Collin County taxpayers aren’t just paying a lawyer $300 an hour to defend the rights of three other lawyers to get paid $300 an hour for prosecuting Attorney General Ken Paxton, they’re paying that lawyer to argue that a taxpayer who has tried to put a stop to all the expensive lawyering should have to pay for daring to oppose them.
Attorney David Feldman, who has assumed a role of all-purpose defender of the Paxton prosecutors, is charging the county for all this theorizing, although nobody at the county ever ordered it.
According to Feldman’s latest theory, the First Amendment means that nobody should interfere with these lawyers and their lawyering. Therefore Jeffory Blackard, a Paxton ally who has sued to block payment, ought to be hit with sanctions for interfering with their right to demand payment from the county.
And if nobody buys that the First Amendment means anything of the sort, well, that’ll still be $300 an hour, please, for the theorizing.
Feldman has been billing the county for his work in a civil case defending the legality of the deal three special prosecutors got for going after Paxton, and he’s also been billing the county for writing legal memos justifying those prosecutors’ decision not to disclose their records to requestors. That’s been according to the orders of District Judge George Gallagher, who was presiding over the criminal case against Paxton until recently.
However, Feldman has also filed a legal claim against Blackard, the plaintiff whose taxpayer lawsuit against the court-appointed prosecutors recently prompted the Collin County Commissioners Court to refuse to pay the three lawyers.
According to a letter Blackard’s attorney Edward Greim sent to the commissioners Friday, Feldman has sought “sanctions” against Blackard “under the theory that his taxpayer lawsuits violate the individual First Amendment rights of the Attorneys Pro Tem.”
Greim calls the legal theory “exotic.”
The problem, he says, is that the court-appointed attorneys have “a blank check to engage in civil litigation on their own behalf.”
That, he argues, is “not only unlawful and unnecessary, it has created a serious moral hazard that will multiply litigation costs and undermine the legal interests of the County and taxpayers.”
Greim is urging the commissioners to reject any future invoices from Feldman as illegal. Earlier this month, the court disregarded Feldman’s most recent bill, which had been approved by Gallagher, but Gallagher’s orders were voided when he was removed from the case by a higher court.
“I do expect that the new presiding judge will make a decision about Feldman’s request for payment at some point,” Commissioner Chris Hill said recently.
Greim argues that the commissioners should challenge the legality of the payments.
State law says that a “county official or employee” who is sued is entitled to a defense paid by the county. However, multiple attorney general rulings have held that district attorneys, like judges, are district employees, not county employees.
Therefore, their defense is the responsibility of the state, not the county, Greim argues.
The most recent attorney general opinion, from Greg Abbott in 2010, concludes that “a commissioners court has no duty under section 157.901 to pay for a district attorney’s legal defense in a civil lawsuit.”
The court-appointed prosecutors in this case are acting in lieu of District Attorney Greg Willis, who recused himself.
“Mr. Feldman should never have been appointed as an Attorney Pro Tem subject to remuneration by Collin County taxpayers,” Greim argues.
Jon Cassidy can be reached at [email protected]