Runaway Texas Democrats Go Rabid In Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Gov. Greg Abbott

Runaway Texas Democrats Go Rabid In Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas Democrats’ rambling seven-page complaint may seek publicity for their runaway cause, but it promises only one thing: further ridicule.
Margot Cleveland
By

Armed with a case of beer and plenty of cell phones for selfies, on July 12 more than 50 Texas Democrats fled to Washington D.C. to deny the Texas House of Representatives the quorum necessary to vote on pending election integrity measures. Twenty-two of the runaway representatives, however, apparently found their original farce far from fulfilling, opting on Friday to go full rabid by suing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and two of their fellow Republican House members, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and Rep. James White.

Docketed late last week in an Austin federal court as Thompson et. al. v. Abbott et. al., after the lead plaintiff Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the rambling seven-page complaint may seek publicity for the Texas Democrats’ cause, but it promises only one thing: further ridicule.

“Plaintiffs will show that Defendants Abbot (sic), Phelan, and White have embarked upon a course of conduct which is intended to violate State and Federal Constitutional Rights of the Plaintiffs and the classes of citizens they represent by denying rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution” because of their race, creed, color, and natural origin, the federal civil rights complaint opened.

Making Random and Specious Arguments

Here is where the initial hilarity starts, with the complaint alleging the defendants’ conduct was because of “race, in that certain Plaintiffs are either black or white.” Yes, everyone has a race, but no, that does not create a claim of race discrimination.

The complaint only gets worse, with the Texas Democrat representatives stating, “this action arises under Title 42 of the U.S. Code, Sections 1343, 1983, 1985, and 1988, . . .” One little problem: There is no section 1343 of Title 42. And three big problems: The complaint lacks any factual support for claims under Sections 1983, 1985, and 1988.

Section 1983 allows a plaintiff to sue a defendant who allegedly deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or federal laws. To sue under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff alleges 1) a violation of federal constitutional (or statutory) rights; 2) proximately caused by 3) the conduct by a person; 4) acting under color of law. Section 1985, simply stated, establishes a claim against two or more persons who conspire to deprive another person of their constitutional rights, while Section 1988 provides for the recovery of attorney’s fees for plaintiffs who succeed on federal civil rights claims.

These plaintiffs, however, never allege any conduct that violated their constitutional rights, instead just saying they “embarked upon a course of action, scheme, conspiracy, and course of conduct, by public statements and otherwise to attempt to deny, coerce, threaten, intimidate, and prevent” them from voting, associating, peacefully assembly, speaking publicly about the exercise of constitutional rights, and being free from arrest.

But to state a claim, a plaintiff must allege specific facts, not merely broad, conclusory allegations. Yet that is what these Texas lawmakers do. Then they claim these unidentified acts have deprived them “of liberty for substantial periods of time” and caused them to suffer “anxiety and distress over the separation from their families, and much discomfort and embarrassment” while they had their “reputations impaired” and “lost much time from their homes and the companionship and care of their families.”

The plaintiffs further claim they “have been required to spend substantial sums of money and time traveling to and from the State of Texas to persuade Congress to pass laws to ameliorate the harm done and redress their grievances.” Apparently, though, the “substantial sums of money” the Democrats spent were someone else’s, because in the very next sentence the plaintiffs allege only $5 in actual damages and $10 in punitive damages.

It’s So Bad the Judge Could Punish Them

From a legal perspective, the complaint is laughable and so much so that even the Obama-appointee judge assigned the case, Judge Robert Pitman, will have little option but quickly tossing the case, assuming the plaintiffs even bother to serve the defendants. The tougher question for Judge Pitman will be whether to sanction the plaintiff’s attorney or the plaintiffs themselves should Abbott and his two fellow Republicans file a motion for Rule 11 sanctions.

Rule 11 provides that an attorney or party may be sanctioned for filing a complaint for “an improper purpose, such as to harass,” or for presenting a claim that is not “warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law.” Before seeking sanctions, however, the Texas defendants must provide the plaintiffs and their attorney notice and an opportunity to withdraw the complaint.

Even if awarded, however, sanctions will be the least of the Texas Democrats’ pain, as the 20-plus representatives who signed onto this ridiculous lawsuit have a heap of discomfort, embarrassment, and impaired reputations awaiting them as Americans learn of their craziness in suing the governor and two Republican representatives.

This Lawyer Is Quite the Character

It is also unlikely that their attorney, Craig Washington, will be able to spin the lawsuit for its presumed purpose—to garner positive publicity for the plaintiffs’ objections to the Texas election bills—because Washington’s involvement will merely raise more cackles.

After all, Washington is the former three-term U.S. congressman defeated by Sheila Jackson Lee by more than 26 percent in the Democratic primary. Upon returning to Texas, Washington resumed the practice of law, but had some hiccups along the way, including being sued by the federal government in an effort to recover some of the $500,000-plus in unpaid federal taxes.

Then, in 2008, Washington shot at a pair of teenage boys who had parked in his law firm’s parking lot. “Washington was charged with aggravated assault for the incident,” but “he ultimately entered into a plea agreement with the State in which he was put on probation and ordered, among other things to pay restitution to one of the victims.” Yet, after entering into the plea agreement, Washington—much like his Texas Democrat clients here—played victim and sued the two young men he had been charged with shooting at in civil court for $600,000 each.

The two real victims filed a counterclaim. A jury found in their favor and ordered Washington to pay them damages, but Washington appealed, with the men testifying in another case that “they eventually vacated the judgment by agreement while the appeal was pending because of the time, money, and mental toll it would require to continue the case.”

That other case? A disciplinary case against Washington based on his handling of a case for another client. Following a hearing and appeal on that matter, Washington was suspended from the practice of law for four years, with 12 months an active suspension and the remaining three years being probation, so long as Washington paid “the State Bar of Texas $24,693.74 in attorney’s fees and expenses in monthly installments of $685.93 until the amount is paid out.” Washington failed to make the required payments, so his probation was revoked and he was suspended for the remaining three years in 2017.

Now, with his license back in hand, Washington has decided to take on Abbott and two Republican lawmakers on behalf of the 20-plus Democrats who fled the state. The case is frivolous, though, and while conventional wisdom may teach “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” the runaway Democrats are likely to soon learn an exception to that rule: Guffaw-inducing publicity kills political careers even quicker than COVID-contagious vacations.

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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