Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s years-delayed trial on securities fraud charges will have to wait until his separate impeachment trial is concluded, lawyers and the judge in the case said Thursday.
During the brief court hearing in Houston that was attended by Paxton, his lawyers asked state District Judge Andrea Beall to delay any decision on setting a trial date until the attorney general’s impeachment trial, set to begin Sept. 5, is finished. Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s attorneys, said he expects the impeachment trial to last a couple of weeks.
“What I would request is we come back after that case is resolved,” Cogdell said during the hearing. The request was supported by Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer, the special prosecutors appointed to the case.
The Republican attorney general, who has been suspended from office since his May impeachment, sat by himself on a bench as his lawyers and the prosecutors stood in front of Beall. Paxton did not say anything during the hearing, which lasted about 10 minutes. Paxton both came into and left the courtroom through a separate entrance not used by the public. Paxton has rarely appeared in court for hearings in the securities fraud case.
Beall, a Democrat, agreed to wait to discuss a possible trial date until an Oct 6 court hearing.
Wice said he shares the public’s frustration that the case has yet to go to trial. Paxton was indicted in 2015 on felony charges of defrauding investors in a tech startup.
“I know that everybody is concerned about how the wheels of justice have seemed to move at a glacial pace over the course of the last eight years,” Wice said. “I think today is the first step on the journey of a thousand miles to pick up the pace.”
The case is back in a Houston courtroom after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a decision last month by a judge who originally oversaw the case to move the proceedings out of Paxton’s hometown near Dallas. Paxton has spent years fighting to keep the trial in Collin County, where he maintains wide support among GOP activists and his wife, Angela Paxton, is a state senator.
The indictments accuse Paxton of defrauding investors in a Dallas-area tech startup by not disclosing he was being paid by the company, called Servergy, to recruit them. The indictments were handed up just months after Paxton was sworn in as Texas’ top law enforcement officer.
A multitude of reasons have delayed the trial, including legal debate over whether the case should be tried in the Dallas area or Houston, changes in which judge would handle the case and a protracted battle over how much the special prosecutors should get paid.
If convicted of the securities fraud charges, Paxton faces up to 99 years in prison. He would also lose his law license.
Thursday’s hearing took place as Paxton faces removal from office following his historic impeachment by the Republican-led state House in May. That trial will take place in the Texas Senate.
Cogdell said what happens with the impeachment trial will affect whether the securities fraud case goes forward or is possibly resolved through a plea bargain or other kind of settlement.
“If Ken prevails (in the impeachment trial), we will go forward. If Ken loses, that’s a kill shot to his political career. So it opens the door for resolution that’s not open right now,” Cogdell said.
Schaffer said when he and Wice began prosecuting the case eight years ago, they were “demonized” by right wing fundamentalist organizations that supported Paxton and claimed the case was political.
“Well, now so many things have come out about Mr. Paxton in the last year or two that people all over the state, including the House of Representatives, are starting to see who he is and what he does,” Schaffer said.
The case is among the 20 articles of impeachment the Texas House of Representatives brought against Paxton. Other impeachment charges surround Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer who has been indicted on charges of making false statements to banks to obtain more than $170 million in loans.
Cogdell said federal authorities are still interviewing witnesses in a corruption probe of Paxton that’s tied to the Paul case, but he said that “case will go nowhere at the end of the day.”
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