Texas House Ethics Committee Meeting by Straus Committee Chair Was Illegal

For Immediate Release Contact: Jennifer Grisham, Cell: 214.558.9455, Office: 972.941.4453, jgrisham@libertyinstitute.org;

CLICK HERE FOR FULL RELEASE. Texas House Ethics Committee Illegal Release

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.

7 Responses to Texas House Ethics Committee Meeting by Straus Committee Chair Was Illegal

  1. Ruth Laudan says:

    What is going on here? Who can bring this type of behavior to an end in Texas?

  2. […] The full Liberty Institute press release can be found here. […]

  3. Independent Conservative Republican says:

    Shackelford needs to get his facts straight before putting out slanderous press releases. Phillips, as a member of the committee, was under oath. All members of the committee took the oath at the beginning of the session and remained under it. Hughes was required to take the oath since he had not previously done so as a member. Yet another shameful attempt to discredit the most ethical Republican speaker in Texas history, which only serves to discredit Shackelford and his special interest group.

  4. jonathansaenz says:

    A good start would be for the current Texas Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, to come forward and publicly denounce this behavior and these tactics, and for him to state that it was a mistake for his supporter and Straus Committee Chairman, Chuck Hopson, to conduct almost all of the hearing in private and admit that Hopson should have required Rep. Larry Phillips to take the oath before testifying before the committee.

    This isssue is already getting the attention of the Joe Straus team, so you know this is a really important issue.

  5. jonathansaenz says:

    The facts are clear and straight. I was personally at the hearing. Rep. Phillips did not take the oath. Since Rep. Larry Phillips is the accused in this matter, he had to appear before the committee as a witness, not as a committee member. So he should have been required to take the oath as a witness, just like any other witness.

    Why should we rely on you as the authority, though? Why don’t you provide us with your actual name and put yourself out there for public criticism, like we did. Otherwise, your argument lacks credibility.

  6. jonathansaenz says:

    The Texas Government Code doesn’t state that any previous oath satisfies the oath requirement for witness testimony. An oath must be administered to each witness giving testimony. There was no attempt to administer the oath to Rep. Larry Phillips.

    I personally attended the hearing and recorded it. There was also no attempt made to put Rep. Hughes under oath.

    After the committee and witnesses emerged from the three (3) hour private meeting/executive session, Chairman Hopson made some introductory remarks and then asked Rep. Hughes to “proceed”. Chairman Hopson made no attempt to administer the oath to testifying witnesses. Rep. Hughes then told the committee that he asked to be put under oath during the executive session, and that he would also make the same request in the public session. Rep. Larry Phillips testified after Rep. Hughes and he was not administered the oath.

    Additionally, Rep. Larry Phillips was not testifying as a Committee member. Rep. Phillips was appearing and testifying as a witness. He had to specifically recuse himself as a Committee member-thus any claimed past oath related to his status as a Committee member would be irrelevant.

    The Nov. 23rd hearing itself was an embarrassment. Rep. Larry Phillips, was asked only 4 questions: (1) were you speaking on behalf of anyone else, (2) were you directed to speak by anyone, (3) was there any recording of the phone conversation, and (4) was anyone else a part of the conversation between Rep. Phillips and Rep. Hughes.

    Rep. Larry Phillips was never asked what exactly he did say to Rep. Hughes or whether Rep. Larry Phillips mentioned the specific names that were being planned to “get rid of” that Rep. Hughes discussed in his November 10th letter, or any other number of a myriad of questions he could have been asked.

    Last, I am wondering if Rep. Larry Phillips was asked any questions at all or of substance during the closed/executive portion of the hearing that was closed off from the media and public. I guess we are left to wonder at this point. Speaking of the media, it is outrageous how the media has made almost no attempt to find out more about information surrounding this issue that was so important that it necessitated an investigative hearing just two days before Thanksgiving.

    Jonathan Saenz

    Director of Legislative Affairs & Attorney, Liberty Institute

  7. […] The full Liberty Institute press release can be found here. […]

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