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Twice the trials, twice the fun

The Paxton special prosecutors want to separate the charges into two trials.

Best mugshot ever

Special prosecutors said Thursday they would like to try Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton first on charges he failed to register as an investment advisor, pushing a lengthy trial on his securities fraud charges until a later date.

Kent Schaffer, one of the special prosecutors assigned to the case, said a trial on the registration charges can be completed within days and is a simpler case, whereas the fraud case could last weeks.

Schaffer said the fraud charges likely would be tried week or months after the registration case is finished.

News of the state’s intention riled Paxton’s defense team which had been under the impression the two securities fraud charges and the registration charge would be tried together.

The decision of whether to hold one trial or two is up to Tarrant County state District Judge George Gallagher. The judge also is expected to rule later on the prosecutors’ request for a change of venue.

The judge told both sides his intention was to at least try to pick a jury in Collin County, where the case is filed. The trial had been scheduled to begin May 1.

See here for the background on relocating the proceedings. The Trib has the details of that part of the hearing on Thursday.

The prosecutors called three witnesses to help make their case, including a Dallas TV reporter who recently conducted an interview with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in which Santorum described the case as a political vendetta against Paxton. The reporter, J.D. Miles, said Paxton ally Jeff Blackard helped arrange the interview, but “I’m not part of a conspiracy, and I wouldn’t know if there is one.”

The prosecution’s second witness was Wayne Dolcefino, a former TV news star who now runs a consulting firm. He testified that he gave the website Watchdog.org leaked records from the Texas Rangers regarding the Paxton case.

Dolcefino has ties to Cogdell, Paxton’s attorney, whom he said has paid him several thousand dollars for a “research project.” Dolcefino insisted his work for Paxton’s lawyers did not involve the media and said he acted on his own when he leaked the records. He said he did it out of dissatisfaction with coverage of the Paxton case thus far and a desire to shine more light on a situation where taxpayer dollars are at stake.

“I did what I did, and I didn’t get paid for it,” Dolcefino said on the stand on Thursday, referring to giving the documents to Watchdog.org.

The third witness, Tom Dailey, is a business manager for Cumulus Media in Dallas, which handled a radio ad buy last year that was done under Watchdog.org’s name. The ads cast doubt on the case against Paxton and promoted Watchdog.org’s work.

The prosecutors asked Dailey to explain how the ads ran during popular times of day and reached Collin County listeners. Cogdell argued the ads will be almost five months old by the time jury selection begins and got Dailey to testify that he was unaware of a connection between the ad buy and Paxton himself.

Good to know that WayneDo still has some game, even if not on the air and even if not in Houston. I don’t have an opinion on the change of venue request. It is certainly the case that Republicans are standing by Paxton, and that surely must exert some pressure, but I don’t know how much difference it would make to move the trial to a similarly Republican county like, say, Williamson. Surely there are twelve people in Collin who have not been paying any attention to all this. As for having two trials instead of one, I understand where the prosecutors are coming from, but – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – that seems kind of unfair to Paxton. I think he’s a giant pile of sleaze, but if he were any other high-profile defendant, I’d say he deserves to get this over with sooner rather than later, one way or the other. That’s the judge’s call, and we’ll see what he says.

Also the judge’s call, though not if Collin County Commissioners Court has any say in it, is the issue of how much the special prosecutors get paid.

Collin County officials think investigating and prosecuting elected officials like Attorney General Ken Paxton can be too costly, a complaint that could take them into the courtroom or even the state Legislature this year.

On Monday, the Commissioners Court voted to hire lawyers who’ll look into whether the county can challenge the constitutionality of the Texas Fair Defense Act, a state law that sets rules for paying court-appointed attorneys like public defenders and special prosecutors who investigate and pursue charges against officials accused of wrongdoing.

The law lets a group of local judges set these rates, which County Judge Keith Self said could violate the separation of powers that should exist between him and his colleagues on the commissioners court and the legal powers of the judiciary.

“We’re concerned about the unfettered and open access to the county checkbook by judges,” said Self, adding that the goal is to ensure “the commissioners court has has got to have some sort of control over the public purse” when it comes to the costs of high-profile prosecutions like Paxton’s.

The timing is important, too, Self said, because lawmakers meeting in Austin could rewrite the Fair Defense Act this year if the county decides to challenge the law.

The changes won’t have any effect on Paxton’s prosecution — his criminal trial is scheduled for May — but were sought in direct response to the six-figure cost of the attorney general’s fraud case.

“The Paxton case, which we can’t consider right now, has revealed the issues with the local rules and the state law,” Self said Wednesday. “So we believe that now is the time to do it because the Legislature is in session. And if we’re going to get the change in state law down, and some attention on the fact that we believe there’s a separation of powers issue here, we need to get it done.”

See here for some background. I do have some sympathy for the Commissioners, as this is not a mess of their making, and I agree the Lege is the place to go for a remedy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the rate at which special prosecutors are paid, I just think the simplest solution is to have the state pay for them. Especially for trials like this, local issues should not be allowed to become concerns. Let the state pony up and be done with it. Courthouse News has more.

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