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Judge sends Paxton case back to Collin County

Pending appeal, of course.

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A Harris County judge on Friday moved Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case to Collin County, handing Paxton a major win by placing the case in his hometown, where legal experts say he’s more likely to face a sympathetic judge or jury.

Judge Jason Luong ruled that he did not have the authority to move the case, deferring to an earlier order moving the case to Collin County.

Special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer said Friday that they plan to appeal. Paxton’s attorneys could not immediately be reached.

The decision adds yet another layer of complication — and likely more delays — to a case that has dragged on for more than five years over numerous issues unrelated to the substance of the accusations against Paxton.

I’m going to jump in here to remind everyone that Judge Robert Johnson had ordered the case back to Collin County in June, agreeing with Paxton’s defense team that the judge who had sent the case to Harris County in the first place did not have the authority to do so. Johnson then recused himself from the case, because the AG’s office is representing the criminal district court judges in the felony bail reform lawsuit, though it is not clear that he had to do so, since Paxton is not directly involved in that case and the judges who are defendants are being sued in their official capacity, not as plain old citizens. The First Court of Appeals set that order aside in July (the technical legal term is “abated”), on the grounds that the new judge, Jason Luong, needed to have an opportunity to review Judge Johnson’s order and either agree with it or vacate it. (Team Paxton later tried to get Judge Luong removed, but that motion was denied and subsequently mocked.)

In his ruling Friday, Luong added that even if a higher court rules that he does in fact have authority, he agrees with Paxton’s lawyers that the judge who allowed the case to move to Harris in the first place lacked authority as well, meaning the case would remain in Collin County.

As it was explained to me, the same mandamus that had been filed with the First Court of Appeals to challenge Judge Johnson’s ruling will now be taken up for Judge Luong’s ruling. I should note that the First Court’s abatement was supposed to be for 45 days, but as with everything related to this Paxton case, things took longer than that. Lord only knows when the next thing will happen. In the meantime, of course, there is now the Nate Paul shitshow, and if that does not have an effect on this case somehow at some point, I will be puzzled and very, very disappointed – like, Susan Collins clucking her tongue at Donald Trump-level disappointed. What the world needed now, when not much else is happening, is some more Ken Paxton news, am I right? The Trib has more.

Giving a motion its proper due

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As you know, Ken Paxton really really wants to get his securities fraud case moved back to what he assumes are the warm and friendly confines of Collin County. The case was originally moved out of Collin County on the grounds that it would be hard to get a sufficiently impartial jury there, and so it has been in Harris County for the last million years, give or take a century. Then it looked like Paxton had scored a win, when Harris County Criminal Court Judge Robert Johnson ruled in favor of a Paxton motion to send the case back to Collin County, while also recusing himself from the case due to a potential conflict of interest, as the Attorney General’s office is representing the Harris County Criminal District Court judges in the bail practices lawsuit, for which they are named defendants. Johnson stepped down and fellow jurist Jason Luong was put on the case while Johnson’s ruling to move the case back to Collin County was appealed by prosecutors.

This presented a problem for Paxton, because prosecutors could ask Judge Luong to reconsider Judge Johnson’s ruling, and thus possibly rule instead to keep the case in Harris County. So, Team Paxton moved to have Judge Luong recused from the case (he declined to recuse himself) on the grounds that the same potential conflict of interest that Judge Johnson cited in his own recusal would apply to Judge Luong as well. The prosecutors objected, on the grounds that there really isn’t a conflict of interest here, in part because the AG’s office is representing the Criminal District Court judges as an entity not as individuals – they are being sued in their official capacity, not as private citizens – and also because Paxton himself is not involved in the bail litigation. Last Friday, Administrative Judge Susan Brown ruled for the prosecutors, denying Paxton’s motion to remove Judge Luong from the case, and thus allowing Luong to revisit Johnson’s ruling to move it.

I assume this ruling can and will be appealed, but in the meantime, Team Paxton has filed a motion asking Judge Brown to reconsider her ruling. This is the legal strategy of saying “Are you sure you meant to rule that way? Here, let me give you the same set of facts and arguments as before but maybe emphasize them a little differently, and you’ll see it my way this time, right?” This means that the prosecutors have to respond to this motion, and so they did, with the tone of voice and general tenor one might expect in such a circumstance. When you start with a quote from the movie Dumb and Dumber and conclude with the canonical definition of the word “chutzpah”, it’s safe to say you feel confident in your position. In between, the prosecutors remind everyone that both Paxton and his lawyer have stated that 1) the AG’s office has been “working to remove [Paxton] from ‘active participation in matters in which a conflict may exist’” and 2) “[Judge Johnson] did not need to recuse himself on the matter since it had been ordered back to Collin County and the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity that predates his election to that office.”

Now, assuming that Judge Luong does stay on the case so that he can rule on the motion to reconsider Judge Johnson’s ruling to send the case back to Collin County (*), and assuming that he rules that Judge Johnson erred in his ruling and that the case should stay here, will the question of Judge Luong needing to be recused come up again? Probably, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In the meantime, enjoy this little exercise in the fine legal art of saying “You’ve got to be kidding me” as only lawyers can.

(*) It’s quite standard for a new judge to revisit consequential rulings made by a previous judge on a case. That’s why having Judge Luong reconsider Judge Johnson’s ruling is not in the same category as asking Judge Brown to reconsider her own ruling.

No new judge for Paxton

Sorry, Kenny.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is still fighting five-year-old felony securities fraud charges, has failed in his bid to kick a Democratic Harris County judge off his ongoing criminal case.

An administrative judge in Houston, Susan Brown, denied Paxton’s motion to recuse Judge Jason Luong from the case, the Dallas Morning News first reported Friday.

It’s a loss for Paxton’s team in the long-running prosecution, which has yet to go to trial amid side fights over venue and prosecutor pay that have spanned years and bounced between numerous courts across the state. Paxton, a Republican, has maintained his innocence in the case, in which he is accused of persuading investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing that he would be compensated for it.

[…]

“We’re gratified that Judge Brown found that Paxton’s motion to recuse Judge Luong was baseless,” said Brian Wice, one of the prosecutors taking Paxton to trial. “We’re confident that Judge Luong will find that Paxton’s motion to keep from being tried in Harris County is cut from the same cloth.”

See here and here for the previous updates. Here’s that DMN story.

Luong, a Democrat, is the fourth judge to preside over Paxton’s case since the attorney general was charged in July 2015. The first judge to preside over the case recused himself early on. Paxton successfully argued for the recusal of the second judge, Tarrant County Republican George Gallagher, over his objections. The third judge to preside over the case, Harris County District Court Judge Robert Johnson, recused himself last month because the attorney general is representing him and several other judges in a lawsuit challenging the region’s cash bail system.

Paxton’s lawyers argued that Luong should be removed from the case for this same reason. The prosecutors, however, said Paxton wanted to recuse Luong because he could reverse Johnson’s decision, made just before his recusal, to move the case out of Harris County. The case was moved from Collin to Harris County in 2017 after the prosecutors argued that they would be unable to ensure a fair trial in Paxton’s backyard.

All righty then. What is unclear to me from these stories is whether or not Team Paxton can appeal this ruling. I’m sure if they can they will, all previous nattering about wanting to get their guy his day in court aside, but that is not addressed and they did not comment. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. I also assume any ruling Judge Luong may make on where the trial should be will wait until that happens, if it does. So we don’t yet know how much more time is on the clock before something substantial happens.

Paxton (again) wants another judge on his case

Round and round they go.

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Defense attorneys for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — whose indictment for felony securities fraud is now more than five years old — are again asking for a different judge to oversee the case. It’s the latest turn in a long-delayed prosecution that has bounced all the way from a trial court in North Texas to the state Supreme Court in Austin, and now sits in legal purgatory in Houston.

Paxton’s attorneys wrote Thursday that Judge Jason Luong should recuse himself from the case because the attorney general’s office is representing him — among a group of about 20 Harris County district court judges — in an unrelated lawsuit over bail practices. Robert Johnson, who oversaw the case until recently, voluntarily recused himself from the case for that reason earlier this summer. A Houston appeals court reassigned the case to Luong late last month.

“Judge Luong’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned” because Paxton is defending him, Paxton’s attorneys argued in a filing this week.

[…]

The prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial shot back Friday, arguing that Luong should remain on the case.

“Because Paxton’s palpable fear that Judge Luong will follow the law and keep these felony cases in Harris County does not come within a time zone of meeting the Draconian burden required for recusal, his motion is without merit and should be denied,” prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer wrote.

