by Mark Reagan
Popularly known as the DWI or 420 Dude, defense lawyer and former Austin cop James Balagia is running as a Libertarian for Texas Attorney General. Courtesy Photo.
A popular defense lawyer and former cop who specializes in DWI and marijuana cases wants to be Attorney General, but he’s not going to spend a dime on the race.
“I’m not taking any money from lobbyists or special interest groups,” Libertarian James Balagia said. “This will be a social media campaign. I want the people to promote me because then I owe nobody but the people.”
Balagia’s platform is straightforward: marijuana policy and police accountability.
“If I can get everyone who wants to end the war on drugs, end the incarceration of marijuana users and who want more police accountability and stress freedom, than (they need to) get off their duff and vote for me,” Balagia said, adding that politicians serve people, not the other way around.
As for marijuana policy, Balagia said his strategy would be to secure medicinal marijuana in Texas, then decriminalization and then legalization. But the AG spot isn’t a legislative one. The attorney general files lawsuits on behalf of Texas or defends Texas in lawsuits.
“It would be a great bully pulpit for me to speak from showing the libertarian perspective,” Balagia said. “If I could get 20 percent of the vote, that would show these do-nothing parties. All they do is glad-hand and promote their own agenda. We’d actually promote people’s freedom.”
According to Balagia, his two priorities, police accountability and marijuana legalization, could have an instant effect on relations between minority and poor communities and Texas police departments.
“The police are not pulling over rich white kids and ordering them out of cars at gunpoint. That only happens to the poor and to minorities,” Balagia said. “Why? Because the police want to search for marijuana. If we legalize marijuana, I believe it would instantly drop animosity between minority and poor communities and police because police will no longer have reason or right to stop them and search them or approach them on street corners and frisk them.”
Balagia said police body cameras combined with legalization efforts would further improve those relations.
“I can’t say you did something if I have a camera video taping something. I can’t say you made a movement. There can’t be an illegal search. I can’t violate your civil rights,” the former Austin cop said. “As a citizen, I think you’re less likely to assault me, insult me or act a fool.”
One area where Balagia could have a huge influence, outside of having a bully pulpit for marijuana and police accountability policies, is open record request appeals. A common response from police departments around Texas to an open records request is that the department cannot release information because it’s part of an ongoing investigation. This is sort of a carte blanche answer police department’s have gotten used to getting away with under the current AG, Greg Abbott, who, incidentally, wants to be governor.
“The only reason the AG should withhold information is like in undercover drug operations, prostitution and child trafficking cases, and release of the information would compromise the investigation,” Balagia said. “There should be someone in in that position of power whose default position is the records shall be open.”
And Balagia didn’t mince words about Texas’ current and its former attorney generals.
“It’s unbelievable that the taxpayers cannot petition the government to find out where tax dollars are being spent. And why do the AG’s not rule in favor of people, it’s because they want to run for senator or governor or some other garbage position. So they just use it as a steppingstone. So they don’t want to upset or antagonize their base support,” Balagia said.
However, every political candidate has a controversy somewhere. And outside of the crazy rhetoric that sometimes surrounds the marijuana and police accountability debate, Balagia was accused of misconduct.
According to a San Antonio Express News article published in late May, Balagia is accused of wrongly keeping $50,000 in a civil forfeiture case and the State Bar of Texas filed a misconduct lawsuit against him.
Balagia admitted he couldn’t say much about the case because, well, the State Bar of Texas is suing him for misconduct. But he did provide the Current a statement.
“I believe I will be exonerated of any accusations involving theft and dishonesty,” Balagia said.
Texas Senator Ken Paxton, a Republican, attorney Sam Houston, a Democrat, and Green Party candidate Jamar Osborne are also running for the position.