Texas requires lobbyists to register. But, what happens when a political activist lobbies members of the state legislature? Does that political activist now have to register as a lobbyist? Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative political activist, lobbied members of the state legislature in 2010-2011, but did not register. The Texas Ethics Commission fined Mr. Sullivan $10,000 and found him in violation of the registration requirement. Mr. Sullivan appealed the ruling in a Denton district court, perhaps because he expected the judge to be friendly. Well, Judge Steven Burgess was friendly. In fact, he followed Mr. Sullivan’s twitter account. Michael Q. Sullivan was one of his 34 twitter follows.
Judge Burgess verbally found in favor of Mr. Sullivan. He verbally granted Mr. Sullivan’s motion to dismiss the complaint. But, the judge had not yet signed the appropriate order, when a recusal motion was filed. A Ft. Worth Star-Telegram journalist first revealed the twitter relationship, which cast the Judge’s objectivity into question. Oops. Yes, following someone in Twitter suggests the appearance of impropriety. So, now the oral ruling will not be reduced writing. The Ethics Commission gets a second chance to beat back Mr. Sullivan’s challenge. See San Antonio Express-News report (account required).