And they noted that last month, Paxton’s attorney Philip Hilder told the Houston Chronicle that Johnson “did not need to recuse himself on the matter since … the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity.”

See here for the previous update. I don’t think the Paxton argument about a potential conflict of interest due to the bail lawsuit is completely without merit, but I do agree that it’s a thin reed. I mean, the AG’s office is basically defending the office of Criminal District Court Judge in this lawsuit, and Jason Luong just happens to be in that category. It’s Jason Luong in his official capacity, not Jason Luong, person of Texas. It’s true that Judge Robert Johnson agreed to recuse himself on those grounds, but that doesn’t mean other judges would agree with that position. It’s also true that the question could be made moot, either by Judge Luong making like Chuck Silverman and Brian Warren and filing a motion in agreement with the plaintiffs, or by the presiding judge in the bail case granting the motion to dismiss that was recently filed. Of course, a ruling on that motion could take months, and we needn’t wait that long. The point is, though, that there are other ways to resolve this conflict, if one agrees that there is a conflict.

And I too would point out that Team Paxton was just the other day talking about how their guy is ready for his day in court and that the prosecutors should quit fighting the effort to move the case back to Collin County so we can get this show on the road already. Funny how one’s perspective can change on that. It’s been pretty much entirely the work of Team Paxton and his political supporters that have caused this case to drag on for now more than five years. The DMN, in its reporting on this latest action, provides a handy timeline.

The prosecutors, Paxton’s lawyers added, are improperly trying for a do-over on this change-of-venue decision.

“It simply defies belief that the State can get two bites at the apple on the critical jurisdictional issue that Judge Johnson already properly ruled on by allowing a new judge who is similarly situated with Judge Johnson (i.e., both represented by the Texas Attorney General in the same case) to review Judge Johnson’s prior ruling. This is the ultimate appearance of impropriety.”

In their response, the prosecutors said Paxton’s own lawyers already undercut their argument when they told the Houston Chronicle last month that Johnson never needed to step off the case.

“He did not need to recuse himself on the matter since it had been ordered back to Collin County and the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity that predates his election to that office,” Paxton attorney Philip Hilder told the Chronicle.

A Collin County jury indicted Paxton in July 2015. Since then, his case has been repeatedly delayed by fights over where the trials should take place, how much the prosecutors should make and what judge should preside. Paxton’s defense team spent more than a year attempting to have the charges against their client thrown out. They failed.

Hurricane Harvey also delayed the case and many others in Houston. The COVID-19 pandemic could further push any possible trial back.

Paxton is charged with two first-degree felonies over allegations that he persuaded friends to invest in a McKinney technology company called Servergy Inc. without telling them he received 100,000 shares of stock. He also is charged with a third-degree felony, accused of funneling clients to a friend’s investment firm without being registered with the state. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded and fined Paxton $1,000 for this failure to register in 2014.

If found guilty, Paxton could face two to 10 years in prison for the third-degree felony and five to 99 years for each of the first-degree felonies, as well as fines. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

When I started writing this post, I began with the post title, and I was pretty sure that it was Paxton who had demanded a new judge in the past, but I wasn’t sure and I knew it would take a lot of archive-diving find an answer. I’m thankful the DMN did that work for me. Who wants to bet this case will still be active when the voters go to choose an AG in 2022?

A whole lot of Paxton case news all of a sudden

Brace yourselves.

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A Houston appeals court on Monday abated a recent decision to move the criminal cases against Attorney General Ken Paxton from Harris to Collin County, giving a new judge on the case the chance to revisit that order.

The abatement is a win for special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice. It will also allow the judge, Jason Luong, to consider whether to reinstate pay to the prosecutors, who have not been paid since 2016. The prosecutors confirmed the appeals court decision to The News but declined to speak to the matter further.

Paxton’s lawyers said they were “disappointed” and “troubled” that the appeals court ruled without giving them a change to respond.

“Mr. Paxton’s response brief on the merits of returning the case to Collin County was due today and filed after the Court had already decided to abate the case,” Paxton defense attorney Bill Mateja told The News in a statement. “As such, we intend to ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling.”

I did not know that it was in play for the First Court of Appeals to “abate” the ruling that moved the Paxton case back to Collin County. (I also don’t exactly know what “abate” means here, and how it differs from “overturns or “reverses”. You lawyers out there, please chime in.) I did know that Robert Johnson, the judge in Harris County who ruled that the case should go back to Collin, then recused himself because the AG’s office will be representing criminal district court judges in Harris in the latest bail reform lawsuit. I had not known that a new judge – who, it should be noted, is in the same boat as Judge Johnson in re: the bail lawsuit, unless he decides to make like Chuck Silverman and side with the plaintiffs. I’m putting all that in here so as not to quote the whole damn story. Now back to the excerpt:

Paxton’s legal team applauded the decision [to move the case back to Collin County] at the time and said the attorney general is ready to have his day in court.

“We are gratified by the Court’s ruling and look forward to getting Mr. Paxton’s case back on track. This case has gone on far too long,” Paxton lawyer Dan Cogdell said in an emailed statement that day. Bill Mateja added: “The Prosecutors need to let Judge Johnson’s decision stand and allow Mr. Paxton to have his day in court.”

The special prosecutors appealed his decision.

In early July, the 1st Court of Appeals delayed moving the cases to Collin County until it could rule on the merits of the prosecutors’ arguments that they remain in Houston. Now, the prosecutors say the court has abated Johnson’s decision and allowed Luong, a Democrat, to revisit the move back to Collin County.

Luong, who is also being represented by Paxton’s office in the same separate case as Johnson, has not answered questions about whether he too will recuse himself from this case.

Did you know that the original Paxton indictments are now five years old? Let’s just say I don’t believe Attorneys Cogdell and Mateja in their assessment of how long this has taken and their client’s desire to see the inside of a courtroom, even one in front of a presumably friendly judge. It ain’t the not-paid-since-2016 special prosecutors who have dragged this out for so long. I have no idea what issue there may be for Judge Luong to decide in re: their pay, but 1) they deserve to be paid, and 2) any further action on that front will for sure drag this out until the heat death of the universe. In the meantime, the ball is literally in Judge Luong’s court, and we’ll see what the next action item is. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: I have been given the following explanation of what an “abatement” is:

A Texas appellate court “abates” a case when it decides that there is some action a trial judge must take before the case goes forward. The same word is used in other circumstances but it almost always means a court is pausing proceedings.

This is a mandamus in which the prosecutors are challenging Judge Johnson’s transfer order. A mandamus is technically a suit against the trial judge in their official capacity. The First Court’s order yesterday abated the case because it had learned Judge Johnson had recused himself and Judge Luong is the new judge. The case against Judge Johnson can’t proceed because there’s a new judge who must be given an opportunity to either agree or to vacate Judge Johnson’s order. If Judge Luong agrees with Judge Johnson, the mandamus will proceed against the new judge. If he vacates, it will be up to Paxton’s defense counsel to try the case here or appeal the new judge’s order.

This type of abatement is not unusual and is all but mandatory when there is a change in judges in the middle of a mandamus. It’s unfortunate that the appellate brief was filed after the abatement, but that happens sometimes. It would be unusual if the court of appeals had not abated the mandamus to allow Judge Luong time to rule.

That makes sense to me, and as you can see from the court order, the abatement is for 45 days. So, in the next six weeks or so we should know if the ruling to move the case back to Collin County is still in place or if it has been vacated. (This is assuming Judge Luong doesn’t recuse himself, in which case I presume the main effect would be to push the timeline further back, because sure, why not.) Once we have that, we’ll know who’s appealing what. Isn’t this fun?

Move to Collin County on hold, Paxton judge recuses himself

Stay with me here.

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The Harris County state district judge who handed Attorney General Ken Paxton a big win by moving his criminal case back to Collin County two weeks ago is now recusing himself because Paxton’s office is representing him in a separate suit.

Now Judge Robert Johnson’s quick exit is leading the attorneys prosecuting Paxton to question the decision to move the case back to Paxton’s home county.

Johnson, who did not respond to requests for comment, made the venue change decision on June 25. A day later, he and all 22 other Harris County felony judges were added as defendants in a lawsuit alleging that the region’s bail practices discriminate against poor defendants.

The Attorney General’s Office represents state agencies and individual employees of the state and officially became counsel to Johnson and 19 other judges on July 1.

