Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Liberty Institute Says House Ethics Committee Meeting Was Illegal

This morning, Liberty Institute issued a press release (the text of which is copied below) concerning the General Investigating and Ethics committee hearing that took place last week in Austin:
For Immediate Release

Contact: Jennifer Grisham, Cell: 214.558.9455, Office: 972.941.4453,;

Texas House Ethics Committee Meeting Was Illegal, Only One Witness Put Under Oath, Most Details Hidden from Public

AUSTIN, Texas, December 1, 2010 – Today, Liberty Institute announced that the hearing held last Tuesday by the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee to investigate claims of political revenge by redistricting in the Texas Speaker race was illegal under Texas law.

Texas Government Code, section 301.022, states that “All legislative committees shall require witnesses to give testimony under oath, subject to the penalties of perjury.” The law further states, “The oath required by this section may be waived by any committee except a general investigating committee.” The House Ethics Committee is a general investigating committee.

“Putting only one side under oath, in direct violation of Texas law, is not our system of justice or a way to arrive at the truth,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and chief counsel of Liberty Institute. “For one of Straus’ cardinals to allegedly threaten members and then another provide cover by holding an illegal Ethics hearing is no way to set the ethics bar high before the Session even begins. The activity going on around Rep. Straus and his cardinals is disturbing. He must repudiate such actions and illegality immediately.”

Last Tuesday, the Texas House Ethics Committee took witness statements from Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman). When the hearing began, Rep. Phillips was named as the Texas House member who allegedly told Rep. Hughes that elected House members would be punished for not supporting current Speaker Joe Straus, and that redistricting maps were already being drawn to get rid of opposition, including Rep.-Elect Erwin Cain (R-Sulphur Springs) and Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van). Rep. Hughes also said that Rep. Phillips mentioned Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) and Rep.-Elect Jim Landtroop (R-Plainview) in the discussion. Only Rep. Hughes was sworn in, and only at his request. Rep. Phillips was not put under oath, in direct violation of Texas law.

There is no public information as to whether Rep. Straus discussed and/or requested the Committee Chair to illegally waive the requirement of testimony under oath or whether the Chair, a Straus appointee, took such action on his own in an attempt to assist Straus or his cardinal. Additionally, the hearing was officially posted as a public hearing, but Committee Chair Hopson closed the more than three-hour hearing and ultimately only allowed the public to hear approximately ten minutes of committee discussions.

More information is available at Texas Legislative Update.

Liberty Institute, formerly The Free Market Foundation, is a public policy and non-profit legal organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of traditional family values and Constitutional freedoms.

This group sued the Texas Ethics Commission over provisions of the Texas government code which barred the public from involvement in the Speaker of the Texas House race. In the ruling on that case, United States District Judge Sam Sparks wrote:
The Court FINDS that Texas Government Code Sections 302.17 and 302.019 violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in that they are not narrowly tailored and therefore significantly chill core political speech protected by the First Amendment.
Beyond that legal victory which allows us to send lots of email, make blog and Facebook posts, tweet on Twitter, appear on or fund radio and TV shows, and ads, contact Representatives, donate money to Speaker candidates and interest groups, and even hold straw poll events or make endorsements, all for the purpose of exercising our First Amendment protected right to influence the Speaker race toward a candidate we feel would best serve the interest of Texas and Texans, Liberty Institute has a very good litigation track record. They are very good lawyers who do not engage in legal action which is not part of their mission and which they do not believe they can win on Constitutional grounds.

I provide this background and commentary regarding Liberty Institute to demonstrate that the allegations in the press release shown above should not be taken lightly by activist exercising their First Amendment rights to influence House members in their selection of Speaker, by Representatives and Representative-Elects themselves as they consider the Speaker candidates, and certainly not by Speaker Straus and the Representatives involved who are subject to the accusations made by
Liberty Institute.

More Travis Monitor posts related to the Speaker's race:
  1. Speaker's race update
  2. Refuting Statements by Conservatives 4 Joe Straus
  3. How to choose the Texas House Speaker
  4. Speaker Straus Waltzes into Power
  5. Tale of Two Speakers

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