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State Bar Will Investigate Paxton for Conduct After Marriage Ruling

Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Texas Tribune

The list of investigations into Attorney General Ken Paxton’s conduct just got a little bit longer. The Texas State Bar was ordered last week to launch a disciplinary probe into Paxton’s conduct in the days following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage — an investigation that could end with Paxton getting disbarred.

In a Feb. 2 letter, the state Board of Disciplinary Appeals told lawyers who filed a complaint against Paxton that it was directing the State Bar to investigate Paxton's "possible violation" of its rules of professional conduct.

The legal saga began last summer, after the Supreme Court announced same-sex marriage had been legalized nationwide. Two days later, Paxton issued an opinion telling county clerks they could opt out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if the clerks had religious objections to doing so. Paxton clarified that clerks might face fines or legal challenges if they refused to issue licenses, because “the strength of any particular religious-accommodation claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”

Almost immediately, a group of lawyers, former State Bar directors and judges fileda complaint with the State Bar’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel, alleging Paxton’s opinion constituted a violation of the rules of professional conduct to which he is bound as an attorney.

“Attorney General Paxton violated his own official oath of office to ‘preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state,’” the complaint read.

Although the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s office originally dismissed the complaint, the group of attorneys appealed to the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, whose members are appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas.

The case is now back in the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s court, where the office will determine whether Paxton committed professional misconduct and ask Paxton to respond to the complaint.

A spokeswoman for Paxton, Cynthia Meyer, said he is sure he has not violated his oath.

"This complaint has always lacked merit, and we are confident the legal process for resolving these complaints will bear that out," she said in an email.

Paxton also faces three felony charges related to claims that he misled investors in business dealings before he took office. The attorney general, who was indicted last summer and pled not guilty to the charges, has said the case against him is politically motivated.

This story was produced by the Texas Tribune.

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