[…]

Prosecutors in the case have appealed the move to Collin County, and the First Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted a motion for a stay of the proceedings during the appeal.

One of the prosecutors, Kent Schaffer, says the recusal raises questions about when Johnson knew he had a potential conflict of interest. He said he plans to look into the issue and will continue to push for the venue change to be voided.

“If we can show that he was already in conversations with the AG about representation, he should have recused himself at that point,” Schaffer said. “If he had a conflict, he shouldn’t have ruled on it to begin with.”

Johnson said in court documents on Monday that he was recusing himself out of a concern that his “impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” citing from the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

Philip Hilder, an attorney for Paxton, said Tuesday that he has no doubt that Johnson’s decision to move the case should stand.

“The judge’s ruling was completely based in following the law and facts and (he) made the right decision by sending the case back to Collin County,” Hilder said. “He did not need to recuse himself on the matter since it had been ordered back to Collin County and the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity that predates his election to that office.”

Johnson had agreed with Paxton that the judge who moved the case to Harris County in 2017 did so after his term had expired and the decision therefore should not stand.

The case is out of Johnson’s hands for now until the appellate court rules — either upholding the move to Collin County or sending it back to his courtroom.

See here for the background. I agree that the addition of district criminal court judges to the bail reform lawsuit, for which they will be represented by the Attorney General’s office, is a complicating factor, and that it would have been better if Judge Johnson had either ruled or recused himself before that happened. I can’t quite articulate what the conflict of interest may be here, but as a matter of general principle it would be best to separate the two cases. Given the reasons why the case was moved in the first place, maybe moving it to Bexar or Fort Bend or some other large-but-not-Collin county is the better way to go; I’d guess no one was advocating such a position, however. As usual, this case gives me a headache, so I’m just going to leave this here and wait till the First Court of Appeals makes its ruling.

Back to Collin County for the Paxton trial

Where it all began.

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Years after it was sent to Harris County, the criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will move back to his native Collin County, a Harris County judge ruled Thursday.

Paxton, a Republican, was indicted in 2015 on felony securities fraud charges, but the case has yet to go to trial as side battles persist over the venue where he will be tried and the amount the special prosecutors will be paid.

A judge moved Paxton’s case to Harris County years ago, after prosecutors said they could not get a fair trial in Collin County, Paxton’s home and former district from his time in the state Legislature. His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, now represents the region.

But Ken Paxton’s defense team argued last year that the judge who initially ordered the move to Harris County did not have the authority to do so, as his time overseeing the case had elapsed. The two attorneys prosecuting Paxton, Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer, disputed that at a December hearing and said the case belongs in Harris County. But Judge Robert Johnson, a Democrat, agreed with Paxton’s defense team in an order this week.

Wice pledged to appeal the decision.

“The only thing more wrong than the judge’s ruling is that it took him almost a year to make it,” he said. “We’re confident the court of appeals will set it aside and keep venue in Harris County where it belongs.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a full timeline of L’Affaire Paxton. Judge Johnson had said at that December hearing that he’d rule by the end of the month. I have no idea what happened with that, but here we are. As I said then, the only sure thing in all this is that it will eventually end up before the Court of Criminal Appeals. I don’t even have it in me to make a joke at this point. The Chron and the DMN have more.

Will the Paxton case move back to Collin County?

Team Paxton is asking for that to happen.

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A Harris County judge said Tuesday he will rule by the end of next month on Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request to move his felony securities fraud case back to his home county.

Judge Robert Johnson avoided getting into other issues raised in the case until he decides whether to send it back to Collin County, where it originated nearly four years ago.

Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer — who opposed Paxton’s motion to move the case — said after Tuesday’s hearing that he thinks Johnson “will make the right decision” and that he believes “with a high degree of certainty” that Paxton will go to trial by spring 2020.

[…]

The case has been delayed for nearly four years now for reasons ranging from the change of venue request to courtroom damage due to Hurricane Harvey to an ongoing disagreement between Collin County officials and special prosecutors over what they ought to be paid for their work.

It was Paxton’s political influence in Collin County that led a judge to move the case to Harris County in the first place. In 2017, Judge George Gallagher sided with prosecutors who argued that Paxton could not receive a fair trial in the county where many of his friends and political allies live and hold positions of power.

The Collin County District Attorney, for example, recused himself from the case because of a friendship with Paxton, a former state legislator.

Paxton’s lawyers argue that Gallagher exceeded his authority in changing the venue in the first place because his temporary assignment to the case had expired months before he made the decision.

They’ve also said that public attention on Paxton’s indictment has waned since 2016 when the case was the talk of “blogs, media and Facebook posts.” Plus, Collin County is better-equipped to take the case as well, they say, because the Harris County court system is already overburdened.

See here, here, and here for the background. Paxton’s argument seems pretty self-serving here, but in some sense it doesn’t matter. We all know Judge Johnson’s ruling will get appealed, all the way to the CCA, and that whole rigamarole will take a couple more years. We’re all going to be old and gray before this case is resolved.

Paxton’s trial date set

Mark your calendars.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will face trial in December for the first of three criminal charges, a Houston judge ruled Thursday.

Jury selection will begin Dec. 1 and testimony will start on Dec. 11 for the single count of failing to register as an investment adviser with the state.

Paxton, who was indicted in 2015, also faces two first-degree felony charges of securities fraud.

The hearing Thursday was the second in the case for state District Judge Robert Johnson of the 177th Criminal Court, a freshman jurist assigned to oversee Paxton’s case after it was moved from the attorney general’s home of Collin County.

Paxton’s trial was originally scheduled for May, then moved to September. Both those dates were scrapped amid upheaval over where the trial should be held and whether the visiting judge would remain at the bench.

See here and here for the background. The start date for the trial also happens to be the filing deadline for 2018, so Republicans could be a bit out of luck if Paxton has no primary opponent. The issue of who is paying for the special prosecutors remains unresolved, though there may be a further hearing from Judge Johnson on the matter. For now at least, we have a trial date. The DMN and the Trib have more.

First Paxton trial hearing in Harris County

Not much happened, but there are some big questions to address.

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The securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton kicked off Thursday in Harris County with no new trial date being set.

Instead, the new judge in the case, Robert Johnson, asked both sides to come back July 27 to continue discussing a potential schedule. Prosecutors pushed to hold off setting a trial date until they can get paid – an issue currently tied up in a Dallas appeals court.

Paxton has had two previous trial dates scrapped due to legal disputes – first over the venue, then over the judge. The hearing Thursday was the first time Paxton appeared before Johnson, the new judge, in the relocated venue of Harris County.

[…]

The issue of the prosecutors’ pay has long consumed the case. Collin County commissioners voted last month not to approve payments to the prosecutors and to instead take the dispute to the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals, where it has not yet been resolved.

“As long as they continue to sue us, our hands our tied,” said one of the prosecutors, Brian Wice. “This is an unprecedented attempt to defund and ultimately derail the prosecution.”

Paxton’s lawyers countered that the payment case could take much longer than the prosecutors were letting on.

“Whether they get their money is not our problem,” Paxton lawyer Dan Cogdell said, adding that the citizens of Texas also deserve a speedy trial. “He is the sitting attorney general.”

See here and here for some background. As the DMN notes, the 5th Court of Appeals says it will issue a ruling in the Paxton prosecutors pay lawsuit sometime after July 19. How much after, we don’t know. Maybe the issue will be moot by the time July 27 rolls around. Modulo further appeals, of course. Judge Johnson has asked both parties to submit procedural timelines of the case by July 7, for that July 27 hearing. Maybe we’ll get some of these questions answered then. The Chron has more.

Paxton gets his new judge

From the Be Careful What You Wish For department:

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has received a new judge in his securities fraud case.

Harris County District Judge Robert Johnson’s court has been randomly assigned to the case, according to Bill Murphy, a spokesman for the county district clerk.

Paxton’s lawyers had fought for months to get rid of the previous judge, George Gallagher, who had presided over the case since its early days in 2015. They were finally successful last week when the state’s highest criminal court declined to overturn an appeals court ruling backing their push for a new judge.

