As Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal troubles head into their third year, there’s another question aside from whether he’ll beat the rap — who will pay for it all?
Taxpayers in Collin County, where Paxton was indicted on three felony charges, have had to pick up the tab. This hasn’t gone over well in McKinney, a conservative stronghold where the Republican attorney general is not only a well-known resident but also the first statewide official elected from the area in almost 150 years.
After months of pressure and multiple lawsuits from Paxton loyalists to halt funding to the case, local officials recently voted to stop paying the prosecutors at all.
Then, late last week, after months of mulling the idea, county leaders finally took their grievances to court. One is even hoping the county can rid itself of the case and its price tag altogether by getting taxpayers in Houston, where Paxton will stand trial, to pick up the rest of the tab.
It’s been 18 months since the prosecutors were paid. With a brand-new judge presiding over the case and multiple related lawsuits pending, when, how much and who will pay them is more a mystery than ever before.
In a brief filed with the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, the county commissioners argued the prosecutors’ pay was “outrageously high” and illegal. Their fees violate a state law, they said, that requires counties to adopt “reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum hourly rates” for compensating special prosecutors.
They want the court to throw out the prosecutors’ last paycheck — which topped $205,000 — and have voted to reject paying the bill until in the meantime. This last invoice, filed in January, covers all of 2016.
David Feldman, the prosecutors’ lawyer, said his clients’ decision to continue while not being paid “shows a commitment to serving the public good.” The three prosecutors — Nicole DeBorde, Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice — are criminal defense attorneys who charge many times this rate in their private practices.
“It’s honorable that they’re continuing to invest time in the prosecution because this is not something they went out and asked for.
Harris County Criminal District Court Judge Robert Johnson, a Democrat elected last year, was chosen this week to replace Gallagher. Johnson could choose to hike or slash the prosecutors’ paychecks as he sees fit.
On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the fight over the case’s cost. But depending on Collin County’s future decisions, he may be forced to weigh in.
County Judge Keith Self, one of the five Collin County commissioners, wants to discuss whether there’s a way to push the case’s costs onto Harris County. The commissioners haven’t discussed this proposal, he said, but he’s “hopeful” they’ll be open to the possibility.
Commissioner Duncan Webb said they should wait until the Dallas court makes a decision.
“I want to get the issue resolved, the quicker the better, and do what we’re legally supposed to do and pay what we’re legally supposed to pay,” Webb said. “I don’t know whether Harris County’s going to get involved with this or not. That’s way out there at this moment.
See here, here, and here for the background. I’m sure our Commissioners Court will be delighted to hear about this. Remember how I’ve said that it would probably make more sense for the state to pay for special prosecutors in cases like this, if only to avoid these shenanigans? I still think that’s the right idea. In the meantime, it may be awhile before the 5th Court gets involved again.
A Texas appellate court [last] Friday said without a live controversy, it doesn’t have jurisdiction in a fight to block payment for the special prosecutors appointed to handle the felony securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas dismissed real estate developer Jeff Blackard’s bid to enjoin the Collin County Commissioners Court from paying a trio of special prosecutors under a $300 hourly rate agreement, citing the county’s recent vote against paying an invoice from the prosecutors. Blackard had argued the county’s local court rules require appointed prosecutors to be paid under a limited flat fee schedule, and his quest to block hefty payments to the prosecutors raised what the appeals court referred to as unusual and challenging procedural issues.
Blackard had requested the appellate court abate his suit indefinitely, based on the possibility the county might in the future approve payment of a fee invoice at a time and in an amount that he contends is illegal, according to the opinion. But the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over contingent future events that may not occur, and the matter is not ripe for resolution, a panel of the court said.
“Because the Commissioners Court has rejected the invoice and has authorized counsel to challenge the district court’s order, no pending ‘illegal’ expenditure of public funds currently exists for Blackard to seek to enjoin,” the court said.
I don’t really know what any of this means. I’m just trying to keep track of it all.