and received, reformation and theft.
He is represented by Philip Russ in Amarillo and Bryan N.B. King with Fellers Snider in Oklahoma City.

From Courthouse News.

Ex-Tulsa Sheriff Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor

July 15, 2016
By David Lee
TULSA, Okla. (CN) – Former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz pleaded guilty and no contest Friday to misdemeanor charges relating to the controversial shooting death of Eric Harris that led to his resignation last year.
Glanz pleaded no contest to one count of refusal to perform an official duty and guilty to one count of willful violation of the law. He immediately received a one-year suspended sentence, the Tulsa World newspaper reported.
Glanz did not respond to reporters’ questions as he exited the courtroom after the hearing. He was accompanied by his wife, Deborah Glanz.
Glanz resigned last September after a grand jury issued the indictments and returned ouster proceedings against him. The refusal to perform an official duty charge related to Glanz failing to timely release a 2009 report into whether former volunteer reserve deputy Robert C. Bates was given favorable treatment.
A wealthy, white insurance executive, Bates was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to four years in state prison for mistaking his gun for his Taser and shooting Harris, a restrained black man, to death in a traffic stop during an illegal gun sale sting.
Bates had donated several vehicles, guns and stun guns since he became a reserve deputy in 2008.
A released body camera video showed Harris running away from deputies as they pulled up to his vehicle. He was chased down, held to the ground and a single gunshot is heard.
Bates can be heard apologizing as Harris screamed that he has been shot.
As Harris screamed that he couldn’t breathe, an officer said, “Fuck your breath.”
Three of Bates’ supervisors were transferred after they refused to sign papers that he had received state-required training, the Tulsa World reported. The unidentified deputies were ordered to falsify Bates’ training records to give him credit for field training he never took, and for firearms certifications he should not have received, multiple anonymous sources told the newspaper.
The willful violation of law count accused Glanz of taking a $600 monthly stipend for county travel while using county-owned vehicles for such travel.

From Courthouse News.

Texans OK Chesapeake Energy’s $51 Million Offer

July 14, 2016
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) — More than 11,800 Texas landowners have approved a $51 million settlement with Chesapeake Energy and Total S.A. over claims they were cheated out of natural gas royalties, their attorneys said Wednesday.
The McDonald Law Firm and Circelli, Walter & Young in Fort Worth announced that 91 percent of their 13,000 clients agreed to the settlement reached in May, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
The clients who agreed to the settlement account for 97.15 percent of the natural gas produced on the owners’ lands.
The attorneys had until July 11 to persuade at least 90 percent of their clients who held at least 95 of the natural gas produced from May 2011 to February this year to agree to the settlement.
The original settlement amount of more than $52 million was prorated to match the 97.15 percent of natural gas produced.
“We are pleased that the required number of plaintiffs … have accepted the terms of the settlement agreement, resolving this matter,” the law firms and Chesapeake said in a joint statement.
Chesapeake agreed in May to pay $29.4 million in cash and $10 million through a loan payable in 2019. Total agreed to pay $13.1 million in cash under the deal.
More than 13,000 landowners from North Texas’ Barnett Shale filed the lawsuits, mostly in Tarrant and Johnson County courts.
In a 2012 federal lawsuit, one proposed class of landowners said they signed leases that expressly banned deduction of expenses from royalties, including costs of treating, marketing and transporting the gas to market.
“But instead of paying royalty without deduction of post-production costs, as required by the lease, the Chesapeake entities improperly subtracted post production costs from the royalty due to the plaintiffs,” the complaint stated. “The Chesapeake entities employed a scheme whereby they ignored the contract language and made extensive deductions of post-production costs that were the Chesapeake entities’ obligations.”

From Courthouse News.

Dallas Shootings Inspire ‘Back the Blue Act’

July 13, 2016
By David Lee
WASHINGTON (CN) – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn introduced a bill Wednesday that would make the targeting and killing of police a federal crime, nearly a week after a lone sniper ambushed and killed five Dallas cops.
Cornyn, R-Texas, and cosponsors Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced the Back the Blue Act of 2016. The bill would make it a federal crime to deliberately target and kill law enforcement officers, public safety officers and federal judges.
Defendants would face a minimum of 30 years in federal prison, up to the death penalty. They would face a minimum sentence of 10 years for attempted murder.
The bill would also expand police officers’ self-defense rights and provide federal grant money for police departments to spend on community policing initiatives.
“The one thing we need to do, absolutely, is to come together to show our support for those who get up every morning, put on the badge, and walk out the door, not knowing if they’ll come home at the end of the day,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “And we can do that by sending a clear message that America will not tolerate those who seek to kill those who are duty-bound to defend us.”
The bill would expedite court proceedings for cases involving the killing of a public safety officer, Cornyn said.
The bill also “creates a new federal crime for interstate flight to avoid prosecution for killing, attempting to kill, or conspiring to kill a federal judge, federal law enforcement officer, or federally-funded public safety officer,” Cornyn said in a written statement. “The offender would be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.”
Cornyn attended an interfaith memorial service Tuesday in downtown Dallas in memory of the killed officers – Dallas Police Department Sgt. Michael Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32; and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson, 43.
“Yesterday, President Obama stressed the need to translate our words and prayers into action,” Cornyn said. “This legislation is responsive to what the president said.”
The shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite, was killed last Thursday night on the second floor of El Centro College via detonation of C-4 explosive carried by a bomb-disposal robot. Police say he began shooting at officers from an elevated position around 9 p.m. after a protest march through downtown concluded.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Johnson told police negotiators that he was upset “with Black Lives Matter” and about the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in suburban Minneapolis.
“He said he was upset at white people,” Brown said Friday. “He said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. He stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated he did this alone.”

From Courthouse News.