Last year, Johnson, a Democrat, narrowly unseated a Republican incumbent, Ryan Patrick, the son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

See here for the background. That sound you heard was karma committing a hit-and-run on Ken Paxton’s dogma. I mean look, I’ve been saying all along that the “win” Paxton scored in getting Judge Gallagher was in name only, since (unless one truly believed Judge Gallagher had been issuing or would be expected to issue rulings unfair to Paxton) one judge should be more or less like any other. As such, getting Judge Johnson should not mean anything to the prosecution or the defense either, at least pending any rulings he makes that may be fodder for a future appeal. However tasty the irony of all this is, it wasn’t really a “win” for Paxton when Gallagher got booted and it’s not really a “loss” with Johnson being selected. It’s just another judge, who will proceed to do what judges do. The Chron has more.

We have the Paxton case

By “we”, I mean Harris County.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case is officially moving to Harris County.

In an order signed Friday morning, Judge George Gallagher vacated several previous orders scheduling hearings in the case and directed the Collin County District Clerk’s Office to transfer the proceedings to the Harris County District Clerk.

Gallagher’s order effectively triggers the search for a new judge in the case, following up on a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling this week that removed him as the judge who would presided over the embattled attorney general’s securities fraud and registration case. Special prosecutors asked the court to keep Gallagher.

The ruling marked a win for the first-term Republican attorney general who has been fighting to remove the judge from his case since Gallagher opted to move the trial out of Paxton’s home of Collin County in April.

See here, here, and here for the background. I always want to put the “win” here in quotes, since I believe it’s a victory in name only, with no practical effect. But I suppose it makes Paxton feel better, so we mustn’t discount that.

The DMN adds some technical details.

A new judge will be assigned by random. Harris County assigns judges for criminal cases using the “Automated Random Assignment System,” a kind of massive bingo cage containing 220 balls that spits out assignments.

On Thursday, Harris County District Courts Administrator Clay Bowman told The Dallas Morning News that Administrative Judge Robert Schaffer would be shepherding the assignment.

“Our local administrative judge is the person who will be handling, sort of shepherding, the assignment of the case,” said Bowman, who added Olen Underwood, the regional presiding judge for Harris and 34 other counties in southeast Texas, would likely also be involved.

There are nearly two dozen criminal district judges in Harris County who could be assigned the case. Nearly half are Democrats. These judges, who are locally elected, have received thousands of dollars in donations from all three prosecutors and two of Paxton’s top attorneys in the past.

This story also calls the ouster of Judge Gallagher as a “win” – specifically, a “major victory” – for Paxton. I wonder if that narrative will change if he draws a Democratic judge. Not that it should matter, of course – it shouldn’t matter in any event who the judge is, since they’re supposed to be all impartial and judicial and all. But whatever. The updated Chron story, which refers to Paxton being handed a “major win”, says that the judicial bingo process should occur “sometime very early [this] week”, so we’ll keep an eye on that. Mazel tov to whoever gets this one dropped in their lap.

CCA declines to get involved in Paxton judge dispute

That’s that, then.

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Texas’ highest criminal court has declined to intervene in the dispute over the judge in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s securities fraud case.

On Friday, prosecutors asked the state Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse a lower appeals court ruling that supported Paxton’s push to remove the judge, George Gallagher. On Wednesday, however, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied the prosecutors’ request without explanation.

The Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals had ruled Gallagher lost jurisdiction over the case when he changed venue to Harris County in April. The ruling voided all subsequent orders by Gallagher, including one that slated a September trial date.

[…]

Before the appeals court ruling, Paxton was set to go to trial Sept. 12 in Houston on the lesser of three charges he faces.

See here for the background. As I said, I really don’t think it makes any difference who the judge is – certainly, it shouldn’t make any difference, given how this is supposed to work. Whatever the merits of how we got here, I say let’s get another judge in place and get this show on the road. The DMN has more.

Paxton prosecutors appeal decision to boot judge

And on we go.

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Prosecutors in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking the state’s highest criminal court to overturn a ruling backing his push for a new judge.

Paxton’s lawyers scored a win Tuesday when a state appeals court ruled the judge, George Gallagher, had lost jurisdiction by changing venue to Harris County in April. The Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals directed Gallagher to vacate all subsequent orders, including one that set a September trial date.

On Friday, prosecutors responded to that ruling by asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse it, suggesting the 5th Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to make the decision in the first place. They also questioned the court’s interpretation of a part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that Paxton’s team has leaned on in its campaign for a new judge.

The prosecutors are asking for oral arguments before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

See here for the background. I imagine for the prosecutors it’s not a matter of who the presiding judge is but of the trial schedule. Installing a new judge means pushing back the September 12 trial date, possibly by a lot. The special prosecutors, I am sure, would like to eventually wrap this business up and get back to their regular lives. Add in the jeopardy to them getting paid for their work, and they are strongly incentivized to bring this to a close. We’ll see what the CCA has to say.

5th Court rules Paxton judge overstepped

Yet another bizarre turn in this increasingly bizarre case.

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A state appeals court sided Tuesday with Attorney General Ken Paxton in his bid for a new judge in his securities fraud case, ruling the current judge lost jurisdiction when he changed venue to Harris County in April.

The court also directed the judge, George Gallagher, to vacate all subsequent orders, including one that set a September trial date.

The ruling by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals appears to add some uncertainty to the case, though it represents a breakthrough for Paxton’s lawyers. For weeks, they have been arguing Gallagher did not have the authority to follow the case out of Collin County.

The appeals court did not explicitly order Gallagher’s removal from the case but voiced agreement with Paxton’s lawyers that he is “without authority to continue to preside over” it. Paxton’s attorneys have repeatedly argued Gallagher cannot follow the case to Harris County because they have not provided written permission as required under the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure.

In issuing his opinion Tuesday, Justice Robert Fillmore also lifted a stay the appeals court had put on the trial court proceedings earlier this month.

See here for the background. The Chron adds some details.

The decision vacates all decisions made by Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher after his April 11 ruling to move the case across the state amid concern about Paxton’s political connections in the attorney general’s home county.

[…]

“Under the plain language of the statute, (Gallagher) is without authority to continue to preside over the cases and is also without authority to issue orders or directives maintaining the case files in Collin County. Consequently, all orders issued by (Gallagher) after he signed the April 11, 2017 transfer order are void,” read the ruling written by Justice Robert M. Fillmore.

Absent an appeal to the state’s court of criminal appeals, the ruling dictates that Gallagher is no longer responsible for the case. The ruling also calls for court documents to be moved to Harris County where another judge would be appointed.

The ruling also nixes a trial date for Sept. 12, when the state’s special prosecutors were expected to try Paxton on charges he failed to register as an insurance adviser. When the trial will be held would be up to a new judge, possibly delaying a resolution on the case as Paxton’s political adversaries determine whether the criminal charges will hurt him in the next election. The filing deadline to run for office is in December.

OK, so this is obviously a win for Paxton, since he’s been fighting like a cornered wolverine to get Judge Gallagher off the case. Mission almost certainly accomplished! That said, this feels like a win on paper that may not translate to much in practical terms. For one thing, the trial will still be in Harris County – Paxton had opposed the change of venue – and argued that all of Judge Gallagher’s rulings since January were invalid. As far as I know, the last ruling of any consequence by Judge Gallagher was the move to Harris County, which was on April 11. Other than having the administrative judge for the region appoint someone new to the bench, it’s not clear to me what else has changed.

And not to put too fine a point on it, as aggrieved as Paxton is by Judge Gallagher’s rulings, who’s to say any other jurist would have ruled differently? Unless you believe that Judge Gallagher had it in for Paxton, I don’t see why any other judge would be likely to make a difference in the outcome. So fine, bring on a new judge. And let Paxton go unchallenged in the primary because he hasn’t been adjudicated yet. If he winds up being convicted next May or so, that will be fine by me. The DMN has more.

Paxton’s pastor sues Servergy case witnesses

My head is spinning.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s pastor has sued the lead witnesses against him in his upcoming criminal trials.

Last week, Prestonwood Baptist Church Executive Pastor Mike Buster filed a lawsuit against Rep. Byron Cook and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg, the two men named on Paxton’s fraud indictments. Paxton attends Prestonwood’s main campus in Plano.

Buster alleges that Cook and Hochberg bilked him out of about a half-million dollars, described as “a substantial percentage of his personal net worth.” Cook was manager of an energy asset management company that Buster says recommended he purchase mineral rights from Cook and Hochberg “at exorbitant markups and after very short holding times.”

The asset management company did not disclose that its own managers would benefit from the sale, Buster adds, omissions he said in part caused him “to lose virtually his entire investment.” Paxton, who was also manager of the company, is not mentioned in the suit.

