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.