DALLAS (AP) — The State Bar of Texas sued Wednesday to punish state Attorney General Ken Paxton for his failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on bogus claims of fraud, raising a new legal danger for the Republican the day after he secured his party's nomination for a third term.
The state bar asked a Dallas-area court to impose unspecified discipline on the state's top lawyer, alleging that Paxton's petitioning of the U.S. Supreme Court to block President Joe Biden’s victory was “dishonest.” The formal accusation of professional misconduct makes Paxton one of the highest-profile attorneys to face a potential threat to their law license for a role in former President Donald Trump’s effort to delegitimize his defeat.
The petition to a Collin County court came the day after Paxton defeated Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in a Republican runoff election. That victory sets him up for a general election contest with Rochelle Garza, a South Texas Democrat and civil rights lawyer, as Paxton is also facing a trial over long-delayed state fraud charges and a separate FBI investigation prompted by criminal allegations from the attorney general's own staff.
One of Paxton's lawyers, Philip Hilder, declined to comment.
The bar has been investigating complaints over Paxton’s election suit since last summer and opened a similar disciplinary proceeding against his top deputy earlier in May. Paxton forecast this month that the bar would seek to discipline him, decrying it as “a liberal activist group" and saying he stood behind his challenge to the “unconstitutional 2020 presidential election.”
A spokesman for the bar, which is a branch of the Texas Supreme Court, declined to comment. The group previously said that “partisan political considerations play no role” in its actions.
In bringing a court action against an attorney, the bar can seek punishment ranging from a written admonition to a suspension or disbarment. The disciplinary process resembles a trial and could include both sides eliciting testimony and obtaining records through discovery.
The bar complaint against Paxton alleges that he “misrepresented” facts to the Supreme Court in a suit seeking to overturn Biden’s victor. The suit was backed by Trump. The high court threw out the lawsuit that and the Justice Department under Trump found no evidence of fraud that could have changed the election’s outcome.
Before winning the nomination on Tuesday, Paxton drew an unusual number of primary challenges after eight of his top deputies told the FBI in 2020 that the attorney general had been using his office to benefit a wealthy donor. The eight, who eventually quit or were fired, accused him of bribery, abuse of office and other crimes prompting an ongoing federal investigation.
Paxton has denied wrongdoing and separately pleaded not guilty in a state securities fraud case that has languished since 2015.