AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has asked the state's top criminal appeals court to rethink striking down a state law that banned sexually explicit online chatting between adults and minors.
Abbott's request to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has sparked a legal turf war with Lisa McMinn, the state prosecuting attorney, the Austin American-Statesman reported. McMinn has asked the appeals court to pay no heed to Abbott's request, the newspaper reported.
The all-Republican court voted 9-0 in October to strike down the 2005 law as a free-speech violation, in a case arising from a challenge by a Harris County man indicted under the law. Abbott argued his office hadn't been notified that a state law was being challenged as unconstitutional, denying him the opportunity to defend it.
McMinn told the court that only local prosecutors and her office may represent the state in appeals involving criminal cases. Abbott represents Texas in civil court matters and cannot intervene in an ongoing criminal case unless requested by a local prosecutor, she said.
Sexual cyber-exploitation of children has been a top issue on Abbott's political agenda, and Abbott is now seeking the Republican nomination for governor. He told the appeals court that its decision in October jeopardized 20 cases his office has prosecuted or is prosecuting. Two cases accusing North Texas men of soliciting minors online for sex had to be dropped recently as a result, said Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland.
"These are troubling cases with suspects that pose a danger to children and communities. However, due to the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling, these two cases could not be prosecuted," Strickland told the newspaper.
The Harris County district attorney's office, which prosecuted the case that led to the October decision, also has requested a rehearing in the case. In court filings, District Attorney Devon Anderson said the ruling will be construed as holding that sexting is constitutionally protected speech. "Is that what this court intended?" she asked.