Hey, remember all those years ago when Ken Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges, and how he’s been able to avoid seeing the inside of a courtroom because of a barrage of appeals and other legal maneuvers? Well, we may be at the end of the road for all that, and that means it may be trial time.
Texas’ highest criminal court ruled Wednesday that the securities fraud case against now-suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton’s should remain in Houston, settling a key issue in the 8-year-old case as Paxton faces an impeachment trial in the Texas Senate this summer.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a 6-3 ruling, overturned lower-court decisions that said Paxton’s trial had been improperly moved from Collin County, where he lives, to Harris County because the trial judge had lost jurisdiction over the matter.
However, the Texas Constitution and state law protected the judge’s authority over the case, the court ruled.
“We’re gratified but not surprised that the Court recognized that this defendant must stand trial before a Harris County jury and a judge who will follow the law,” prosecutor Brian Wice said.
Prosecutors were able to remove the case from Collin County in 2017, arguing that they could not get a fair trial in a county that Paxton had represented during his 10 years in the Texas House and two years in the state Senate.
Paxton’s lawyers, arguing that the judge who ordered the case to Harris County had lost jurisdiction over the case, succeeded in sending the case back to Collin County in 2020, leading to appeals from prosecutors that resulted in Wednesday’s ruling.
Where a trial is held could have implications for the jury pool in a criminal trial. Collin County leans Republican, and 51% of voters supported Donald Trump, compared with 47% for Democrat Joe Biden, in 2020. In contrast, Harris County voted 56% to 43% for Biden over Trump.
The delay over the venue change was one of multiple holdups in the long-delayed securities fraud case. Paxton’s defense team had also tried to get the charges dismissed, citing problems with the grand jury process. Another dispute arose over six-figure payments to the appointed prosecutors, also leading to extended appeals.
The latest issue involved orders that assigned state District Judge George Gallagher to the Paxton case after another judge had stepped aside. One of those orders allowing him to serve as a traveling judge expired on Jan. 1, 2017.
Paxton’s lawyers argued that because Gallagher moved the case to Harris County in March 2017, he no longer had authority over the matter, voiding his order. A Harris County trial judge and an intermediate appeals court agreed.
On Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals said Gallagher, as an active district judge, “had constitutional authority to sit in any district court across the state” after he was properly appointed to handle the case in July 2015.
“Judge Gallagher had authority to sit in the 416th District Court to preside over [Paxton’s] case when he issued the venue transfer order on April 11, 2017,” Judge Bert Richardson wrote for the majority. “To hold otherwise, would erroneously limit the constitutional statewide authority vested in duly elected district court judges by the Texas Constitution.”
See here for the previous update, which was last March, and here for a copy of the ruling. (There are two dissents and one concurring opinion, all of which you can find here.) Paxton’s new fancy lawyer Tony Buzbee was quoted in the article complaining about the timing of this ruling, as there’s been so much Paxton impeachment news lately. To which I say one, if he wants there to be less bad news about Ken Paxton out there maybe he should tell Paxton to stop criming so much, and two, the many lengthy delays resulting from the many filings and appeals and whatnot had served Paxton’s interests pretty damn well up till now. Live by the wheels of justice grinding slowly, get run over by those wheels when you least expect it.
One of the ironies of this case, as I’ve noted before, is that both Collin County and Harris County are considerably bluer now than they were in 2015, when Paxton was first charged, or in 2017, when the prosecution first got the venue changed. Now, with the case likely to be set for trial, perhaps later this year or next year, Paxton will face a more Democratic jury pool than before, and would have faced at best a fifty-fifty mix in Collin County if he had prevailed. One could look back on all this and quite reasonably conclude that he should have taken his lumps in 2017 and gone to trial then in Harris County. Any way you look at it, he’s worse off now and would have been worse off no matter what. Really breaks your heart, doesn’t it? Reform Austin and the Chron have more.