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Attorney general hired campaign staff for top jobs

Posted: Saturday, July 4, 2015 7:15 pm
Associated Press |
AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office hired several people from his campaign and elsewhere before they submitted applications or the jobs were posted publicly, as required by state law.
Fourteen people who worked on Paxton’s campaign or for former Gov. Rick Perry or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were given administrative jobs in the new attorney general’s office. Only one of those jobs was advertised, and records obtained by the Austin American-Statesman show that Paxton’s office had chosen someone for it the day before the posting went online.

10/13/2014 Texas Gov. Perryordered to be in court Oct. 31 - The Killeen DailyHerald: 

Texas Gov. Perry ordered to be in court Oct. 31

By WILL WEISSERT| Posted: Monday, October 13, 2014 10:41 am

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry must appear for a court hearing on Oct. 31.

A judge set the date Monday for a pretrial hearing to discuss procedural issues, including whether the

special prosecutor leading the case against Perry was properly sworn in.

The governor was in Europe and skipped Monday's proceedings in Austin. But he will have to be there

when the case goes back to court.

Special prosecutor Michael McCrum has until Nov. 7 to respond to two motions to quash the case.

Perry's lawyers call the case unconstitutional, but also want it dismissed on technicalities.

A Texas grand jury indicted Perry in August on two felony counts of abuse of power over a veto threat

involving public corruption prosecutors.  Perry maintains he was within his rights

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst personally called police and asked to talk to the highest-ranking officer about getting a relative out of jail, Allen police said.

He also asked for the cellphone numbers of a judge and the Collin County sheriff, which a sergeant declined to give him.

The relative, Ellen Bevers, an Allen elementary school teacher, was jailed on charges of shoplifting at a Kroger grocery store on Aug. 3, police said.

Police released an audio recording of the phone call late Wednesday, after a request from NBC 5, under the Texas open records law.

"What I would like to do, if you would explain it to me, sergeant, what I need to do is to arrange for getting her out of jail this evening and you can proceed with whatever you think is proper," Dewhurst said on the call.

In the call, Dewhurst described Bevers as his sister-in-law but police said the woman was married to Dewhurst's nephew. In a short statement later Wednesday, Dewhurst referred to her as his niece.

Dewhurst had called the main Allen police phone number and asked to talk to the senior officer. He was connected to the on-duty sergeant, police said.

Dewhurst said he had known Bevers for 30 years and described her as "the sweetest woman in the world."

"Sergeant, you don't know me, but every year I'm the No.1 pick of all the law enforcement agencies in Texas," Dewhurst is heard saying in the recording. "I'm the No. 1 pick and I want you to do whatever is the proper thing."

Dewhurst defended Bevers' character and said the shoplifting charge was a mistake.

"This lady, I know in my heart, was not involved, in the intentional walking out and stealing $57," Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst spokesman Travis Considine released a short statement and said in a later email he would answer no questions about the issue.

"David acted as a concerned family member in an attempt to acquire information on how to post bail for his niece while reiterating multiple times in the full conversation that law enforcement follow their normal protocols and procedures," the statement said.

Dewhurst, a longtime Texas public official, is running for re-election but had no campaign events planned Wednesday.

A police spokesman said Dewhurst is not under investigation and added that the department often gets similar calls from concerned relatives after someone is arrested.

Sgt. Jon Felty of the Allen Police Department said he was surprised when he heard about the call, but said that nothing said was against the law.

"There is nothing criminal here," Felty said. "When I listen to this recording, I hear much of what every family member has when they have a relative incarcerated."

Dewhurst's opponent, Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, issued a statement late Wednesday blasting the phone call as an abuse of power.

"The fact that David Dewhurst believes he and his family are above the law is the height of arrogance and recklessness," Patrick said. "This blatant abuse of power would be stunning coming from any elected official.  However, it is particularly disturbing coming from the Lieutenant Governor of Texas.”

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Dewhurst, a Republican, "has shown that he thinks he is beyond the rules and laws that govern regular Texans."

NBC 5 DFW's Randy McIlwain, Catherine Ross and Julie Fine contributed to this report.

