Today’s Ken Paxton whistleblower trial update

He’s basically a professional defendant now.

A crook any way you look

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could face a potentially expensive and uncomfortable jury trial to defend himself against former deputies after a Travis County judge declined Wednesday to end the case in the whistleblowers’ favor without a trial.

The decision by Judge Catherine Mauzy means that Paxton, who announced that he won’t contest the facts behind the case, may have to be questioned on the record in open court about the allegations made by four former top deputies — something he would have avoided had Mauzy ruled in his favor.

It also means that the deputies’ attorneys could be allowed to present their evidence that Paxton improperly fired them — which they have yet to do in the three years the suit has been litigated.

Attorneys representing Paxton declined to say whether they’d appeal the decision, nor did they offer any additional comment Wednesday.


On Wednesday, Paxton’s attorneys argued that it was within his rights to avoid a lengthy, costly trial by asking for it to be over, declining to argue over the facts presented by the plaintiffs, accept whatever damages the judge decides, and declining to appeal or contest the final ruling.

And he’s allowed by law to do that while denying the allegations at the heart of the the case, attorney Bill Hefland told Mauzy during the 40-minute hearing.

Given that, he said, there was no reason for the lawsuit to go forward — unless the plaintiffs wanted to either run up attorneys fees or use the lawsuit for their own investigations.

“We’re totally through the looking glass,” Hefland said in the hearing. “You don’t need a trial, you don’t need evidence. I’m here to tell you my client concedes to the entry of judgment today, and my client waives any right to appeal that judgment. So what in the world would a trial do? What is the legitimate reason for pursuing this lawsuit and not taking the judgment? I would submit there is no legitimate reason.”

One reason, plaintiff attorney TJ Turner responded, is that it would be impossible for the judge to even determine the damages without hearing any of the evidence in their case.

Another, he said, is that Paxton is trying to “have his cake and eat it, too” by vigorously denying what the former deputies are alleging while also trying to avoid any public airing of their arguments by suggesting he won’t argue with them about it.

“We still have to put on our case,” Turner said. “This is just the latest parlor trick in Office of the Attorney General’s quiver so that they avoid what the A.G. fears the most, and that’s testifying under oath.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I’d be inclined to agree with the plaintiffs in this case almost regardless of what anyone said, but I strongly agree with them here. Paxton’s arguments are completely self-serving, in that he’s essentially pleading nolo contendere for the purpose of not having to say anything on the record while still enjoying the privilege of denying everything that he’s implicitly admitting to everywhere else. If you’re going to concede the fight, then what exactly is it you’re conceding? What are the facts that you’re not disputing? I Am Not A Lawyer, but this isn’t how it works. Right?

Also, too, if Paxton just gets to wave away admitting to anything specific, then what’s to stop the judge from saying basically “OK, then, you owe the plaintiffs one billion dollars. Each.” Remember, this lawsuit is against Paxton in his official capacity as Attorney General, meaning that he’s not on the hook for a dime. He doesn’t care what the taxpayers get stuck with.

Anyway. I notice that this ruling was made by Judge Catherine Mauzy, while the rulings about Paxton having to be deposed were made by Judge Jan Soifer. I’m a little confused as to why there are two judges involved – is the litigation over whether or not he must sit for a deposition different than the litigation over how much he owes the plaintiffs? How does that work? In my years of being a blogger who is not a lawyer I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the legal system and its various weird artifacts, but this is a new situation for me. Any of you lawyers out there, please feel free to weigh in.

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2 Responses to Today’s Ken Paxton whistleblower trial update

  1. mollusk says:

    Unless the parties agree on the damages amount, you need to offer evidence to support what you’re asking for.

    Travis County is a bit of an outlier with its rotating docket system; AFIK Bexar is the only other multi court county that uses it. Civil motion hearings and trials are randomly assigned unless you manage to persuade a judge that the case is complicated enough to give it to a particular court, which has to occur very early in the case. Judges can also generally preside over hearings and sign orders for one another as a matter of convenience.

  2. Kat K. says:

    Based on an article I read in Law360, the case was reassigned to Judge Mauzy from Judge Soifer on Tuesday. The docket clerk did not offer a reason why.

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