Seven years later, still no trial for Texas AG Ken Paxton
AUSTIN, Texas — Few people charged with felonies go seven years without ever being tried. One of them is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The twists and turns of how the Republican, who is set to win the GOP nomination for a third term on Tuesday, has yet to have his day in court after being charged with securities fraud in 2015 shortly of comparison in American politics. And along the way, it has upended what it means to be a compromised public servant in Texas.
Four different judges oversaw his case at one point. Where a trial would take place – if it ever did – again played ping pong from Dallas to Houston and Dallas. Meanwhile, more clouds have gathered over Paxton: The FBI is investigating him on separate corruption charges, and the Texas State Bar is considering possible reprimands for his baseless attempts to quash the 2020 elections.
Once almost a year passed without any movement in the case.
There is no single reason for the delays. But overall, Paxton has become an example of how powerful allies and acts of God can drag out career-threatening criminal charges and allow a politician to rise above being disbarred as a political madman.
“I mean, this one is crazy,” said Andrew Wheat, an executive at Texans For Public Justice watchdog. In 2014, his group filed a complaint with prosecutors over Paxton’s failure to register as a securities adviser, one of the criminal charges the Republican is fighting against.
Wheat doubts a trial will ever take place. “And by the time he does, if he ever does, will it still have any significance?” he said.
Paxton, who faces five to 99 years in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty. His attorneys point out that Paxton invoked his right to a speedy trial and blamed the heist on special prosecutors, who have spent years in a protracted battle over how much they receive and where the case should go to trial.
The significance of the case is a question Republicans in Texas have no doubt already answered.
Paxton won re-election in 2018 while the felony charges were still in the headlines. He is now set to win the nomination again on Tuesday in a runoff against Texas Lands Commissioner George P. Bush, who finished second in a four-way primary in March but still trailing 20 points. percentage of Paxton.
Bush, the son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the last member of his famous family still in office, has banked on a return to television ads that splash indictments on the screen and call Paxton a unfit for the post. Paxton has mostly ignored the attacks while displaying the approval of former President Donald Trump. Most leading Texas Republicans were held back from voicing their concerns, but a rare exception came days before the runoff, when U.S. Senator John Cornyn called the unsolved case an “embarrassment.”
“Obviously voters will have access to this information,” Cornyn said last week. “They will make their own decision and I cannot predict what the outcome will be.”
The indictments accuse Paxton of defrauding investors in a Dallas-area tech startup by failing to disclose that he was paid by the company, called Servergy, to recruit them. The indictments were handed down just months after Paxton was sworn in as Texas’ top law enforcement official.
Soon after, Paxton allies launched attacks on the $300 hourly rate for special prosecutors, calling it an abuse of taxpayers’ money. Local leaders in Paxton’s hometown of Republican-controlled Collin County agreed and voted to cut wages.
Since then, the criminal case has progressed gradually. A justice system paralyzed by a 2017 hurricane and then the coronavirus pandemic slowed the pace even further. As it stands, special prosecutors are waiting for Texas’ highest criminal court to rule on an appeal to resolve payment issues and keep Paxton’s case in Houston.
“The prolonged delay in the trial was in no way attributable to undue influence by Mr. Paxton,” said Philip Hilder, one of Paxton’s attorneys, instead pointing the finger at prosecutors for challenging their pay and other pre-trial decisions.
“In fact, Mr. Paxton has invoked his right to a speedy trial. Mr. Paxton is innocent of these charges and sought to spend his day in a proper court a long time ago,” he said in a statement. .
In the years since, Paxton has come under renewed scrutiny after eight of those top MPs accused him in 2020 of allegedly abusing his office to help a wealthy donor, Nate Paul, resist to an earlier FBI investigation into the developer.
Both federal investigations are ongoing, with investigators in recent months collecting Paul’s business records and asking how the developer might have paid Paxton, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation is ongoing.
Paul, whose attorneys did not respond to requests for comment, denied bribing Paxton. The attorney general has largely denied wrongdoing and his attorneys have declined to comment on the FBI investigation.
In New Jersey, a two-year corruption indictment against US Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, ended in a hung jury in 2017. In Texas, lawyers and legal experts have struggled to recall a case that lasted as long as Paxton’s without resolution. .
State Representative Gene Wu, a Democrat and attorney who spent three years as a prosecutor in Houston, described the delays as unprecedented, saying even high-profile cases in Texas’ largest county are being tried in two or three years.
“There is a legitimate criminal violation and justice is not served because the accused people have money and they have power,” Wu said.
There is no time limit in which the charges against Paxton would expire. “But in practice, the courts are going to worry. People’s memories fade and so on,” said David Kwok, co-director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center.
The case didn’t last longer than Wheat’s watchdog group, but they’ve gone downhill: He says financial support for their nonprofit, which also filed the complaint that led to the indictment of former Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2014, has been difficult in recent years.
After being forced into a runoff, Paxton’s campaign raised more than $2 million in about three months.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.