By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
At the Texas-OU football game played in the Cotton Bowl on October 11, 2008, O'Donnell claims, Abbott shared a suite with Paxton and other politicians. According to O'Donnell, when Abbott and Paxton were alone, Abbott said he'd "ruin" Paxton because of the support he had given O'Donnell. O'Donnell stresses that he knows this information only secondhand, but he says Paxton himself called him after the alleged threat.
"He had a quiver in his voice," O'Donnell says. "He was scared."
Multiple sources unwilling to speak for attribution confirmed to the Observer that Paxton told them a similar version of O'Donnell's story. Despite repeated attempts to reach Paxton, he refused to return phone calls and e-mails to the Observer.
Jerry Strickland, Abbott's spokesperson, denies that such a conversation took place and stresses that Abbott and Paxton have a good relationship. "Greg Abbott can't even remember the score of the game in 2008."
But five days after the game, the Associated Press published a story about Paxton's investment in WatchGuard Video, a company that secured a lucrative contract with the Legislature to provide in-car video patrol cameras to police departments throughout Texas. The piece reported that Paxton voted on an appropriations bill that resulted in the $10 million contract for WatchGuard, suggesting such an action "might violate the state constitution" because the constitution prohibits lawmakers from directly or indirectly benefiting from a state contract authorized by the Legislature.
After interviewing Paxton about the story a couple weeks later, McKinneyNews.net staff writer Brett Ryder wrote: "[Paxton] also told me he was the victim of a hatchet job, and the reporter who wrote the piece may have been working on behalf of someone who, well, wanted to carve him into tiny political pieces." O'Donnell says Paxton blamed Abbott for the story and indicated that the attorney general was "making good" on his threat.
Jay Root, the AP reporter who wrote the story, says it's not his policy to reveal his sources, and he stands by his article.
Strickland denies that Abbott had any contact with Root, but O'Donnell maintains that these events are inextricably linked to the OAG's "bureaucratic power grab," which was cemented months earlier when Bean, despite Paxton's efforts, refused to change her mind, deciding that federal law restricted anyone other than the SDU and custodial parents from receiving child support payments.
One day after the AP story was published, Abbott penned a letter of his own to Congressman Hall, blasting Paxton for "inaccurate assertions and factual omissions." The nine-page letter cited GAL's "steadfast refusal to comply with the law" and chastised it for relying on judges to order parents to use its services without consent. Hall did not return phone calls seeking comment, but the federal legislation benefiting GAL never gained any traction.
O'Donnell's fall from grace continued in December 2008 when Dallas County completed an audit of his company and faulted GAL for numerous record-keeping and accounting omissions as well as retaining attorney's fees prior to the disbursement of past-due child support and using courthouse space rent-free.
Shortly afterward, on January 12, judges Garcia and Hockett signed orders discontinuing the use of GAL in cases without written consent. O'Donnell contends that he was getting the consent forms signed. "We did this 10,000 times if we did it once on 10,000 cases, and I have them all," he says.
But Strickland says none of the consent forms O'Donnell supposedly had signed was legitimate because they weren't blessed by the Texas Department of Banking, which requires that all private collection companies register with the state agency before transacting business. O'Donnell stresses that doing so would have restricted his ability to serve as an officer of the court.
On March 27, 2009, the OAG filed contempt motions against O'Donnell for violating Garcia and Hockett's orders, alleging he had obtained written consent through "deceptive, confusing, misleading or illegal means." Attached as an exhibit to each motion was a letter he sent to clients, urging them to sign the consent forms: "Please do not delay as we may have money waiting for you now," he wrote.
Because his father had represented Garcia in the OAG's mandamus petition, O'Donnell filed a motion to have Garcia recused from the case. During an April 15 hearing on the motion which was denied, O'Donnell felt he finally had gone through enough. He agreed to the OAG's demands: He would close down his business by June 1.
"It was made clear to us that they were going to run us out of business," he says.
It's 10:30 in the morning on February 1, the continuation of the contempt hearing that could put Robert O'Donnell behind bars. But the courtroom is nearly empty; O'Donnell hasn't shown up yet, and even Judge Garcia is gone—jury duty. Then Bob O'Donnell and Assistant Attorney General Jeff Graham enter the courtroom, engaged in the kind of lighthearted banter that reveals the animosity between them may have ebbed. The parties have reached an agreement, and they discuss how to proceed in the judge's absence. "If something can go squirrelly with this case, it will," Graham says to O'Donnell, explaining why, despite their agreement, he still made the trip from Austin.