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What to know about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-running scandals and legal battles

By Julia Guilbeau and María Méndez, The Texas Tribune

What to know about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-running scandals and legal battles” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s top lawyer and one of its most powerful and controversial Republicans, has faced criminal investigations, legal battles and accusations of wrongdoing for years. Still, he’s remained popular with Texas voters and in 2022 was elected to serve a third four-year term.

But after Paxton asked state budget writers to spend public money on a proposed $3.3 million settlement to end a lawsuit by former staffers who accused him of on-the-job retaliation, the Texas House General Investigating Committee launched a secret probe into the attorney general’s behavior. In a stunning public hearing on May 24, House investigators publicly detailed allegations of a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions by Paxton.

The committee could recommend the House censure or impeach Paxton, who has long served under clouds of scandal while also positioning himself as a champion of conservative policies.

As attorney general, Paxton is the state’s top lawyer

Attorney General Ken Paxton leads an office responsible for representing the state in civil litigation and legal matters. These duties include defending the state in lawsuits, as well as filing or participating in lawsuits against the federal government, corporations or others on behalf of the public.

The attorney general can also issue written opinions on legal questions. The opinions are not rulings and are frequently nonbinding, but they can be followed and cited by others, such as local governments and attorneys.

The attorney general’s office also enforces child-support orders and open-government laws and can investigate consumer and Medicaid fraud. The office can also provide support in criminal investigations and prosecutions if requested by local officials.

Paxton has fought criminal securities fraud charges for most of his tenure

In July 2015, less than a year after Attorney General Ken Paxton was sworn into office, he was indicted on felony securities fraud charges for allegedly persuading investors to buy stock in McKinney-based Servergy Inc. without disclosing that he would be compensated for it.

The case has been delayed multiple times over several rounds of appeals, including unsuccessful efforts by defense lawyers to dismiss the charges against Paxton and ongoing efforts by prosecutors to fight to keep the trial in Harris County instead of moving it back to Collin County, where Paxton has lived.

Paxton has denied wrongdoing and asserted that the case is politically motivated. He faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted.

In 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also sued Paxton over alleged securities fraud related his actions on behalf of Servergy. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit a year later.

Top employees accused Paxton of bribery and abusing his office

In 2020, senior officials in Ken Paxton’s office asked federal law enforcement to investigate allegations of improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential crimes by their boss.

The officials said they believed Paxton broke the law by using the agency to serve the interests of political donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor. According to the accusations, Paxton tapped his office to investigate Paul’s adversaries and help settle a lawsuit. In return, they said, Paul helped Paxton extensively remodel his Austin house and gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair.

An FBI investigation of the allegations was taken over by the U.S. Justice Department in February 2023.

Whistleblowers sued Paxton, claiming he retaliated against them

Former employees who were fired after reporting Attorney General Ken Paxton to federal authorities filed a whistleblower lawsuit in 2020, arguing that Paxton and his agency improperly retaliated against them.

In February 2023, Paxton reached a $3.3 million settlement with the whistleblowers, but state lawmakers in both chambers have been wary of approving taxpayer dollars to pay for the settlement, and House Speaker Dade Phelan has said he opposes it.

Paxton tried to overturn 2020 presidential election results in other states

Throughout his time in office, Ken Paxton has been a loyal ally of former President Donald Trump and cast false doubt on election security in the aftermath of the 2020 election. No evidence has been found of widespread misconduct that would have impacted election results.

After the presidential election, Paxton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral victories in four swing states. The court tossed out Paxton’s petition four days later.

In May 2022, the State Bar of Texas sued Paxton, arguing that he engaged in professional misconduct by making dishonest claims when he told the Supreme Court that Texas had uncovered proof of substantial voter fraud in the four states. Paxton’s bid to toss out the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.

On Jan. 6, 2021, hours before pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Paxton spoke in Washington, D.C., at the Stop the Steal rally. And after the attack unfolded, Paxton falsely blamed the violence on antifa, a left-wing, anti-fascist movement, and claimed Trump supporters weren’t responsible for the insurrection.

Election experts have raised concerns about the impact Paxton could have on future contested elections. The attorney general’s office is in charge of defending and enforcing the state’s election laws and of bringing lawsuits, such as ones that allege voter fraud.

The attorney general is a champion for conservative causes

As attorney general, Ken Paxton has wielded power and championed conservative priorities while in office by routinely suing the federal government to block or overturn actions taken under Democratic presidents.

Paxton led several attempts to end Obama-era initiatives, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which granted tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the state protection from deportation, and the Affordable Care Act, a landmark health care law.

Such efforts haven’t always been successful but have led to long legal battles, including some that have gone as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2021, the high court tossed a lawsuit against the ACA from Texas and other states. Federal courts paused new DACA applications while a lower court reviewed the Texas-based lawsuit against the program, a move that Paxton has appealed, seeking to completely halt the program.

Paxton has also pursued cases against illegal voting in the state. Many of those cases have unraveled because the state’s highest criminal court has ruled the state constitution forbids the attorney general from unilaterally pursuing election-related criminal charges.

In May 2023, he launched inquiries into Texas hospitals over how they provide transition-related care to transgender minors. Those probes came before Texas lawmakers passed a bill to formally ban such care for transgender kids.

Voters have backed Paxton amid numerous scandals

Despite accusations of wrongdoing, Ken Paxton has continued to win over voters.

In 2018, three years after he was charged with felony securities fraud, he faced no Republican primary challenger in his first reelection bid.

Four years later, amid accusations of bribery and retaliation, he faced challengers for the Republican nomination, including then-Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and then-U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert. Buoyed by Trump’s endorsement, he handily defeated Bush in the primary runoff, then beat Democrat Rochelle Garza by nearly 10 points in the general election.

His wife, Angela Paxton, has also enjoyed consistent success with voters. She was elected to the state Senate in 2018 and reelected in 2022.

There is no law preventing someone from running for office while under indictment. State election code says only that an eligible candidate must “have not been finally convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”

Disclosure: The State Bar of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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