Why stop at three? Why not try to bar them all?
Lawyers for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton are pushing to disqualify three Democratic state senators as jurors in his upcoming impeachment trial.
Paxton’s lawyers filed a motion Friday that asks Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to disqualify Sens. Nathan Johnson of Dallas, Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio and José Menéndez of San Antonio, arguing they have a proven bias against Paxton.
“Like numerous courts around the country, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has held for almost a century that potential jurors with a bias or prejudice against the accused are disqualified from serving on his jury as a matter of law,” the motion said. “Jurors José Menendez, Roland Gutierrez, and Nathan Johnson have such a bias and have proclaimed it loudly, time and again.”
The motion cites a number of critical public statements that the senators have made about Paxton over the years, including some in recent weeks. For example, it points to an MSNBC interview last month in which Gutierrez, who is also a candidate for U.S. Senate next year, said the evidence the House gathered “could not be refuted.”
“No one who has publicly declared the charges against a defendant irrefutable can even play at impartiality, let alone serve in an impartial manner,” Paxton’s lawyers argued.
The motion also cites a Tuesday tweet from Johnson reacting to news that a pro-Paxton political action committee had recently given $3 million to Patrick, who is presiding over the trial. Johnson called the donation “obscene.”
The tweet not only proved Johnson’s bias but also violated a gag order Patrick had issued the day before, according to Paxton’s lawyers.
The impartiality of senators has long been a source of debate given that Paxton is a former senator himself, his wife currently serves in the chamber and they have their own relationships with senators. Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is even referenced in the articles of impeachment as an unwitting “straw requestor” for an attorney general’s office legal opinion that helped Paul. Hughes has not been disqualified.
We have seen plenty of comparisons to the criminal justice process in the course of this impeachment. That’s understandable, since this is a trial and it kind of follows the trial process we’re all familiar with, but it’s limited in its applicability. In a real criminal trial, any potential juror who knew personally anyone on the prosecution or defense would immediately be excused. We obviously can’t do that here, there would literally be no one left to serve on the “jury”.
Does any of the facts alleged cross some kind of line? Nobody knows, but Dan Patrick gets to decide, based on whatever vibes he’s feeling. It’s not like there’s going to be an appeals process to sort it out. My best guess is that Patrick won’t want to have to deal with this, but again, who knows? We’re so far into uncharted waters we don’t even remember what the navigation tools we have are for.