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Paxton tries again – and fails – to get a new judge

Never give up, never surrender, I guess.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal defense lawyers filed a motion Wednesday arguing the judge assigned to oversee his securities fraud trial is ineligible to oversee the case because his appointment was temporary.

Legal experts say the argument appears dubious as Paxton’s legal team looks for ways to secure a new judge in a high-profile legal battle that could decide the political fate of the state’s most embattled Republican.

“Big firms fight for every inch,” said Edward Mallett, a Houston criminal defense lawyer. “I admire the lawyers for being scrappy.”

The motion argues that any rulings District Judge George Gallagher has made in the attorney general’s case since in 2017 should be “vacated and declared void,” including his decision to move the trial out of Paxton’s back yard of Collin County and into Harris County. The case should be reassigned to a new Collin County jurist who assumed office in January, according to the motion.

[…]

Paxton’s legal team filed the motion with Judge Mary Murphy, the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region, arguing she had assigned Gallagher to her region until Dec. 31, 2016, which should render rulings he’s made since then null and void.

She assigned Gallagher to hear cases in the region on July 29, 2015 to last “until the plenary power has expired or the undersigned Presiding Judge has terminated this assignment in writing, whichever occurs first.”

“Plenary power” refers to a court’s power to dispose of a matter before it, according to Black’s Law Dictionary. That means Gallagher likely has the power to stay with the case until the end, regardless when his time in the judicial region expires, said Mallett, past president of the national, state and county association of criminal defense lawyers. He said the filing’s lack of reference to case law likely reveals that Paxton’s legal team is looking for creative ways to remove the judge without past precedent to back up their arguments.

“This is Texas: issues not clearly controlled by precedent are influenced by politics. The law is art and science combined,” said Mallett.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Trib adds some details.

In their Wednesday filing, Paxton’s lawyers said Gallagher had “no authority” to make rulings in 2017 because his assignment to the case expired at midnight on Dec. 31, 2016. They base that claim on an assignment order that has not previously come to light in the case.

In addition to the order to change the venue, Gallagher’s rulings this year included denials of motions to dismiss and to delay until prosecutors can get paid. The judge declined to comment through a spokeswoman on the Wednesday filing.

Gallagher, who is from Tarrant County, has presided over the case since its early days in 2015, when Collin County’s Chris Oldner stepped aside due to his ties to Paxton. Oldner did not seek re-election in 2016, instead running for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a race he lost. Oldner was succeeded by Andrea Thompson.

The case should now return to Thompson, Paxton’s team said in its Wednesday filing, which was addressed to Mary Murphy, the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region of Texas.

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I can’t tell you how good an argument this was, but I can tell you that it didn’t work.

On Thursday morning, Paxton’s attorneys were told their latest request that Judge George Gallagher be forced to step down could not be honored. Why? The court they asked does not have the authority to make this decision.

“The undersigned does not have that power,” Judge Mary Murphy, presiding judge in the First Administrative Judicial Region, wrote in an email. The decision, she said, lies with “the trial court and the appellate courts.”

My take on this is that the administrative judge Murphy says Paxton should be taking this up with judges Gallagher (who has already expressed his opinion) and Thompson in the 416th Court in Collin County, where this whole thing originated. Assuming Judge Thompson has no interest in taking this case back to her court, then the next step for Paxton would be to ask the appellate court, which could be the Fourth Court (which has jurisdiction over Collin County) or one of the First and 14th Courts, which rule for Harris County. I’ll bet a dollar we’ll see that happen in short order.

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