Getting information from the Texas Attorney General’s Office (OAG) about areas wherein the AG is representing the state, is as the proverbial phrase “like pulling teeth.” Media spokespersons for the Lone Star state’s top lawyer, Attorney General Ken Paxton, report that it is the policy of the OAG not to comment on pending litigation. Like the chorus of a song, this refrain has been the repeated response to any request for information from the agency. The contrast between the previous Office of Texas Attorney General, and the present administration, is great.
Late Tuesday, media outlets were reporting that an assistant attorney general with Paxton’s office told a federal judge that the investigation by the Texas Rangers into the Sandra Bland case would be completed “within the next few days.” The anticipation was that prosecutors in Waller County, Texas, would soon be presenting evidence to a grand jury.
Before reporting this, Breitbart Texas contacted the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to verify that the assistant attorney general had indeed made this representation, and to otherwise inquire into the procedural posture of any civil and criminal proceedings.
The representation was allegedly made during a routine status conference in the civil rights and wrongful death case for civil damages filed in federal court by Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal of Naperville, Illinois.
Sandra Bland was the young woman who committed suicide in the Waller County jail after being arrested by a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper. She had been arrested following a traffic violation and had allegedly assaulted the trooper.
The DPS trooper pulled Bland over after she ran a stop sign and changed lanes without signaling. The situation escalated after Bland became argumentative about the ticket and subsequently refused to put out her cigarette pursuant to the officer’s instructions and she was argumentative with him. She then refused his lawful order to get out of her car. During his attempt to physically remove Bland from her vehicle, the trooper threatened to “light [her] up” with a Taser.
The incident was captured on a police dashcam video and was reported by Breitbart Texas.
The Sandra Bland case has been the subject of national attention and of investigations at the Texas State Capitol. There have been protests at the Waller County jail for months following her death, and legislators are calling for reforms to be made to the mental health system and jail procedures in Texas, as reported by Breitbart Texas.
While the circumstances surrounding the three days before Sandra Bland’s death is important to many in the nation, any alleged statement by an assistant attorney general that the Texas Rangers would be completing their investigation soon is not all that significant. It is a representation simply of what is happening currently. The Texas Rangers could prolong their investigation, and the prosecution in Waller County could also ask the Texas Rangers to do more investigation before presenting any evidence to a grand jury.
Breitbart Texas spoke with Chicago lawyer Cannon D. Lambert, one of the attorneys representing Bland’s mother in the civil case. He said the assistant attorney general merely represented that he “expected” that the report from the Texas Rangers would be done in a few days. Lambert also said that the Asst. AG said he could not control when the report was done. Indeed, he honestly could not.
When reached for comment, the Texas Attorney General’s Office would neither verify whether the statement was made in open court, nor would they comment on the civil rights lawsuit filed by Bland’s mother. With regard to the latter, all that was requested was an update on the legal proceedings from a procedural standpoint, and the OAG and the litigants had just participated in a status conference in open court.
In response to these inquiries, a media spokesman for the Lone Star state’s top lawyer replied in writing that the AG’s office policy is that “We do not comment on pending litigation or outside of what we have filed in court.”
Prior inquiries to the state’s top lawyer have resulted in the same response, and questions to the OAG staff about legal matters seemingly have not been comprehended by those hearing them. A skeptic might argue that this is obfuscation but for the routine, merely procedural, questions that have been posed to the office.
And while the agency always offers to provide publicly-filed court documents, this is not the kind of transparent and full response expected from the agency that provides the legal representation for Texas.
The website of the office of the attorney general states that “Attorney General Ken Paxton is the lawyer for the State of Texas and is charged by the Texas Constitution to [among other things]: defend the laws and the Constitution of the State of Texas, [and] represent the State in litigation.”
Open government, requests for records, open records training, and ensuring transparency in government, is a large part of the duties of the Office of Attorney General.
Former Attorney General Greg Abbott ran an office that was transparent and responsive to public disclosure about areas of his representation of state departments, agencies, and the people of Texas. His communications staff was competent and conversant in the law and legal procedure. They reached out to lawyers in the AG’s office if required to be responsive to inquiries.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is certainly not without his distractions presently. He is facing trial after being charged with two first degree counts of securities fraud, and with a third degree felony for failing to register as a securities adviser with the Texas State Securities Board, as reported by Breitbart Texas. The Attorney General has political enemies from the Republican establishment wing of the party, and one of the charges is based on the complaint of an individual who either fits into this category, or is aligned with those in this category. While he certainly has his challenges, and the state’s largest law firm to run, it would reflect more positively upon him if changes were made in the types of responses given.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and an associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2