Judge says Texas Attorney General Paxton must face ethics lawsuit

By Mike Scarcella and Jacqueline Thomsen

(Reuters) - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton must face an ethics lawsuit by state attorney regulators over a case he brought challenging results of the 2020 election, according to a court ruling posted on Monday.

Judge Casey Blair on Friday denied Paxton's bid to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds. Blair said he was not ruling on the merits of the case.

Paxton's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Texas bar authorities declined to comment.

The ruling is a setback for Paxton, who had argued that his work as the top Texas state lawyer was beyond the reach of Texas attorney ethics regulators. Potential penalties if the case succeeds could include suspension or disbarment.

The Texas State Bar, an agency that oversees licensed attorneys in the state, filed the lawsuit against Paxton in state court in Dallas last May. The complaint said Paxton made "dishonest" statements in a lawsuit that sought to toss 2020 election votes in four states.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the election challenge in December 2020.

Paxton’s lawyers told the Texas court that the bar's allegations were tied to his "performance of his official duties" and that seeking to discipline him "is tantamount to a judicial veto over the exercise of executive discretion."

The state bar countered that Texas attorney conduct rules "apply to any attorney engaged in the practice of law regardless of their position."

Paxton has previously said he "completely" stands by filing the lawsuit.

A different Texas judge last year dismissed a related legal ethics case against Paxton aide Brent Webster, who also was accused of making “dishonest” statements in challenging 2020 election results. An appeal is pending in that case.

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella in Maryland and Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington; Editing by David Bario and Bill Berkrot)