In a demonstrably meritless lawsuit, 22 Texas House Democrats sued some of the state’s top Republican leaders in federal court in Austin over the efforts to bring them home for a special legislative session. After fleeing to Washington, the legislators claim that the criticism and threats made by the governor and other infringed on their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances. Despite recent calls for sanctions and disbarments for frivolous filings by Republicans (which I have expressed concerns over), none of those experts are expressing the same view of this filing, which is shockingly short of legal merit.
Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a second specially called legislative session and he has called for the arrest of members to bring them to the floor for a quorum. Phelan signed a civil warrant for Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, after he returned to the Texas. Cortez however then fled back to D.C. The lawsuit sues not only Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan but State Rep. James White. White’s inclusion is particularly curious since the Democratic members are declaring fealty to free speech while trying to sue another members presumably for his exercise of free speech.
The complaint by Craig Anthony Washington, a former Democratic lawmaker, also does not use Phelan’s legal name (Matthew McDade Phelan) but just “Dade Phelan.” It also misspells Abbott’s name on page one as “Abbot.”
Strangely, the counsel on the brief is listed as “Deguren and Dickson.” It is not clear if that is supposed to be DeGuerin and Dickson which has an office at the listed address. There is an email on the complaint reading “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The plaintiffs listed in the case are state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Trey Martinez Fischer, Gene Wu, Vikki Goodwin, Ron Reynolds, Eddie Rodriguez, Jon Rosenthal, Jasmine Crockett, Mary Ann Perez, Alma Allen, Christina Morales, Nicole Collier, Celia Israel, Ana-Maria Ramos, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Terry Meza, Donna Howard, Jarvis Johnson, Ray Lopez, Shawn Thierry, Elizabeth Campos and Gina Hinojosa.
The Democrats sue over deprivations caused by their own decisions to flee the state to prevent the vote. It was an ironic moment as Democrats in Washington celebrated their act while they denounced filibusters. The Texas Democrats were carrying out a type of de fact filibuster by flight. However, they would not have incurred those costs but for their own actions. Two other Democratic members have been criticized over taking a vacation to Portugal after fleeing to Washington.
Yet, the filing alleges that the Republicans are conspiring against them in plain view in response to their consensual consent:
Plaintiffs allege that in doing the acts and things complained of, the Defendants were conspirator [sic] engaged in a scheme and conspiracy designed and intended to deny and deprive them of rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution and laws of the United States and particularly those herein above enumerated.
They ask for $5 in actual damages and $10 in punitive damages. However, Washington is seeking his fees under the Civil Rights Attorney Fees Act.
Under Rule 3.1 a “lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous.” Moreover, the defendants could seek sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 claiming a lawsuit “for an improper purpose” of causing “unnecessary delay.” Indeed, Democratic activists in Texas have filed such complaints against Republicans on these grounds.
These Democratic members are asking a federal court to allow a lawsuit based on the use of statutorily permitted sanctions in response to their own decisions to flee the state. There is no legal authority that directly support such a claim. Indeed, the short complaint reads more like a press release from the DNC — restating political claims with a caption on the top.
Here is the complaint: Thompson v. Abbott