By Dave Lieber
The joke I make when Ty Clevenger and I arrive at a Plano coffee shop to talk is that he should sit with his back to the wall. It’s a Mafia thing. When someone enters looking for you, it’s not such a big surprise.
Ty Clevenger is a marked man, not in organized crime circles, but in the legal world of judges and lawyers.
“That’s funny,” he says about my joke. “An hour ago, I told my mom and dad at lunch that I’m going to sit with my back to the wall so I can see who’s coming in the door.”
Meet Ty. He’s a 48-year-old lawyer, East Texan raised on a small farm, an Aggie. He practiced law in Collin County for a time. Now he handles mostly civil rights cases in Texas. He lives out of state.
Lawyers play it safe. They want long careers. Not necessarily so with Ty. He’s a fearless, saber-toothed legal hit man for what he believes is right. His weapon of choice is a complaint letter or a legal brief.
Among those in his cross hairs: lawyers, federal judges, presidential candidates, the Texas attorney general, and in some Texas towns even lowly city council members.
He’s a watchdog with a cutting, investigative, name-calling blog. But he pays a price. He was previously under a 120-day suspension from the Washington, D.C. federal courts. That’s what happens when you bite judges, as he does.
In the past year, he helped remove not one but two federal judges appointed to lifetime appointments. He also helped trigger the indictment of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Ty doesn’t shoot down. He always shoots up at those in power. It can be frightening to watch because, sometimes, Ty seems bent on self-destruction. But here he is, with his back to the wall, meeting me in Plano.
“My shrink and I refer to it as my Batman complex,” he says. He’s a former reporter, a former police officer and, since 2001, a lawyer.
Even with that D.C. suspension, he’s allowed to practice in Texas and elsewhere. Previously, he was fined $25,000 by one judge and $123,000 by another. It’s the price he pays (although he hasn’t yet paid).
“I don’t like watching people get away with things because they’re powerful,” he says, in words he tries to live by.
Two federal judges
Two longtime federal judges — one in Waco, the other in Austin — probably planned to sit on their respective benches longer than they did. They could have served until death, but that’s before Ty entered their world.
In the case of U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco, Ty was able to subpoena a woman who testified that the judge had sexually harassed her, but the incident was covered up.
By filing complaints, Ty forced the judge’s hand. He resigned rather than face further scrutiny.
Also, U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth of Austin met the same fate. He resigned before an investigations report was released. The same woman testified that Hudspeth, as chief judge of the Western District in Texas, took no action after hearing her original complaints.
Attorney General Ken Paxton
Ty followed the legal troubles of the state attorney general in news reports. Paxton was accused of selling securities without a state license.
After Travis County officials announced that the case was out of their county’s jurisdiction, Ty started calling Collin County officials to see if they’d take the case.
“They wouldn’t give me a straight answer,” he says. In Ty-Land, that’s how trouble begins.
Ty started writing about Paxton’s problems on his lawflog.com blog. (Yes, his blog probably causes heartburn for public officials, some of whom he refers to as Mafioso.)
Then in a move that attracted criticism because it’s so unorthodox, he wrote to 12 members of a sitting Collin County grand jury and asked them to consider looking at Paxton’s case.
One or more grand jurors asked to see the Paxton file. Collin officials were forced to write to Austin to get it. And after that, a special prosecutor was appointed.
Contacting grand jurors and asking them to investigate the top law enforcement official in Texas? Who does that? But it worked.
Hillary Clinton emails
Ty plays in the big leagues, too.
He was a bit player in the 2016 presidential election. He filed grievances with the D.C. Bar and with bar associations in New York, Maryland and Arkansas against the following notables:
Hillary Clinton, about her email problem.
Her top aide, Cheryl Mills over same.
FBI Director James Comey and former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for mishandling the email case.
Clinton lawyer David Kendall for deleting the Clinton emails.
His complaints are pending.
D.C. federal judge
Ty got into a slugfest with U.S District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle in D.C. He accused her of covering up bad behavior by herself and his opposing lawyers in a case. In return, she sanctioned him for $123,000.
Even worse, he faced disbarment proceedings that would have ended his career.
He got out with a suspension, which ended in March 2017.
Getting in the last word, on his blog, “LawFlog,” he called Huvelle’s courthouse “the dirtiest federal courthouse in America.” He doesn’t go away quietly.
Ty charges up the hill. By himself. Fragile yet bold. Death-defying yet very much alive.
His long standing feud with Rusty Russ, now a Judge, in Hearne Texas has resulted in several Federal civil rights cases and some people went to prison. Ty refers to them as the “Booger Mafia.”
“One person can make a difference,” he says.
“If more people got on blogs and started to do their own digging, a lot more things could be uncovered. A lot more corruption could be stopped. I hope more people realize that as one person they can clean up the community, that they can have better government where they live.”
The flip side? “You want to make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs,” he says, his back against the wall.