Pensions of former Texas lawmakers can be kept secret: Judge

Texas District Judge Lora Livingston Tuesday ruled the state is not obliged to tell the public how much it pays in pensions to former members of the Legislature.
Livingston turned back a lawsuit filed last October by the open government non-profit group Texans for Public Justice. The group originally filed suit to compel the state to produce a total cost for the retirement plans paid to 103 former legislators who currently work as lobbyists.
“It really doesn’t matter whether they are lobbying or not, we have a right to know what that total is because we are paying into it,” TPJ director Craig McDonald said Tuesday afternoon. “They’re hiding it because maybe we think the retirement might be too extravagant. That’s for us to decide, not them.”
McDonald said no decision has yet been made to appeal Livingston’s decision.
Legislators themselves have spent the last decade passing laws that protect their pension information and prohibit the Employees Retirement System from disclosing it, McDonald said.
In 1998 Texans for Public Justice asked for an opinion of then-Attorney General Dan Morales, who said the public was entitled to the pension information.
“Our speculation was Morales’ opinion was the reason the Legislature passed those laws,” McDonald said. “This is total hypocrisy to talk about transparency and accountability and in the middle of the night pass laws that close off information about this pension money.”
A year ago, after federal income disclosure reports revealed Gov. Rick Perry was receiving a state pension worth more than $92,000 a year on top of his $150,000-a-year salary, there was a call for increased pension disclosure.
And while the public learned that more than 6,000 state employees were drawing a state pension and a state paycheck, state law protected their identities.
As Texas Watchdog reported last month, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, has filed a bill that would end the practice of double dipping - but not for those like Perry who are already helping themselves.
Texans for Public Justice has focused on legislators-turned-lobbyists because they are among the best compensated lobbyists in the state, McDonald said. (Please see the chart on the second page of this document.)
The group has tried with little success to lobby for a law that would prevent retiring lawmakers from moving immediately into the lobbying profession. A bill filed in the last session by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, went nowhere.
State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has in this session filed Senate Bill 99 that would force a legislator to sit out two legislative sessions before doing any registered lobbying work.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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News - Most stopped elected officials refuse DWI tests
Associated Press

AUSTIN — Public records examined by the Austin American-Statesman show that most elected officials who have been stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in recent years have declined to consent to a blood or breath sample.

The newspaper reported Sunday that it turned up cases involving more than a dozen elected officials in Texas — including representatives, senators, judges and commissioners — in which police on the scene asked for a sample to determine whether the driver's blood-alcohol concentration exceeded the 0.08 legal limit.

Except for two cases, both of which occurred outside the state, the politicians refused, the paper reported.

"Among the general public, the refusal rate is about 50 percent, but at the Capitol, the refusal rate is about 100 percent," said Shannon Edmonds, governmental relations director for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

Texas leads the nation in the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths, and about 40 percent of all the state's traffic fatalities are alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, the state is one of only 10 prohibiting sobriety checkpoints, and it has yet to join the increasing number of states that have made breath and blood collection mandatory in suspected DWI arrests. At least 17 states now treat refusal as a separate crime.

"Many people refuse to blow; it's a growing problem in Texas," said Karen Housewright, executive director of Texas Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "But we like to think our elected officials would behave as role models and hold themselves to a higher standard."

Police and prosecutors say politicians are among savvy citizens such as Texas Longhorns baseball coach Augie Garrido, who declined to give a breath sample when he was arrested Jan. 17 on suspicion of DWI.
"I'd always heard from attorneys that you should refuse," said state Rep. Mike Krusee, who was pulled over last year in Austin after police said they observed him driving erratically.

Krusee disputes accounts by officers who say he failed three roadside sobriety tests.
"I was shocked. I encourage people to look at the dashboard video," he said.
Krusee refused to blow into a Breathalyzer. His DWI case was dismissed in November.

Defense attorneys say giving breath or blood can only hurt their clients' cases. Even a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit doesn't guarantee the driver will be released, said Jamie Spencer, an Austin lawyer specializing in DWI defense, who called it a "lose-lose proposition."

Drivers who refuse chemical tests are supposed to have their licenses suspended for 180 days — compared with only 90 days if they submit and fail. But the suspension can be challenged before an administrative judge and, if denied, appealed again before a county judge.

The defendant, meanwhile, can keep driving by obtaining a temporary license. Krusee said he used one until his DWI case was dropped for lack of evidence, at which point his permanent license was returned.
"There are so many loopholes for someone to get his license back," said Tom Gaylor of the Texas Municipal Police Association. "It's a waste of time."