Mark your calendars. And maybe make plans to camp out at the courthouse overnight if you want to get a seat, I suspect there will be a lot of people wanting to attend.
Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-delayed trial on securities fraud charges has been set for April 15.
State District Judge Andrea Beall scheduled the trial during a hearing Monday morning in Houston. Paxton attended the hearing but did not speak at it.
Paxton was indicted on the charges over eight years ago, months into his first term as the state’s top law enforcement official. The charges stem from accusations that in 2011 he tried to solicit investors in a McKinney technology company without disclosing that it was paying him to promote its stock. Paxton has pleaded not guilty.
The trial is a reminder that Paxton’s legal problems persist even after the Texas Senate acquitted him last month in an impeachment trial on unrelated allegations. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presided over that trial and has faced intense criticism for taking $3 million from a pro-Paxton group in the lead-up to the trial.
“Unlike the impeachment, this is going to be a fair trial,” special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told reporters after the hearing. “This judge is not corrupt. This judge is not on the take.”
The hearing was brief and did not settle one lingering pretrial issue: how much the special prosecutors should get paid. The judge also scheduled a February pretrial conference.
While the Senate’s acquittal was a political triumph for the third-term Republican, Paxton still has significant legal issues. In addition to the securities fraud case, he faces a federal investigation into the claims by his former top staffers, who allege he abused his office to help a friend and donor, Nate Paul.
In the securities fraud case, the prosecutors’ pay may be the last major pending issue before the trial. In 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals struck down the fee agreement, arguing that it fell outside legal limits for what such attorneys may be paid. The court ordered a previous Harris County judge overseeing the case to come up with a new payment schedule, but that never happened and the prosecutors have continued to go unpaid.
During the hearing Monday, Paxton lawyer Bill Mateja sought to propose an order addressing the pay issue from his side’s perspective. But Beall repeatedly said she would decide on her own.
The judge did not indicate when she would make a ruling on the pay, according to one of the prosecutors, Brian Wice.
Wice said Paxton’s lawyers are so focused on their pay because they have known “the only way to derail this prosecution was to defund it.” Wice said he is owed “a lot” and Schaffer estimated he has “500 unpaid hours” dating back to 2016.
The prosecutors have previously raised the possibility they could withdraw from the case if they are not paid. Asked about that Monday, Schaffer said “we have to see what happens,” while Wice promised he is “not going anywhere.”
See here for the previous update, which also provides some more background on the longstanding pay issue. Note also that we are still awaiting the appellate hearing on his State Bar of Texas complaint, which had originally been scheduled for September 5 but was postponed because of the impeachment trial. There’s now a new State Bar complaint against Paxton, but we’re likely months away from a decision about whether or not they’ll even pursue it, let alone whether we’ll get to an actual hearing. I figure that appellate date will be sometime in November or December. As for the FBI investigation, they can issue some indictments anytime they want. I’ll make room on my calendar for whatever they have in mind. The Chron and the Press have more.