[…]

Buster’s lawsuit is very similar to, and builds off, similar allegations lobbed against Cook and Hochberg earlier this year. That lawsuit was filed by Charles Loper III, who’s in charge of Paxton’s newly formed blind trust.

I haven’t read the lawsuit and don’t have any opinion on it. I don’t appear to have noted the Loper lawsuit, so I’ll pass on that as well. Does any of this have anything to do with the case against Paxton? I have no idea, but would anyone be surprised if this was an attempt to damage the main witnesses against him? I wouldn’t. Whatever it is, it’s a little weird and it’s worth noting for future reference, just in case.

Appeals court to determine if Paxton gets a new judge

Hold everything.

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A state appeals court has intervened in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton, putting it on hold as his lawyers try to get a new judge.

Hours after Paxton’s team requested that the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals get involved, the court on Tuesday issued a stay of all proceedings in the case until further notice. The court gave all sides until May 23 to respond to Paxton’s effort to ditch the judge, George Gallagher.

The order by the 5th Court of Appeals means there will no longer be a hearing Thursday in Houston on a prior attempt by Paxton to install a new judge.

[…]

In their filing with the 5th Court of Appeals on Tuesday morning, Paxton’s lawyers argued that once Gallagher changed the venue, “he was statutorily prohibited from entering further orders or continuing to preside over the case without the statutorily required written consent of” Paxton and his team.

In a subsequent letter to the appeals court, prosecutor Brian Wice argued the court did not have the jurisdiction to consider Paxton’s request to remove Gallagher. The court has also set a May 23 deadline for Paxton’s lawyers to respond to Wice’s letter.

This is another instance where the news moved faster than I did. Originally, Judge Gallagher scheduled a hearing for Thursday to take up the question of whether he needed to hand the case off to another judge. Then Paxton filed his emergency motion with the 5th Court of Appeals, and then they stepped in. Beneath the fold is all of the blogging I had done on this, which is now mostly of historical value. All I can say at this point is that after all the work Paxton’s team has done to remove Gallagher, it would be hilarious if they get their wish but then don’t get any more favorable handling from whoever succeeds Gallagher. Read on, and the DMN has more.

(more…)

Paxton tries again – and fails – to get a new judge

Never give up, never surrender, I guess.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal defense lawyers filed a motion Wednesday arguing the judge assigned to oversee his securities fraud trial is ineligible to oversee the case because his appointment was temporary.

Legal experts say the argument appears dubious as Paxton’s legal team looks for ways to secure a new judge in a high-profile legal battle that could decide the political fate of the state’s most embattled Republican.

“Big firms fight for every inch,” said Edward Mallett, a Houston criminal defense lawyer. “I admire the lawyers for being scrappy.”

The motion argues that any rulings District Judge George Gallagher has made in the attorney general’s case since in 2017 should be “vacated and declared void,” including his decision to move the trial out of Paxton’s back yard of Collin County and into Harris County. The case should be reassigned to a new Collin County jurist who assumed office in January, according to the motion.

[…]

Paxton’s legal team filed the motion with Judge Mary Murphy, the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region, arguing she had assigned Gallagher to her region until Dec. 31, 2016, which should render rulings he’s made since then null and void.

She assigned Gallagher to hear cases in the region on July 29, 2015 to last “until the plenary power has expired or the undersigned Presiding Judge has terminated this assignment in writing, whichever occurs first.”

“Plenary power” refers to a court’s power to dispose of a matter before it, according to Black’s Law Dictionary. That means Gallagher likely has the power to stay with the case until the end, regardless when his time in the judicial region expires, said Mallett, past president of the national, state and county association of criminal defense lawyers. He said the filing’s lack of reference to case law likely reveals that Paxton’s legal team is looking for creative ways to remove the judge without past precedent to back up their arguments.

“This is Texas: issues not clearly controlled by precedent are influenced by politics. The law is art and science combined,” said Mallett.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Trib adds some details.

In their Wednesday filing, Paxton’s lawyers said Gallagher had “no authority” to make rulings in 2017 because his assignment to the case expired at midnight on Dec. 31, 2016. They base that claim on an assignment order that has not previously come to light in the case.

In addition to the order to change the venue, Gallagher’s rulings this year included denials of motions to dismiss and to delay until prosecutors can get paid. The judge declined to comment through a spokeswoman on the Wednesday filing.

Gallagher, who is from Tarrant County, has presided over the case since its early days in 2015, when Collin County’s Chris Oldner stepped aside due to his ties to Paxton. Oldner did not seek re-election in 2016, instead running for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a race he lost. Oldner was succeeded by Andrea Thompson.

The case should now return to Thompson, Paxton’s team said in its Wednesday filing, which was addressed to Mary Murphy, the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region of Texas.

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I can’t tell you how good an argument this was, but I can tell you that it didn’t work.

On Thursday morning, Paxton’s attorneys were told their latest request that Judge George Gallagher be forced to step down could not be honored. Why? The court they asked does not have the authority to make this decision.

“The undersigned does not have that power,” Judge Mary Murphy, presiding judge in the First Administrative Judicial Region, wrote in an email. The decision, she said, lies with “the trial court and the appellate courts.”

My take on this is that the administrative judge Murphy says Paxton should be taking this up with judges Gallagher (who has already expressed his opinion) and Thompson in the 416th Court in Collin County, where this whole thing originated. Assuming Judge Thompson has no interest in taking this case back to her court, then the next step for Paxton would be to ask the appellate court, which could be the Fourth Court (which has jurisdiction over Collin County) or one of the First and 14th Courts, which rule for Harris County. I’ll bet a dollar we’ll see that happen in short order.

Paxton still pushing for a new judge

Still, he persisted, I guess.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawyers are not giving up in their bid to get a new judge in his securities fraud case.

Earlier this month, Judge George Gallagher ordered Paxton’s trial be moved to Harris County from Collin County, where Paxton lives, after prosecutors argued Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool there. Paxton’s team wrote Friday to Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel requesting that he assign the case to a new judge. Paxton “has not and will not give” his permission for the current judge to follow the case to Harris County, Paxton’s lawyers wrote to Daniel.

The letter, which was filed in court Monday, is the latest development in a standoff between Paxton’s team and Gallagher, whose spokeswoman said last week he will remain on the case. The spokeswoman, Melody McDonald Lanier, also said Gallagher does not need to rule on a motion Paxton’s lawyers made earlier this month that amounted to their initial request for a new judge.

In the letter to Daniel, Paxton’s lawyers continued to cite a part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that says a judge ordering a change of venue may only continue to preside over the case with the consent of both sides. Gallagher, who is from Tarrant County, has been presiding over the case since its early days in 2015.

See here and here for the background. I know that the District Clerk assigns district court judges in new cases, but this is a continuation of a previous case, and it’s one where the judge was assigned from another county after the original judge recused himself. Is there anything in existing law to suggest that the District Clerk has the authority to assign a new judge after the venue was changed to the Clerk’s county? I have no idea, and based on the prior reports, this is something no one has asked for before. I’m kind of wondering why Team Paxton hasn’t gone to the 1st or 14th Courts of Appeals with this request; maybe he wants to show that he exhausted all other avenues first. Whatever the case, I have to assume the question will eventually wind up there. And I have to wonder, is this all worth it? Do they really think they’ve been screwed by Judge Gallagher so far, and that the risk of making things really awkward in his court is worth the possibility of getting a different judge, one who may not have any more tolerance for his lawyers’ tactics? Again, I have no idea. But it sure is fun to watch. The Chron has more.

No new judge for Paxton

Denied!

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State District Judge George Gallagher will remain on the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to a spokeswoman for the judge.

It was originally believed Gallagher would have to rule on a request Paxton’s lawyers made this month for a new judge. But the spokeswoman, Melody McDonald Lanier, said Monday that he does not and will continue presiding over the case.

The request came shortly after Gallagher moved Paxton’s trial to Harris County. Prosecutors had successfully sought a venue change, arguing Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool in Collin County, where he lives.

Paxton’s lawyers believe Gallagher had been misled into changing the venue.

See here for the background. The reporting I have seen suggests this is something Paxton can appeal, but as this is basically unprecedented we’re all kind of muddling along and waiting to see what happens. So who knows? The DMN has more.

Paxton wants a new judge

He may not get his wish.

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The judge presiding over Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal trial plans to remain on the case, regardless of Paxton’s request for a new judge, his spokesman said.

“He anticipates remaining the judge,” District Judge George Gallagher’s spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier told the Houston Chronicle Thursday.

