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But Charles Silver, a law professor at the University of Texas, says there could be a conflict of interest in this arrangement. If nothing else, it might make Trantham's clients in criminal cases wonder how zealously he will defend them, given that he is representing the district attorney in a civil lawsuit. "It doesn't turn on duties...but on the appearance of impropriety," Silver writes in an e-mail. "The relationship between the lawyers seems too cozy."
Besides, some Denton lawyers wonder, of the 450 or so lawyers in Denton, why did Johnson hire a criminal defense attorney, especially one who regularly locked horns with the former district attorney, to represent him in a First Amendment civil lawsuit?
"Here you have this guy who's saying he's doing everything he can to avoid the appearance of impropriety," one Denton lawyer says. "And he chooses the one guy it might be improper to hire."
Johnson declined comment for this story, but Trantham says the accusations leveled against him and his client are baseless.
"Paul Johnson's as honest as can be, and there are a lot of people who don't like that," Trantham says. "When this new administration came along, all the sudden all these disgruntled former prosecutors start talking about this stuff, but there's nothing to it. It's really a lot of sour grapes on their part."