Texas Politics

It’s Time We Judge Our Judges: Lubbock Judge Ceases to Perform all Marriages After SCOTUS Decision

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the work ethic and general professional disposition of millennials. In 2014, a Gallup Poll revealed that approximately three out of 10 workers age 18-34 fear losing their job. As a millennial, but more a member of the Oregon Trail generation, I have felt real fear in the workplace. Tip toeing over my boss’s hair-trigger emotions, reading and revising every email to make sure I did not sound too assertive, and doing things that I was not morally comfortable with because it was my job.

And just in case you are thinking, “This sounds like a millennial problem,” the same study found that approximately 20% of all workers in the United States fear losing their job. So why is it that we should be the only ones to bear this burden? The regular working people of America do not have to be alone. We can share the misery and I propose we start with our elected officials; more specifically, let us begin with local judges who refuse to do their jobs and uphold citizens’ rights under the United States Constitution.

For those of you who do not know, I was a toxic tort lawyer before I opened my own estate planning firm. In case you are not familiar with toxic torts, this area of practice encompasses a wide variety of personal injury suits related to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) or harmful chemicals that people have been exposed to and have suffered injury as a result of that exposure. I specialized in asbestos defense–this means that I defended companies accused of exposing employees to asbestos. For the most part, I believed in what I was doing. This is because asbestos litigation had been going on for so long by the time I got into the industry that most of the big players–the really bad guys–had been sued into bankruptcy. Although, I will admit that some cases were tougher than others.

There were days that I felt guilty sitting across the table from a plaintiff that had recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer with a 0% survival rate. Morally and emotionally, some days were very difficult. When you see a grown man break down and cry, it leaves a little mark on your soul that you cannot rub off. But I still did my job. You see, when I became a member of the Texas bar, I swore an oath to defend the laws of the United States and the State of Texas. I also am bound by the ABA and Texas Rules of Professional Responsibility to represent my client as effectively as possible within the bounds of the law.

There comes a time in some lawyers’ lives where they rise into positions of power, namely by becoming judges. Sometimes, people become judges who are not even lawyers. In some places, like Texas, it is not required that you are a licensed attorney in order to become a justice of the peace. But regardless of how they get there, the judiciary branch of our government is supposed to be the objective arbiter of legal questions and interpretation of laws. The founders intended it to be independent of all political affiliations. This was supposed to ensure that the legislative and executive branches are kept in check and did not run afoul of state or federal constitutions.

Unfortunately, some judges are deciding to shirk portions of their judicial duties in the name of their religious convictions. In Lubbock, Texas, for example, Judge Jim Hansen has announced that he will stop performing all marriage ceremonies now that the Supreme Court has deemed same-sex marriage to be a civil right. As a justice of the peace, this is part of his job description. And it is not an issue of Texas judges not being held to the same standard as other judges. Even though they are elected, and some of them are not lawyers, they are all required to sign the following form:

Texas Oath of Office

There is no indication that Judge Hansen attended law school. But does this excuse his blatant disregard for the duties that his office requires or the oath he signed when he took office? NO. Maybe it is time that the voters in Lubbock, Texas let Judge Hansen know that if he is not willing to do his job, we want him fired.

If you stopped doing part of your job, would you expect to continue reaping same the benefits of your employment? Would you expect to continue showing up day in and day out, taking a pay check, and being secure in your position? Or, would you expect to arrive at work to find a banker’s box poised neatly on your desk? And how about the fact that most employees in Texas are “at will”? You can be fired for any reason (or no reason) in Texas.

I believe that a civil servant who has sworn an oath to uphold the law should not be secure in his position when he refuses to perform the duties of his office. It is time to tell our public officials that we are not the only ones who should fear being fired. And we will not tolerate our tax dollars paying the salaries of people who refuse to do their job.

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Ken Paxton: Constitutional Cowboy or Rodeo Clown?

I am so tired of Texas politics. Anyone who has met me knows how much I love the Lone Star State, but over and over we are made to look like the most backward, bigoted, and idiotic state in the country. I take personal offense to this. I am not a backward, bigoted idiot. None of my friends fit this characterization, either. But our elected officials are some of the most hateful, inflammatory and misguided people in this entire country.

Yesterday, ironically on the day of the Sabbath, and in his infinite wisdom, Attorney General Ken Paxton made a statement encouraging civil servants in the state of Texas to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it offends their religious beliefs. His instructions state:

  • “County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.
  • “Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”

This is dangerous for a few reasons. Unfortunately for Paxton’s civil-servant followers, if you are an agent of the state or a municipality, you are bound by the United States constitution. Failure to follow these laws opens government employees up to civil rights lawsuits. And in his defense, Paxton acknowledges this dilemma by saying:

It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.

Now, Paxton is not going to pay for your lawsuit, but he seems to suggest he knows some attorneys who may be willing to defend you pro-bono. Good luck with that. And try not to forget, that if you do get sued, you will be subjected to the federal court system. Go ahead, google the average price of defending a federal lawsuit.

Ken Paxton is an attorney. He attended law school at the University of Virginia and practiced at a relatively prominent national law firm before he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. On paper, he seems like a well-educated regular guy. But his actions seem to suggest that he is not. Yes, he graduated law school, but I will tell you this, if he had graduated from my law school, I would be embarrassed. Maybe he just forgot what he learned there. You know, the part about the federal constitution . . .

Ask any first year law student what the constitution says about the states’ obligation to follow Supreme Court rulings. This is not one of those constitutional clauses that has been hotly debated because it is pretty damn clear. The supremacy clause of the United States Constitution states that the “Constitution and the laws of the United States . . . shall be the supreme law of the land . . .”  When the Supreme Court ruled last week that same-sex marriage is a civil right under the Fourteenth Amendment, it became the law of the land. Like it, love it, hate it? It matters not. Your opinion on the subject is yours, but the law and the rights of others are not yours to take away or limit.

You see, the rights of same-sex couples to marry is now vested in them. As H.R. Haldeman said, “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.” I am so proud of the Supreme Court (which is a very rare occurrence for me). I am proud to be an American, especially an American that will be remembered as being on the right side of history, albeit to the left of my state’s leaders.

Get out there and celebrate love.

Peace and love.