Paxton’s criminal defense team requested a new judge after Gallagher moved Paxton’s criminal trial to Harris County from Paxton’s home of Collin County, a move the attorney general’s lawyers opposed. Special prosecutors argued the attorney general’s allies had worked to poison the jury pool there.

Lawyers representing the embattled Republican attorney general said in a motion Tuesday they would refuse to sign off on a procedural move to to keep Gallagher with the case at it moves to Harris County.

Asked for comment about Paxton’s motion to remove him as the case’s judge, Gallagher’s spokeswoman said “He can’t comment because he is the judge and he anticipates remaining the judge.”

[…]

“As far as I know, there is nothing in the Code of Criminal Procedure that addresses what is to happen if the defendant or defense counsel withholds the consent to which article 31.09 refers,” said George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, referring to the code Paxton cited in his motion. “No case, as far as I know, has addressed the meaning of this provision.”

See here and here for the background. As the DMN notes, what Paxton is asking for is basically unprecedented.

It’s quite possible no one else has ever asked for what Ken Paxton wants now.

This week, after Judge George Gallagher moved the attorney general’s upcoming criminal trials from Collin to Harris County, Paxton asked for a new judge. He cited a state law that’s meant to be procedural, a way for Gallagher to maintain the original case number and continue to use his own court reporter and clerk when the proceedings move to Houston.

But Paxton’s attorneys have interpreted the law to also require their client’s “written consent” for Gallagher to continue presiding over the case.

Paxton didn’t give his consent. He’s the first to refuse to do so and ask for a new judge in the process, experts said.

[…]

If Paxton’s motion is granted and upheld on appeal, it could set a precedent that will allow any criminal defendant or prosecutor to use the same tactic and get a new judge if a case is moved. But it’s unclear how likely that is to occur.

If Judge Gallagher denies the motion, the Chron story suggests any appeals would be heard by either the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas or the 1st or 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. I don’t think this is likely to affect the proposed trial calendar, but as noted we are in unprecedented territory here. Already the entertainment value of this proceeding is off the charts, and we’re still five months away from jury selection.

Paxton’s trial date set for September 12

Mark your calendars.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s newly relocated criminal trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 12.

The judge in the case set the trial date Wednesday, a day after moving the proceedings to Harris County. The trial had originally been scheduled to start May 1 in Collin County.

The judge, George Gallagher, said in his scheduling order that the trial “will conclude no later than” Sept. 22. The order also said jury selection will begin Sept 11.

[…]

Paxton is now seeking a new judge in the case. Hours after Gallagher sent the trial to Harris County on Tuesday, Paxton’s lawyers told the judge they would not give their permission for him to follow the case to the new venue.

See here for the background, and here for more on Paxton’s attempt to get a new judge. I presume someone still needs to rule on that motion, and my guess is that first Judge Gallagher will have the opportunity to step down on his own, and if he chooses not to do so the administrative judge will rule on the motion. (You lawyers please feel free to correct me on this.) I don’t think that will take enough time to disrupt the proposed schedule, but if a new judge is installed I suppose it could. Finally, note that Paxton will only be tried on the lesser charge that he failed to register with the state securities board. If he is convicted, then prosecutors will proceed on the much more serious charges of securities fraud; if they fail, I presume they will cut their losses and go home. Between this and the Stockman trial, we’ve got quite the full calendar ahead of us. The Chron has more.

Paxton trial moved to Harris County

The circus is coming to town, with none of those morally questionable animal acts to get all angsty about.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton will face a jury in Harris County on felony criminal charges he committed securities fraud and failed to register with the state as an investment advisor, a district judge ruled Tuesday.

District Judge George Gallagher opted to relocate Paxton’s criminal trial across county lines last month after citing concern that political influences are strong in the attorney general’s home of Collin County where he originally was set to be tried.

“Harris County was selected because the lead counsel for the state and the defense are located there. Harris County also has the facilities to accommodate the trial,” Gallagher said in a statement.

Paxton’s lawyers have opposed the change of venue and say a recent poll shows possible jurists in Collin County are largely undecided about the case. However, attorneys on both sides agreed to allow the court to relocate the trial to a county not adjacent to Paxton’s home county, according to the ruling.

See here for the background. If you live in Harris County and receive a jury summons in the next few weeks, that may end up being a more exciting experience than you’d normally expect.

And with the change in venue, it appears there will be a change of judge as well.

Paxton’s attorneys filed a motion hours later asking that a new judge from Harris County be assigned to the case.

“By this motion, Paxton respectfully advises the Court that he will not be giving the statutorily-required written consent… to allow the Honorable George Gallagher or his court staff to continue to preside over the matter in Harris County,” the motion reads.

Needless to say, there’s no trial date set yet. The questions of who will preside over the case and in which courtroom will have to be settled first, and the new judge will have to get up to speed. I may have to reconsider my original expectation that there will be a verdict before next November. Anyway, time to stock up on popcorn and get ready for the show. You can see copies of the judge’s order and the Paxton motion here, and the Trib and the Dallas Observer have more.

Paxton case gets moved out of Collin County

Well, well, well.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s upcoming trials will be moved out of Collin County, the judge presiding over his criminal fraud case decided Thursday.

The ruling is a major victory for the prosecutors, who have for months argued that Paxton’s friends and political allies have sought to malign them in the court of public opinion here, where the attorney general has lived and worked for decades.

Judge George Gallagher ruled the trials should be moved out of Paxton’s backyard but did not set a location for where they would take place. The trials, which were to kick off May 1, will be delayed until a new venue is set.

Both the prosecutors and Paxton’s attorneys denied to comment on the ruling. Gallagher imposed a strict gag order on the parties Wednesday, saying there would be “no more statements to the press.”

In his ruling, Gallagher did not elaborate on why he sided with the prosecution. He also denied Paxton’s request to have his indictments thrown out.

See here for the background on the venue change. Judge Gallagher also denied the special prosecutors’ motion to delay the trail until the lawsuit over their pay is resolved. The hearing that led to all these rulings happened on Wednesday, and this story has some details about how that went.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Paxton’s attorneys rejected claims of a concerted effort in Collin County — where Paxton has lived and worked for years — to malign the prosecutors and skew public opinion in Paxton’s favor. They also released a poll, done by longtime Republican pollster Glen Bolger, that they said showed Paxton had no “home team advantage.”

Bolger’s poll showed that of the 400 people surveyed, a majority were aware that Paxton had been indicted, but few said they had enough facts to decide whether he was guilty or innocent. Of those who knew about the indictments, 14 percent thought he was guilty and 9 percent innocent, and more people now believed he is guilty than they did when he was first charged.

“If there’s been a campaign, it’s been pretty darn ineffective,” Bolger, who said he was paid $12,000 to take the poll, told the court. “People’s attitudes are not being significantly impacted by what has happened so far.”

Also on Wednesday, prosecutors submitted several new pieces of evidence that they said showed the trials should be moved, including a new lawsuit aimed at blocking their pay — which has been on hold since earlier this year — and an invitation to a fundraiser for Paxton co-hosted by four Collin County commissioners and a handful of state lawmakers.

The event took place at the McKinney home of Keresa and JR Richardson in December 2013, a year and a half before Paxton was indicted. At the time, Paxton was a state senator running for the Republican nomination for attorney general.

As the Wednesday hearing was wrapping up, Gallagher questioned the ethical implications of the fundraiser, saying he was concerned about lawsuits filed “by folks that have a great deal of control in this county.”

“We may have a problem here,” said Gallagher. “We may have an ethical problem.”

Collin County Judge Keith Self, one of the fundraiser’s honorary co-hosts, told The News on Thursday that the event was “not germane” to Paxton’s criminal case because it took place well before his 2015 indictment.

“This was 18 months prior to the indictment being released, and Ken Paxton at the time was a sitting state senator,” Self said, adding it would “have been strange” if they hadn’t supported his bid for attorney general.

So the bottom line is, there will be a trial – the latest motion to have the charges thrown out had to do with some allegations by the defense regarding the grand jury; that part of the hearing was done in chambers, so as to preserve the secrecy of the grand jury process – it will not begin on May 1, and it will be someplace else. When we know where it will be, we ought to know when it will be as well. Stay tuned. A statement from the Lone Star Project is here, and WFAA and the Trib have more.

Paxton prosecutors ask for delay

Delay for pay, as it were.

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The special prosecutors handling the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking to put off his trial until they can get paid.

