We've seen some idiotic legal filings over the years, but there's something especially mind-boggling when a lawyer files a stinker on his own behalf.
Houston's own Steve Mostyn has just done that -- and while he was at it, he decided to subpoena
the notes of reporters at Texas Watchdog who wrote a story about a campaign contribution Mostyn made. Yes, you read that right: the reporters wrote about a piece of public information that anyone with a finger and an eyeball can retrieve online. And this somehow signals an illegal act.
In a September 13 petition for a temporary restraining order against another entity we'll get to in a bit, Mostyn attempts to connect some dots that he believes pulls back the curtain on the folks at Texas Watchdog, revealing them not to be award-winning investigative reporters at a non-profit but partisan players in cahoots with the right-wing consulting firm, the Patriot Group.
The background: Mostyn represented clients who recently settled a class-action suit against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. State Representative Todd Hunter, a Republican, mediated the settlement. Mostyn's firm had earlier donated $25,000 to Hunter.
The conspiracy: State Representative Larry Taylor wanted to get some details on the claims filed with the TWIA, so he requested information from the Association. Meanwhile, Texas Watchdog
filed an open records request asked at the courthouse for the same information. As an intelligent and rational human being, Mostyn knew that this was not standard journalism, but was in fact the result of schemes hatched in cigar smoke-filled back rooms.
So he filed a motion to keep Taylor from getting the information:
There is a direct line between the political desires of the Texas Republican Legislative Caucus and Texans for Rick Perry and the men who created, funded, and housed the Texas Watchdog. The Texas Watchdog has purported to be a journalistic entity focused on issues of governmental transparency and accountability. In reality, the Texas Watchdog is an entity wholly created by partisans to write stories about the interests of their clients and to author hit pieces about enemies of their clients.
Uh, okay. Hair Balls wonders: even if that were true, how exactly would that be grounds for a valid legal complaint?
"He told us he was going to subpoena us...this was not a big surprise," Texas Watchdog Trent Seibert tells Hair Balls. (According to the folks at Texas Watchdog, Mostyn didn't want to talk to them for their story). "We're pretty 50-50 when it comes to hitting R's and D's." (Seibert refutes Mostyn's claims here).
The folks at Texas Tribune (another collective of so-called "journalists" who are probably toadies for the GOP, Big Pharma, the Elders of Zion, and Howard Hughes' cryogenically frozen head, posted Mostyn's motion, so you can judge his detective work for yourself.
Seibert says Texas Watchdog has gotten a lot of donations in the wake of this. "We just really appreciate this support," he said.
Neither Mostyn nor his assistant returned our calls, which is troubling, because we wanted to ask them if it was okay for us to even post this, or if he's going to come after our notes as well. That's the thing about the First Amendment. Depending on your integrity quotient, it can be a real bitch.
Update: We heard back from Mostyn, whose argument, while a bit puzzling, is more nuanced than we first thought, so we apologize for the mischaracterization. (Mostyn also said Taylor has withdrawn his request for information, rendering Mostyn's petition moot, meaning Mostyn will not continue his subpoena efforts.)
Mostyn's main allegation against Texas Watchdog, which was not articulated in the petition, is that it's violating federal tax code by incorporating as a 501(c)3 without following the code's provisions. Mostyn claims, for example, that the Patriot Group has created other front organizations to act solely as sources for Texas Watchdog stories. He specifically cites a group called Texans for Ethics and Accountability, which, strangely, had the same address that TW once did.
"They don't have the right to do [that] with tax-free dollars," Mostyn tells Hair Balls.
He says it would be ridiculous to suggest that he'd pursue any "legitimate" media outlet that writes critically of him.
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"My concern is that these stories are planted," he says.
But Seibert says that TW has written critically of Patriot Group clients, and said Mostyn -- a rabid Democrat --- would in fact be pleased with much of TW's work.
"We just want to expose bad guys," Seibert says, adding later, "if we're puppets, we are horrible puppets."
As for the allegation that TW uses planted sources, he says his reporters seek quotes and information from sources "all over the map."