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Judge rejects attempts to toss indictments against Texas AG Ken Paxton, keeps April trial on course

By Lauren McGaughy and Lucio Vasquez, KUT News

Judge rejects attempts to toss indictments against Texas AG Ken Paxton, keeps April trial on course” 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.

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HOUSTON — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton remains on track to be tried for felony fraud this spring after the presiding judge shot down his attempts to have the charges thrown out.

During a Friday court hearing in Houston, Harris County District Court Judge Andrea Beall rejected Paxton’s arguments that his right to a speedy trial had been violated.

Beall’s decision means that, barring another unexpected delay, Paxton’s securities fraud trial will kick off on April 15. The proceedings are much anticipated; the attorney has been under active indictment for nearly nine years. He has pleaded not guilty.

Special prosecutor Brian Wice applauded Beall’s decision and said Paxton was the reason these cases have not yet gone to trial.

“We think that the general’s fingerprints, footprints and DNA were all over the delays,” said Wice, a private criminal defense lawyer brought on to represent the state after the local district attorney recused himself.

During the hearing, Paxton’s defense attorney Dan Cogdell blamed the prosecutors for much of the delay. He said their attempts to be paid — which have been unsuccessful since 2016 — put off the trial for years.

“That’s what this food fight has been all about,” Cogdell said. “This case has been pending longer than three out of four of my marriages lasted.”

Other factors that led to the delay included the prosecution’s successful motions to move the case from Collin to Harris County, Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19.

Paxton, donned in a blue suit and pink socks, sat quietly through the hearing.

He is accused of enticing investors in a McKinney-based technology firm without disclosing he had received company stock, and for steering clients to a friend’s investment advising business without registering with the state. Paxton faces two first-degree felony securities fraud charges, which each carry five to 99 years in prison, and one third-degree felony.

The securities fraud indictments, which came just months into his first term as attorney general, have dogged Paxton for years. The cases have been repeatedly delayed as the sides fought over how much the prosecutors should be paid, what judge should preside and where the trial should be held.

Paxton has also encountered other corruption allegations. In addition to these fraud indictments, he was impeached last year for allegedly swapping political favors with a campaign donor but beat the charges. His agency still faces a whistleblower lawsuit brought by the individuals whose allegations prompted his impeachment, and Paxton is also being sued over his role challenging the 2020 presidential election results.

Paxton’s legal troubles, however, have not slowed his political rise.

Hitching his star to Donald Trump, Paxton has become one of the most recognizable state attorneys general in the country known for fighting against abortion access and LGBTQ rights and for tougher border security and immigration policies.

At times, Friday’s hearing devolved into a personal battle between Cogdell and Wice, who have been friends for decades.

Wice shamed Cogdell for “clapping back” at the prosecution and accusing them of seeking their “30 pieces of silver.” Cogdell said the prosecution’s expensive cars show they needn’t worry about their next payday, saying Wice drives a Mercedes and co-prosecutor Kent Schaffer a Rolls Royce.

“It’s a Bentley,” Schaffer quipped back.

Wice rejected Cogdell’s arguments that they were responsible for the delays and said Paxton has been “living [his] best life” since he was indicted. Paxton has been re-elected two times since 2015 and has also amassed more than $6 million in out-of-state properties, Wice said, an apparent reference to reporting from The Wall Street Journal and The Texas Newsroom.

In a surprise move Friday, Schaffer left the prosecution. He told The Texas Newsroom that he and Wice disagreed with whether Paxton should face a jury at all.

Schaffer added he and Cogdell came to an agreement on Thursday that Paxton would face no prison time or fines, and that the charges would be dropped in exchange for Paxton agreeing to a period of supervision.

But Wice objected, Schaffer said, insisting the case go to trial.

“It was a win-win for the state. It was a win-win for [Paxton],” Schaffer said.

Schaffer said rather than being paid, he has shelled out about $150,000 in his own money “for the pleasure” of prosecuting Paxton. With 18 other paying clients in the hopper, and his disagreement with Wice, Schaffer said it was time to leave.

Cogdell confirmed he and Schaffer had a deal “in principle” that Wice scuttled.

“[Wice] likes the sound of his name in the media, this coming from me,” Cogdell told The Texas Newsroom. “He has always been very, very invested in this case.”

Schaffer was replaced with Houston-based attorney Jed Silverman.

Speaking to the media after the hearing, Wice said Silverman was ready to take on the challenge and said letting Paxton avoid a trial now would be unconscionable.

“To me, that was worse than a slap on the wrist. That was, ‘gee, let’s get you a cocktail, a hot meal and a breath mint.’ And that wasn’t going to happen on my watch,” Wice said.

Cogdell objected to the replacement in court, saying Wice didn’t have the authority to bring Silverman on. He also took issue with the fact that Silverman recently presented an award to Wice for his legal work.

Judge Beall rejected this concern, noting it would bar Silverman from being a juror on the case but not a prosecutor. It is unclear whether Paxton’s team will formally object to Silverman’s appointment.

The parties will hold another hearing on March 20 to hash out any last-minute pre-trial issues.

After the hearing, Cogdell said Paxton is ready to face a jury.

“He’s excited that we’ll get to trial,” he said. “If they wanna dance, put on your shoes. Let’s dance.”


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/16/attorney-general-ken-paxton-securities-fraud-indictment-trial/.

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