On Thursday, the prosecutors proposed moving the trial, currently set for May 1, to 60 days after a Dallas appeals court settles the payment dispute, which stems from a lawsuit by a Paxton supporter. Earlier this year, the 5th Court of Appeals temporarily blocked Collin County from paying the outside prosecutors assigned to the case, casting uncertainty over whether they would get paid as they prepare for trial in the high-profile case.

Collin County officials appointed special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice in 2015 after Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, a Paxton friend and business partner, stepped aside. Nicole Deborde, a Houston attorney, later joined the prosecution.

“Everyone in the courtroom is being paid to be there except us,” the prosecutors said in a statement Thursday. “No one expected us to work for free when we accepted our appointment as special prosecutors. It’s only fair to compensate us for the hours we’ve already spent and will continue to spend to adequately prepare to try this case on behalf of the citizens of the State of Texas.”

[…]

If granted, the motion would likely push the trial deeper into the year as prosecutors wait for a favorable ruling from the appeals court. In their filing Thursday, however, the prosecutors expressed confidence the trial would still proceed on a relatively prompt timeline.

“If the past is prologue, this case could be tried sooner rather than later, certainly no later than September 1, 2017,” the prosecutors wrote.

See here for the background. The logic seems inarguable to me – surely we don’t expect the special prosecutors to work for free at this point – but one never knows with the courts. It’s not clear to me what happens if the 5th Court overturns the lower court ruling and agrees that their pay has been capped. I don’t know that there’s an obvious answer to that. We’ll see what the trial court makes of this.

Paxton beats SEC rap again

Not a surprise.

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A federal judge has again thrown out securities fraud charges against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, effectively ending one of two legal battles that have dogged Paxton for close to a year.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant on Thursday dismissed the case “with prejudice,” making a final judgment on the charges that had been brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mazzant first threw out the charges last year but gave the SEC the opportunity to file amended allegations — which it did in October, keeping the case alive.

[…]

In its amended allegations, the SEC had sought to bolster its argument that Paxton had a legal duty to disclose to the investors that he was making a commission. Mazzant said Thursday the SEC had still not been persuasive enough.

“This case has not changed since the Court conditionally dismissed the Commission’s Original Complaint,” the judge wrote. “The primary deficiency was, and remains, that Paxton had no plausible legal duty to disclose his compensation arrangement with investors.”

See here, here, and here for the background. After the charges were dismissed the first time, I was skeptical of the second effort, but you never know what might happen. So much for that. This is a win for Paxton, but the big game begins May 1, in Collin County or somewhere else. That’s what will really matter. The Press has more.

UPDATE: RG Ratcliffe’s overview of the Paxton saga is well worth your time.

Twice the trials, twice the fun

The Paxton special prosecutors want to separate the charges into two trials.

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Special prosecutors said Thursday they would like to try Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton first on charges he failed to register as an investment advisor, pushing a lengthy trial on his securities fraud charges until a later date.

Kent Schaffer, one of the special prosecutors assigned to the case, said a trial on the registration charges can be completed within days and is a simpler case, whereas the fraud case could last weeks.

Schaffer said the fraud charges likely would be tried week or months after the registration case is finished.

News of the state’s intention riled Paxton’s defense team which had been under the impression the two securities fraud charges and the registration charge would be tried together.

The decision of whether to hold one trial or two is up to Tarrant County state District Judge George Gallagher. The judge also is expected to rule later on the prosecutors’ request for a change of venue.

The judge told both sides his intention was to at least try to pick a jury in Collin County, where the case is filed. The trial had been scheduled to begin May 1.

See here for the background on relocating the proceedings. The Trib has the details of that part of the hearing on Thursday.

The prosecutors called three witnesses to help make their case, including a Dallas TV reporter who recently conducted an interview with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in which Santorum described the case as a political vendetta against Paxton. The reporter, J.D. Miles, said Paxton ally Jeff Blackard helped arrange the interview, but “I’m not part of a conspiracy, and I wouldn’t know if there is one.”

The prosecution’s second witness was Wayne Dolcefino, a former TV news star who now runs a consulting firm. He testified that he gave the website Watchdog.org leaked records from the Texas Rangers regarding the Paxton case.

Dolcefino has ties to Cogdell, Paxton’s attorney, whom he said has paid him several thousand dollars for a “research project.” Dolcefino insisted his work for Paxton’s lawyers did not involve the media and said he acted on his own when he leaked the records. He said he did it out of dissatisfaction with coverage of the Paxton case thus far and a desire to shine more light on a situation where taxpayer dollars are at stake.

“I did what I did, and I didn’t get paid for it,” Dolcefino said on the stand on Thursday, referring to giving the documents to Watchdog.org.

The third witness, Tom Dailey, is a business manager for Cumulus Media in Dallas, which handled a radio ad buy last year that was done under Watchdog.org’s name. The ads cast doubt on the case against Paxton and promoted Watchdog.org’s work.

The prosecutors asked Dailey to explain how the ads ran during popular times of day and reached Collin County listeners. Cogdell argued the ads will be almost five months old by the time jury selection begins and got Dailey to testify that he was unaware of a connection between the ad buy and Paxton himself.

Good to know that WayneDo still has some game, even if not on the air and even if not in Houston. I don’t have an opinion on the change of venue request. It is certainly the case that Republicans are standing by Paxton, and that surely must exert some pressure, but I don’t know how much difference it would make to move the trial to a similarly Republican county like, say, Williamson. Surely there are twelve people in Collin who have not been paying any attention to all this. As for having two trials instead of one, I understand where the prosecutors are coming from, but – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – that seems kind of unfair to Paxton. I think he’s a giant pile of sleaze, but if he were any other high-profile defendant, I’d say he deserves to get this over with sooner rather than later, one way or the other. That’s the judge’s call, and we’ll see what he says.

Also the judge’s call, though not if Collin County Commissioners Court has any say in it, is the issue of how much the special prosecutors get paid.

Collin County officials think investigating and prosecuting elected officials like Attorney General Ken Paxton can be too costly, a complaint that could take them into the courtroom or even the state Legislature this year.

On Monday, the Commissioners Court voted to hire lawyers who’ll look into whether the county can challenge the constitutionality of the Texas Fair Defense Act, a state law that sets rules for paying court-appointed attorneys like public defenders and special prosecutors who investigate and pursue charges against officials accused of wrongdoing.

The law lets a group of local judges set these rates, which County Judge Keith Self said could violate the separation of powers that should exist between him and his colleagues on the commissioners court and the legal powers of the judiciary.

“We’re concerned about the unfettered and open access to the county checkbook by judges,” said Self, adding that the goal is to ensure “the commissioners court has has got to have some sort of control over the public purse” when it comes to the costs of high-profile prosecutions like Paxton’s.

The timing is important, too, Self said, because lawmakers meeting in Austin could rewrite the Fair Defense Act this year if the county decides to challenge the law.

The changes won’t have any effect on Paxton’s prosecution — his criminal trial is scheduled for May — but were sought in direct response to the six-figure cost of the attorney general’s fraud case.

“The Paxton case, which we can’t consider right now, has revealed the issues with the local rules and the state law,” Self said Wednesday. “So we believe that now is the time to do it because the Legislature is in session. And if we’re going to get the change in state law down, and some attention on the fact that we believe there’s a separation of powers issue here, we need to get it done.”

See here for some background. I do have some sympathy for the Commissioners, as this is not a mess of their making, and I agree the Lege is the place to go for a remedy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the rate at which special prosecutors are paid, I just think the simplest solution is to have the state pay for them. Especially for trials like this, local issues should not be allowed to become concerns. Let the state pony up and be done with it. Courthouse News has more.

More Paxton-versus-SEC stuff

Keeping the lawyers busy.

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Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton say the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cannot “shoot first and investigate later” as they seek to block 15 new subpoenas issued by the SEC.

It is the latest argument by Paxton’s attorneys in their effort to show the SEC is scrambling to save its civil securities fraud case against the attorney general, who is headed to trial later this year on similar criminal charges at the state level. Fighting the SEC charges, his team has already cast doubt on the credibility of a key witness in both cases, State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

The new subpoenas, issued Tuesday, largely seek communications Paxton may have had with any other investors in Servergy, the North Texas start-up whose investors Paxton is accused of misleading from a period before he was elected Texas’ top law enforcement official in 2014.

“The SEC cannot now attempt to bolster its faltering case … by fishing around in discovery for information about other potential investors whom the SEC has not pled with any particularity that Mr. Paxton defrauded,” Paxton’s lawyers wrote in their latest filing.

