Michael Quinn Sullivan Wins

A Denton County judge has tossed out a ruling by the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) against Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan that claimed that Sullivan had improperly failed to register as a lobbyist. The court not only rejected the TEC’s attempt to transfer the case back to Travis County, but also ruled later that same day that the entire case was to be thrown out.

Last June, after pursuing a case against Sullivan for nearly two years, the TEC finally held a public hearing. As Breitbart Texas reported, the TEC failed to properly authenticate evidence it presented against Sullivan, allowed witnesses to violate procedural rules, and failed to counter arguments offered by Sullivan’s attorneys, chiefly several challenges they made regarding vagueness issues with Texas’ lobbying law.

Nevertheless, after meeting behind closed doors, the TEC ruled against Sullivan, imposing a $5,000 civil fine against Sullivan 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, at the appellant’s choice. 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.

Breitbart Texas interviewed one of Sullivan’s attorneys, Trey Trainor, last month on this issue. 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, said Trainor. In fact, he said, the law requires little more than declaring an intention to reside in that county. Sullivan had submitted a copy of his lease to an apartment in Denton County as well as evidence that he had registered to vote there and did in fact vote there, in addition to his long-standing family ties in the area.

The TEC still persisted in challenging Sullivan’s selection of venue. However, District Judge Steve Burgess did not find the TEC’s arguments persuasive, and ruled that venue was proper before proceeding with the heart of the case.

According to a statement on the Empower Texans website, after a total hearing time of nearly five hours, Judge Burgess issued a ruling on Wednesday afternoon that the TEC’s ruling against Sullivan was to be dismissed pursuant to Texas’ Citizens Participation Act, which protects the rights of speech, petition, and assembly.

Sullivan was understandably thrilled with the court’s decision, posting several tweets that said “VICTORY!” in all capital letters, as well as quotes from Gandhi and Winston Churchill:

“I am pleased with the court’s ruling, which came after taking careful consideration of the case’s facts and history,” said Sullivan in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “It should not escape notice that on the very first day that a court reviewed the case, it was dismissed outright.”

From the beginning, Sullivan and his supporters have sought to frame this case as not just about registration requirements for lobbyists, but as a broader battle for free speech rights, even using the hashtag “#TXSpeechFight” in posts about the case. “The TEC has devolved into an agency in which their process is the punishment,” said Sullivan.”I’m glad I was able to be in this fight so that other Texans won’t have to.”

Sullivan’s attorneys, Trainor and Joe Nixon of the Beirne, Maynard & Parsons law firm, said that the Citizens Participation Act, the statute which was the basis for the court’s ruling, awards attorneys fees and court costs to those who successfully appeal TEC rulings, and Sullivan would be seeking the reimbursement to which he is entitled under that law.

The TEC intends to appeal the ruling, according to a report by the San Antonio Express-News, but for now, Sullivan is celebrating a hard fought victory nearly three years in the making.

[Disclosure: Michael Quinn Sullivan is a Breitbart Texas contributor.]

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.


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