A federal lawsuit filed against three Texas Republicans by the wayward House Democrats is gaining a reputation as a must-read legal document, but for all the wrong reasons.
The gaffe-ridden complaint, submitted Friday by an oft-disciplined Houston lawyer now practicing under a probationally suspended license, has been mocked on the right for, among other things, blaming the Republicans for the Democratic legislators’ decision to flee the state.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Sunday that the House Democrats, who absconded to Washington, D.C., last month to break quorum in the GOP-led House, “ought to be embarrassed.”
“Now the same group [is] filing a lawsuit by an attorney that apparently has his law license suspended, didn’t get the speaker’s name right, and [is] suing for a couple of bucks,” Mr. Patrick said on “Fox & Friends.” “They’re just showing how idiotic this whole adventure has been for them, and their credibility just disappears day by day by day.”
The nine-page document seeks a temporary restraining order to stop Texas Gov. Greg Abbott from arresting the Democrats and hauling them back to the House chamber on the grounds that the move violates their constitutional rights.
George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley called the complaint “demonstrably meritless”; conservative columnist Byron York found it “really funny”; and Heritage Foundation legal fellow GianCarlo Canaparo declared it as “embarrassingly bad” and “a disaster.”
Representing the Democrats is attorney Craig Anthony Washington, a former Democratic congressman who received an active suspension in 2017 and partially probated suspensions in 2015 and 2019, the second of which ends in June 2024, according to the State Bar of Texas website.
The complaint lists 22 House Democrats as plaintiffs, but already state Reps. Nicole Collier and Shawn Thierry have tweeted statements saying that they did not authorize the filing even though their names are on it.
The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan and state Rep. James White conspired to deprive the Democrats of their rights based on “Race, in that certain plaintiffs are either black or white,” and “Creed, in that certain Plaintiffs have expressed a faith or belief that every eligible citizen has the right to vote.”
The lawsuit offered no evidence to back up the “scheme and conspiracy” claims based on factors such as “natural origin,” an apparent reference to “national origin.”
The filing also accused the Republicans of seeking to “deny, coerce, threaten, intimidate” the Plaintiffs from exercising their rights, including “the right to vote in all elections” and “the right to freedom from arrest, except upon probable cause.”
“Plaintiffs have been deprived of liberty for substantial periods of time, suffered much anxiety and distress over the separation from their families, and much discomfort and embarrassment and their reputations impaired, and have lost much time from their homes and the companionship and care of their families and have been required to spend substantial sums of money and of time traveling to and from the State of Texas,” the complaint said.
Dumbfounded critics asked how this was the GOP’s fault, given that the nearly 60 Texas House Democrats who fled on chartered jets to block an elections bill did so over the objections of Mr. Abbott and the Republican-led House.
“Considering that the defendants fled together to Washington, where they are now grieving, speaking, and meeting with members of Congress, this alleged conspiracy seems somewhat ineffective,” Mr. Canaparo said in the Daily Signal.
Mr. Turley said the lawsuit reads like “a press release from the DNC [Democratic National Committee].”
“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,” he said on his blog. “There is no legal authority that directly support such a claim.”
Other problems: The filing names the Speaker “Dade Phelan” even though his full legal name is “Matthew McDade Phelan”; the lawsuit does not include the standard “claims” and “causes of actions” sections; and among the misspellings is the name of DeGuerin and Dickson, the of-counsel law firm.
Also unclear is why Mr. White was targeted.
“White said Friday night he did not know he’d been sued or why he was named as a defendant,” said the Texas Tribune.
“So let me get this straight — the fleeing House Democrats have filed a Federal lawsuit claiming $5 in actual damages and $10 in punitive damages…and their attorney is practicing under a probationally suspended license? Is this a joke?” tweeted Republican state Sen. Dawn Buckingham.
Democratic state Rep. Ron Reynolds, one of the plaintiffs, said Mr. Abbott overreached by vowing to arrest them, saying that “we believe this is another violation of our constitutional rights.”
“We believe that the court is the only relief that we have to check, to make sure that the governor is not exceeding his authority,” Mr. Reynolds said in a Saturday interview on MSNBC. “We believe that we’re going to be vindicated when the court makes that ruling.”
The complaint seeks $5 in actual damages and $10 in punitive damages, as well as “reasonable attorney fees,” but Mr. Canaparo said the only thing Mr. Washington “can reasonably expect to receive from this are sanctions.”
“But blame for this embarrassing piece of political theater does not rest on Washington,” Mr. Canaparo said. “No, blame rests squarely on the Texas Democrats who read this disaster, looked at each other, nodded their heads, and decided that this was something they could be proud of.”
Mr. Patrick reiterated Republican calls for the House Democrats to return to Austin for the second special session that began Saturday.
The governor has vowed to keep calling special sessions until the return of the Texas House Democrats, who left to thwart what they describe as a “voter suppression” bill, a claim Republicans deny.
“Just come back to Texas and do your job,” said Mr. Patrick. “Suing us for the fact that you left and we separated you from your families? Guess what? You can hug your wife and husband tomorrow morning. Get on a damn plane and fly back here.”
Texas House Democratic Caucus chair Chris Turner, who is not a plaintiff, said Saturday that the delegation would continue to fight the legislation.
“Texas House Democrats continue in our fight to stop Texas Republicans’ efforts to undermine our democracy by passing their anti-voter legislation,” Mr. Turner said in a statement. “Day by day, we will keep fighting with everything we have to protect Texans’ freedom to vote.”