Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – (Houston, TX) - Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), along with Senators Birdwell (R-Waco), Buckingham (R-Lakeway), Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Creighton (R-Conroe), Hall (R-Edgewood), Hughes (R-Mineola), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Nelson (R- Flower Mound), Paxton (R-McKinney), Perry (RLubbock), Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Springer (R-Muenster), and Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed an Amicus Brief with the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas arguing that they should grant a rehearing of case Stephens v. State and Ex Parte Stephens. After their previous ruling, the Office of the Attorney General no longer has the authority to independently prosecute criminal cases in trial courts. Attorney General Paxton has filed a motion for the Court of Criminal Appeals to rehear the case.
"This is an important legal case to be considered for a rehearing by the Court of Criminal Appeals," said Senator Bettencourt. "The fact that fourteen Texas Senators signed the amicus brief puts a real point on it," he added.
The case stems from the Attorney General's Office prosecuting Sherriff Zena Collins Stephens once the FBI was informed of information "regarding potential campaign-finance violations," according to the court filing. The information was relayed to the Texas Rangers. Their investigation came to the conclusion that Stephens received individual cash campaign contributions in excess of $100. As a result, the Attorney General's Office prosecuted Stephens by charging her on three counts, two counts of unlawfully making or accepting a contribution and one count of tampering with a government record. In April of 2018, she was indicted on all three counts. The case has been appealed. The latest result was the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversing the appellate court's decision and, in doing so, the Attorney General of Texas cannot prosecute criminal cases independently in the state of Texas.
"The amicus makes three points. First, there is no issue of separation of powers between the Attorney General and district attorneys. Second, not allowing the Attorney General to prosecute these cases dilutes our legislative authority. Third, the Texas Constitution requires the Legislature to write laws that detect and punish voter fraud," he added.
As the Texas Attorney General has had the authority to prosecute certain election law violations for 70 years, the Senators ask for a rehearing of the case. If the court does not reconsider its opinion in Stephens v. State and Ex Parte Stephens, election integrity cases will be left exclusively to being prosecuted by local county and district attorneys.
"Most Texans don't realize the Court of Criminal Appeals is at the same level as the Texas Supreme Court, thus it's solely up to the Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider this case," concluded Senator Bettencourt.