AUSTIN, Texas — Trey Trainor, one of the attorneys representing Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan in his ongoing battle with the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), fired back at the TEC, the media, and critics who have questioned Sullivan’s claims of residency in Denton County, saying that “the law is very clear” and questioning the extraordinary lengths and expense that the TEC has devoted to this case.
As Breitbart Texas reported, the TEC held a public hearing last June against Sullivan and Empower Texans, the organization he leads, alleging that Sullivan improperly failed to register with the State of Texas as a lobbyist. At the hearing, another of Sullivan’s attorneys, Joe Nixon, raised challenges to the vagueness of the lobbying law, along with repeated problems following procedural rules and properly authenticating evidence. The TEC was unswayed by these arguments, and ruled against Sullivan, imposing a $5,000 civil fine against him for two years of violations they claimed (2010 and 2011), for a total fine of $10,000.
Sullivan challenged the TEC’s ruling in court, filing his appeal in Denton County, his new residence. Under Texas law, TEC rulings can be appealed in either Travis County or in the county where the appellant resides. The TEC then took the extraordinary step of not only challenging Sullivan’s claim of residence, but hiring a private investigator to dig up information on Sullivan.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart Texas, Trainor pointed out the absurdity of an agency with the powers granted to the TEC hiring an outside investigator to look into the life of a private citizen. According to Trainor, the TEC could have called on the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Travis County Police Department, or any one of a number of law enforcement agencies in the state to investigate Sullivan.
“All of this is to avoid having to get a search warrant,” Trainor told Breitbart Texas, pointing out that if the TEC had pursued traditional law enforcement means of investigating Sullivan, they would have had to justify their actions before a judge and obtain a search warrant. “And why is the State of Texas afraid to have a hearing in Denton County?”
In an article for the San Antonio Express-News, David Saleh Rauf accuses Sullivan of forum shopping. “[T]he importance of the venue in this case can’t be understated: Sullivan has lost on motions before Travis County courts at almost every turn in the string of lawsuits he’s filed against the commission,” writes Rauf. “Some observers claim Sullivan did the equivalent of shopping around for a venue outside of the traditionally liberal Travis County by taking his appeal to Denton.”
What Rauf and other critics are missing, according to Trainor, is that the law is very clear on the issue of establishing residency for purposes of establishing venue, or the location where a legal action may be filed. Back in December, Sullivan’s attorneys filed a response to the TEC’s challenge to his claim of residency, pointing out that the legal standard under Texas law for establishing residency was very simple, requiring little more than an intention to reside in that county. Furthermore, the law permits someone to have residency in two or more counties for the purposes of venue. Trainor pointed out that Texas state legislators are in a similar situation, where they rent apartments in Austin where they stay during the legislative session, but also intend to return to their home counties.
Trainor argued that Sullivan had more than satisfied the legal standard needed to prove residency, publicly declaring his intention to reside in Denton County. His job as the head of Empower Texans does require him to spend substantial time in Austin, especially during the legislative session, but also requires significant statewide travel. As pointed out in the motion they filed, Sullivan signed a lease to an apartment in Denton County, registered to vote there, and did in fact vote in Denton County during the recent elections. The TEC has not disputed these facts.
Another critical fact missed by the TEC and the media chatter about this case: Sullivan’s connection to Denton County is not new and pre-dates this legal case by many years. He has long-standing family ties in Denton County, with several generations of his family living in the area.
“The law is very clear,” said Trainor, and Sullivan’s residency claims were more than sufficient to keep this case in Denton County.
On Monday, the court will hear arguments on the challenge to Sullivan’s residency, as well as two motions by Sullivan: one to have the case dismissed and another challenging the TEC’s authority to hire outside counsel. Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this story.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.
[Disclosure: Sullivan is a Breitbart Texas contributor.]