Yet another bizarre turn in this increasingly bizarre case.
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.
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.