All right, settle in for a minute, this is going to take a bit of explaining, and there’s no accompanying published news story that I know of. Way back in March of 2017, visiting District Court Judge George Gallagher (from Tarrant County), who was appointed to preside over the Ken Paxton trial in Collin County after literally every other District Court judge there recused themselves, ordered the trial to be moved from Collin County. A couple of weeks later, in April, he set Harris County as the venue. There was a note in one of the news stories about this that I gave no real thought to at the time, which was that “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”.
Judge Gallagher declined to step down, but Team Paxton pursued the matter, initially repeating the assertion that they did not give permission for Gallagher to follow the case to Harris County, but later asserting that Gallgher was no longer able to be judge because his appointment had expired at the end of 2016. (Note that we are now in May 2017 in this timeline, this becomes important later.) At the end of May, the 5th Court of Appeals sided with Paxton and ordered Gallagher off the case, voiding his rulings after the one that moved the case to Harris County. In June, the case was officially reassigned to Criminal District Court Judge Robert Johnson in Harris County.
After that, we settled into a long fight about the pay for the special prosecutors, culminating in a muddled ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals in June of 2019 – yes, now two full years after the case was moved to Harris County. The issue of prosecutor pay was before Judge Johnson, but before he could begin to get anywhere on it, Team Paxton asked for the case to be moved back to Collin County; we are now in July of 2019. In December of 2019, Judge Johnson said he would rule on that Real Soon Now. That turned out to be six months later, in June of 2020, though that ruling had to be affirmed in October by a different judge, because Judge Johnson recused himself after it was pointed out that Paxton’s office was representing Johnson (among others) in the ongoing cash bail litigation. (That was yet another weird sideshow in a saga that has been little but sideshow, but never mind that for now.) Ultimately, Judge Johnson agreed with Paxton that Judge Gallagher’s ruling that sent the trial to Harris County was invalid because Gallgher’s term had expired at the time he made that ruling. In May of 2021, a three-judge panel on the First Court of Appeals agreed.
Just a little recap here, Judge George Gallagher was appointed to preside over the Paxton trial in July of 2015 by the administrative judge of the Second Court of Appeals (Mary Murphy). That appointment expired on January 2, 2017, but no one said anything at the time. In April 2017, Judge Gallagher ordered the trial moved to Harris County, where he would preside, but Paxton declined to approve his continued service (as is required by state law in these matters) and then filed a motion in May to boot Gallagher from the case because his appointment had expired back in January. That motion was granted later in May, Judge Johnson was randomly selected by the Harris County District Clerk in June, and on we went. Then in 2019, Paxton filed a motion to move the case back to Collin County, claiming now that Judge Gallagher’s original ruling to move the case was also invalid, again because his appointment had expired. That motion was granted and was upheld on appeal, which is now on hold as the special prosecutors have requested and were granted an en banc hearing to reconsider.
OK, now that we are caught up, you may be wondering why there was a four-month gap between when Gallagher’s appointment expired and Paxton first filed a motion that was based on said expiration. You may also note that said motion came shortly (but not immediately) after Gallagher’s order moving the trial to Harris County. Is that timing maybe a little convenient? I’m glad you asked, because that very subject comes up in the reply filed by the special prosecutors. I would encourage you to read that filing – it’s not very long, and it contains high doses of shade thrown by the special prosecutors at Paxton. We have previously seen how lethal and entertaining they can be when served a pitch in the zone, and you will get a good laugh out of their efforts this time as well.
But what’s crucial is this: Errors like nobody noticing that Judge Gallagher’s appointment had lapsed happen. Remember, his appointment had been made more than a year before, and I guess no one put a reminder on their calendar to ask for it to be re-upped. Normally, such minor errors are trivially resolved, but the thing is that the law requires any objections made to such a lapsed appointment be made in a timely fashion, and at one’s earliest opportunity. Paxton claimed that’s what they did, and in the initial First Court ruling, it was noted that there was no evidence to suggest otherwise. Except, as it turns out, they did know, and in fact they knew ahead of time, and then sat on that information until it was convenient to them to wheel it out. How do we know that? Because, as it turns out and as the special prosecutors managed to discover in the interim, there was an email sent by Administrative Judge Mary Murphy to Paxton’s defense team on April 24, 2017 – after Paxton refused to give his consent to Gallagher’s continued service on the trial, but before he first claimed that Gallagher was no longer allowed to continue because his appointment had expired – that sent them copies of communications about Gallagher’s appointment from July 2015, and which they said they had previously sent in November of 2015. In other words, Paxton received an inadvertent reminder of the appointment expiration from Justice Murphy in April 2017, right before he started arguing about it. He had that information all along, but did not do anything about it. And then it landed in his lap again, and they took advantage.
Again, I urge you to read the filing (the Team Paxton filing, which preceded this by about a week, is here. They lay out the argument for why Paxton “sandbagged” the court (their words), and show all the opportunities Paxton had to object to Gallagher’s continued presence on the case after the expiration but didn’t do so. That, they argue, invalidates the later objections based on the lapsed appointment because they didn’t do it in a timely fashion, and what’s more they knew or should have known they weren’t timely. I just wanted to provide a longer-than-I-originally-planned review of how we got here. The bottom line is that the special prosecutors’ argument is that the original rulings that ordered the case back to Collin County were in error, and they have a new piece of evidence to show why it was in error. Now we just have to wait and see what the First Court of Appeals does with that information. As you can see from this post, we may be waiting for awhile. But hey, at least we’re used to that.