The last few months have been marked by legal trouble for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been suspended from his position without pay since late May and faces removal from office pending a trial in the Texas Senate.
Paxton is no stranger to legal woes: He has been under indictment since 2015 in a felony securities fraud case but has mostly avoided the courtroom – that is, until now.
Paxton will appear as a defendant in criminal court in this case Thursday, according to reporting by the Austin American-Statesman.
Ryan Autullo, who covers state politics at the Statesman, said he doesn’t expect any political fireworks in the courtroom this week.
“I think what is likely to happen is the judge in this case, who recently became the judge in this case, just wants to talk to the lawyers, start some scheduling, maybe set a trial date,” he said. “But there’s also been an issue lingering for many years about the pay for the special prosecutors. They have not been paid since January of 2016, so there’s been a big fight on that. And I think the judge wants to get that moving down the road a little bit.”
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The case centers around accusations of securities fraud.
Paxton “is accused of directing investors to invest in a company without telling them that he was being paid by that company to get them to invest,” Autullo said. “This goes back to 2015, the year that he became attorney general. It’s really been lingering. I think a lot of people forgot the specifics of it. But securities fraud, it’s a felony. It’s a big deal. Ken Paxton has denied wrongdoing, as he has in all of his legal matters.”
Autullo said there have been several issues that have delayed the trial in this case, including a fight over where it will be held.
“Paxton wants it in Collin County, where he’s from. Obviously, those are his people. If he is to go to a jury trial, that would benefit him,” he said. “The prosecutors say ‘We can’t get a fair trial in Collin County; we want it in Houston.’ Recently, the prosecutors won that fight: The trial, if there is one, will be held in Houston.”
There’s also been the issue over prosecutor pay, Autullo said.
The special prosecutors “were initially going to get $300 an hour, and the Collin County commissioners say, ‘whoa, whoa, way too much. We’re not going to pay $300 an hour,’” he said. “And they won that many years ago. So now we have to decide if it’s not $300, is it going to be $200 or what.”
» FROM THE TEXAS NEWSROOM: Ken Paxton faces securities fraud charges and an impeachment trial. Here’s why
Autullo said the charges around securities fraud won’t come up during Paxton’s impeachment trial in the Senate next month.
“The House prosecutors want to let the criminal courts handle this matter. The attorney general has so many legal issues that he is facing that it’s hard to keep track of,” Autullo said. “But I do think if he is removed from office in the Senate trial coming up in September, he would have a decision to make whether he wants to go to trial on these securities fraud charges. Because if he is found guilty, he loses his law license. So then he would not be the attorney general in Texas and he would not be able to practice law in Texas. So he may be more inclined to take a plea deal.”
Autullo said it is unlikely that the criminal trial and the impeachment trial will be underway at the same time.
“My guess is there will be very little movement after today on the state securities fraud case until the impeachment trial is closed and done with. I think it’s just going to be very complicated if they try to run both of those trains at the same time,” he said. “There’s no way that it’s going to go to trial within the next month or two before the impeachment trial begins on Sept. 5.”