Last Wednesday, attorneys representing Collin County were back in a North Texas courtroom for a hearing regarding the propriety of the legal fees requested by the attorneys pro tem in the prosecution of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The case, before Texas’ 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, was brought by Collin County taxpayer Jeff Blackard against the three special prosecutors, the Collin County auditor, and each of the five members of the Collin County commissioners court. Mr. Blackard contends that trial court judge George Gallagher exceeded his authority by ordering the commissioners court to make payments to the special prosecutors that exceed the limits of Collin County’s Texas Fair Defense Act Rules and the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and should be set aside by the appellate court.
If you’ve followed this case and my previous comments, you know that I share Mr. Blackard’s concerns and have made similar arguments. Mr. Blackard believes his lawsuit is necessary because a divided commissioners court has previously declined to challenge Judge Gallagher’s orders and has voted to pay the invoices from the special prosecutors.
In the hearing this week, the justices made several inquiries into the legality of Judge Gallagher’s order. Two excerpts from this week’s hearing:
Justice Molly Francis: So, do you think it’s unreasonable if you’ve got a district court judge that’s signing every pay sheet for every 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, every itemized statement on a billing sheet and if a county commissioners court won’t say, “Enough is enough. This is unreasonable.” Do you think, does the law not allow, is it not fair, for some taxpayer to say, “Wait a minute! At least to some extent, somebody needs to come in and show us how this is a legal act.”?
Justice David Schenck: The Fair Defense Act says, all payments made out of this article shall be paid in accordance with a schedule of fees adopted by formal action of the judges, and the fee schedule shall state reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum hourly rates. Where in the Collin County fee schedule is the $300 an hour to be found?
Following the hearing, the 5th Court of Appeals issued an order lifting their previous stay “for the purpose of allowing the Collin County Commissioners Court to consider and act on the order directing payment of the fees.” The order further explains that if the Commissioners Court fails to act within thirty days, Mr. Blackard’s appeal will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
At this point, the way forward is clear. We are finally positioned for the appellate review of Judge Gallagher’s orders that we have all sought, but the Commissioners Court must take action in order to realize that appellate review.
Throughout this case, the commissioners court has spoken clearly, and repeatedly, on the subject. We have passed two unanimous resolutions asserting our statutory fiscal authority and our willingness to seek appellate review of any order that encroaches on that authority.
Tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership on behalf of the citizens and the taxpayers of Collin County.
Enough is enough. This is unreasonable.