See here, here, and here for some background. This is all separate from the criminal trial that is now scheduled. Such busy days for our AG.

Paxton’s trial date set

Mark your calendars, and stock up on the popcorn.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s trial on criminal securities fraud charges is set to begin May 1.

Jury selection will be held April 20-21 and April 27-28, according to a recent order by George Gallagher, the judge presiding over Paxton’s case. He also scheduled a hearing on pretrial motions for Feb. 16.

The trial will unfold in the heat of the legislative session, which began Tuesday and ends on May 29, and as campaigns get underway for the 2018 elections. Paxton plans to seek another term.

[…]

In the criminal case, Paxton faces three felony charges of breaking Texas securities law. If convicted, he could be sent to prison for five to 99 years.

Last year, Paxton exhausted his options in trying to put an end to the criminal case. The final blow came in October, when Texas’ highest criminal court declined to hear a Paxton appeal.

I think you know the background on this one. I’m not one for making predictions, but I will make one here: If Paxton gets convicted, he will not lose the support of any current statewide incumbent. They will rally around him, they will blame everyone but him for the outcome, and they will endorse him next March when and if he draws a primary opponent. I fully expect that he will be on the ballot next November. What happens if he wins re-election and loses his appeals, and has to serve time in jail? I guess we’ll find out. The DMN, the Chron, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Paxton wants SEC’s documents on him

More twists and turns.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attorneys have gone to court, seeking to force the Securities and Exchange Commission to produce notes of their interviews with the investors whose allegations form the basis of the civil case against him.

Paxton’s attorneys filed the motion to compel the SEC to turn over the documents Wednesday. SEC officials have refused to turn over the documents calling them “work product.”

His attorneys contend an SEC attorney told him that turning over the interview notes would show “the direction that we steered (the witness) with our questions would give away our strategy,” the motion states.

[…]

The SEC’s amended filing claims that Paxton alleged that members of the group had a standing policy that “no member makes money or otherwise benefits off the investment of another member.” It states that “Investor 1 ‘informed and expressly’ told Mr. Paxton about supposed policies of the group,” the motion states. (Paxton’s attorneys contend that Investor 1 is a reference to Cook.)

The SEC’s prior filing did not mention the existence of any such policy.

In Paxton’s motion, lawyers for Paxton state that they received an email from Cook and Hochberg’s attorney stating that there “was no formal group,” but rather an “ad hoc arrangement for time to time, good friends might invest in the same transaction.”

“This is a dramatically different story than the tale the SEC has spun about a decades-old investment group with established policies and practices,” the motion states.

The motion says the attorney for Cook and Hochberg also stated that they did not consider Paxton to be their broker.

Paxton’s attorneys want notes of the SEC’s meeting with Cook and Hochberg to determine “where and how this divergence in stories occurred.”

The motion also notes that Paxton’s sworn statement was taken back in December 2014, yet the SEC did not take sworn testimony from potential investors in Servergy.

The SEC interviewed Cook and Hochberg before filing its original case in April, but did not take statements under oath.

See here and here for some background. “Cook” is State Rep. Byron Cook, “Hochberg” is another investor named Joel Hochberg. I have no idea what to make of any of this, but at this point I don’t expect much from this case. I’m waiting for the real trial, which will happen next year. The Chron and the Trib have more.

Paxton asks for SEC charges to be dismissed again

Once more, with feeling.

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Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked a federal judge to once again dismiss a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission complaint accusing him of defrauding investors in private business deals in 2011.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant III dismissed the SEC’s original complaint on Oct. 7, saying it contained allegations that weren’t supported by federal securities law. The SEC responded two weeks later with a revised complaintthat added details to the allegations that Paxton committed fraud by soliciting investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the tech company was paying him to hawk its stock.

Paxton lawyer Matthew Martens said the new complaint still falls short.

“As the court said four weeks ago, the SEC’s original complaint had no legal basis. Our motion to dismiss filed today explains why the SEC’s new complaint fares no better. The reason is simple — Mr. Paxton did not commit securities fraud,” Martens said.

Paxton’s lawyers told Mazzant that the SEC’s revised complaint failed, again, to show that Paxton had a legal duty to tell potential investors about his sales commission deal with Servergy.

“The commission to date has been unable to cite a single example where a court has recognized such a disclosure duty,” they told the judge.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the Paxton motion. I’m not a lawyer, but I have a hard time imagining what the SEC could have added that they didn’t include in the first place that might make a difference. But what do I know? We’ll see what the judge says this time. The DMN and the Chron have more.

Off to trial for Paxton

No more appeals, so a trial is in the works.

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Best mugshot ever

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are no longer asking to have a state securities fraud case against him dismissed, moving him closer to a trial on the criminal charges.

Paxton’s legal team confirmed Tuesday that it was getting ready for a trial, five days after a deadline passed for it to try one more time to persuade the state’s highest criminal court to look at the case. They apparently passed on that opportunity.

“We are preparing for trial in the state matter and have confidence in the strength of our case,” Paxton lawyer Philip Hilder said in a statement.

[…]

In the state case, Paxton’s lawyers had until Thursday to appeal the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision last month not to examine the charges. The deadline came and went without Paxton’s team taking action, despite initially saying it planned to.

The Court of Criminal Appeals had already declined to hear Paxton’s appeal of the lower court rulings that allowed his indictments to stand. He had the opportunity to ask the CCA to reconsider their ruling, but his defense team apparently decided that wasn’t worth the effort. So here we are. I seem to recall a past news blurb that suggested his trial would be in the spring. That might be a bit of a distraction for the legislative session, in which case perhaps late spring/early summer will be a more likely time for this. Whenever it happens, it will be the biggest story in the state. Trail Blazers has more.

SEC to try again with Paxton

If at first you don’t succeed

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Best mugshot ever

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is not giving up on its case against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The commission filed amended civil charges against Paxton on Friday, two weeks after a federal judge dismissed the case. Paxton, who is also fighting similar criminal charges at the state level, is accused of misleading investors in a company years ago.

“We are disappointed by the SEC’s decision to continue this case, given the court’s opinion and the clear infirmities the court found with the commission’s original complaint,” Paxton lawyer Matthew Martens said in a statement. “We will evaluate the revised complaint and respond accordingly.”

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III threw out the SEC case against Paxton but gave the commission 14 days — until Friday — to file amended allegations.

The updated charges contend that the group of investors Paxton allegedly duped when he persuaded them to invest in a tech start-up called Servergy “reasonably expected” him to disclose he was receiving a commission. According to the SEC, the members of the group had a standing policy that “no one member makes money or otherwise benefits off of the investment of another member.”

The amended allegations also amplify the SEC’s argument that Paxton did not simply fail to disclose but “actively concealed” his commission agreement from the investor group. He did so, the SEC says, by not mentioning it in filings with the Texas Ethics Commission and the IRS, ignoring efforts by the group to learn about his relationship with Servergy and mischaracterizing the compensation as a kind of gift when asked about it by the SEC.

See here for the background. I have no idea if this is a necessary technical correction to allow otherwise-viable charges to go forward, or if it’s a “what the heck, we may as well give it one last try” situation. Paxton still has the criminal charges to deal with, so if nothing else this is a distraction from that. Trail Blazers has more.

CCA declines to take Paxton off the hook

Sorry, Kenny.

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Best mugshot ever

The highest criminal court in Texas said Wednesday it will not hear Ken Paxton’s appeal of securities fraud charges, putting the attorney general on a path to facing a trial in the coming months.

“Today’s ruling marks an end to Mr. Paxton’s almost year-long attempt to avoid being judged by a jury of his peers,” Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors handling Paxton’s case, said in a statement. “We look forward to going to trial and seeking justice on behalf of the people of Texas.”

The decision Wednesday was made by the Court of Criminal Appeals, which Paxton’s lawyers had asked to review the case as a last resort before trial. Without comment, the court announced it would not consider the appeal.

The decision makes the prospect of the state’s top lawyer sitting through a trial more likely than ever. The proceedings could start as early as next spring.

With the good news comes the bad news, I guess. This doesn’t mean that the CCA couldn’t step in to save Paxton later, after a conviction on one or more charges, it just means that they don’t see any reason for them to stop a trial from happening in the first place. So a trial we will have, barring the exceedingly unlikely event of a plea bargain. Stock up on the popcorn, y’all. Trail Blazers, the Current, and the Lone Star Project have more.