Lawyers for state Sen. Charles Schwertner say forensic review proves explicit texts didn't come from his phone

The lawyers said the examiner, R3 Digital Forensics, of Austin, "determined that the photo and texts in question could not have come from the senator's phone."

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, on the floor of the Senate on April 5, 2017.
State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, on the floor of the Senate on April 5, 2017.  Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Lawyers for state Sen. Charles Schwertner said Monday that the Georgetown Republican, under fire for allegedly sending lewd messages to a University of Texas at Austin student, submitted his phone to a forensic examiner who "determined that the photo and texts in question could not have come from the senator's phone."

"We are hopeful that the University of Texas will do the right thing and exonerate the senator immediately," the lawyers, Perry Minton and David Minton, wrote in a joint statement. "The voters of Sen. Schwertner's district deserve to have this information directly from the university."

Representatives for the Austin flagship have declined to acknowledge or comment on the investigation, citing a need to protect the integrity of the process. A spokesman again declined to comment Monday. Reid Wittliff, president of R3 Digital Forensics of Austin, confirmed Monday evening the firm has examined the senator's phone.

The lawyers' statement said Schwertner delivered his phone to a forensic examiner "to view the relevant contents," but it did not provide more detail about how the examiner's determination was reached or who retained the firm.

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News of the university's investigation into Schwertner was made public in September, when three unnamed UT officials told the Austin American-Statesman that a graduate student had reported the senator sent her a sexually explicit text and image. Schwertner has denied the allegations through a spokesman and through his lawyers, who previously provided the results of a polygraph examination they said backed Schwertner's claims. (Lie-detector tests, which are sometimes used by law enforcement, have proven to be unreliable.)

A letter sent to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office suggests UT-Austin's investigation is being conducted by the university’s Title IX office, and the office for inclusion and equity, which investigates allegations of harassment and misconduct. The law firm of former federal prosecutor Johnny Sutton will also be paid up to $50,000 to “provide legal advice and counsel concerning student Title IX and related matters,” according to its contract, which expires Aug. 31, 2019.

Under Title IX, a federal law, complaints about visitors to campus are common, but recourse is limited. Because Schwertner is neither student nor staff, he could be invited to participate in the school’s investigative process, but likely cannot be required to.

UT-Austin’s Title IX office received 400 reports from students in the last school year, according to data provided in response to an information request. Twenty-nine percent of the complaints involved a “non-UT affiliated” respondent, someone alleged to have engaged in conduct prohibited under the gender-equity law. The affiliation of another 36 percent of the respondents was unknown.

No complaints had been filed about Schwertner with the secretary of the Senate’s office, according to public information requests received most recently in October.

Schwertner, who joined the state Senate in 2013, is facing a re-election challenge from Meg Walsh, a Democrat.

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