Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Greg Willis

Appeals court hears Paxton prosecutors pay arguments

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, the 5th Court of Appeals had a hearing on the never-ending lawsuit by a Collin County crony to cut off payments to the Ken Paxton special prosecutors.

Best mugshot ever

On its face, the lawsuit filed by Jeffory Blackard, who has donated to Paxton’s campaign, appears to be an attempt to undermine the prosecution of the attorney general, who faces three counts of felony securities fraud in McKinney.

But Blackard’s attorney, Edward Greim, argued that the case is about a taxpayer fighting government excess. In January, the appeals court ordered Collin County to stop paying the three lawyers prosecuting Paxton’s criminal fraud case until the justices could hear the case. Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis recused himself from trying the case because he and Paxton are friends. Special prosecutors were hired in his place.

[…]

The heart of the suit comes down to whether a taxpayer can block payments to special prosecutors on the grounds that the fees are illegal and not simply unreasonable.

“Is there a difference between unwise and illegal decisions?” asked Justice David J. Schenck.

The attorney for the special prosecutors, David Feldman, said such lawsuits take the decisions away from the elected officials — in this case, county commissioners. And he said this lawsuit could open the door for more taxpayer lawsuits nitpicking every penny spent.

“Why have a representative form of government? We should just try everything through the judiciary,” Feldman said.

See here and here for some background. The case was rescheduled from May to September at the request of the prosecutors so this matter can be resolved. As you know, I think the plaintiff’s argument is ridiculous, but I also think the state needs to pick up the tab here. The latter isn’t going to happen, so Collin County needs to suck it up. We’ll see what the judges think.

Collin County grand jury declines to add to Ken Paxton’s problems

He’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

A Collin County grand jury looking into a 2004 land sale tied to a business group involving Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has decided to drop its investigation, a lawyer for the McKinney Republican said Wednesday.

Since November, two special prosecutors appointed by state District Judge George Gallagher of Fort Worth have been looking into criminal allegations related to a sale of land that later became the site of Collin Central Appraisal District. The sale involved a limited partnership that included Paxton, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis and eight other partners.

Paxton lawyer Bill Mateja said in a statement that the attorney general and his legal team were confident from the beginning that the grand jury would take no action.

“We would like to thank the special prosecutors for their diligence in reviewing all aspects of this matter and for reaching out to General Paxton to obtain his cooperation in their investigation,” Mateja said.

Special prosecutors Bob Gill and Miles Brissette issued a statement Wednesday afternoon confirming the development.

“After reviewing voluminous documents, hearing the testimony of numerous witnesses and conducting an exhaustive examination of all relevant information, the grand jury concluded that no further action was warranted,” they said.

See here and here for the background. Paxton still has plenty of troubles to worry about, but if there’s one person who’s likely breathing a sigh of relief at this, it’s Collin County DA Greg Willis. Regardless, it’s one less thing for Paxton to have to pay his attorneys, and that’s something. Trail Blazers has more.

More special prosecutors for Paxton

Uh, oh.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Two additional special prosecutors have been appointed to look into other allegations of criminal misconduct involving Attorney General Ken Paxton, News 8 has learned.

The two Fort Worth attorneys – Miles Brissette and former state district Judge Bob Gill – were appointed Nov. 13 to investigate “criminal allegations” involving Paxton and others, according to filings obtained by News 8. The filings do not state who the “others” are.

News 8 has learned that the two men are looking into a 2004 land deal involving Paxton and other investors including Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis. That land would later become the site of the Collin Central Appraisal District.

[…]

Brissette and Gill were appointed by Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher, who was appointed to oversee the criminal cases already pending against Paxton.

The appointment of Brissette and Gill came after Ty Clevenger, a Collin County lawyer and blogger, raised questions about the land deal involving the site where the appraisal district was later built.

“The value of the property increased dramatically,” he told News 8 this past summer. “It appears there was some kind of insider information.”

Clevenger has previously sent letters to a Collin County grand jury asking that they investigate the land deal. He’s also alleged that Willis stymied the investigation of Paxton, his one-time friend and business associate.

See here for some background. Clevenger, who has been beating this drum for some time now, was calling for another special prosecutor to investigate this back in October; he has quite a bit more detail on what this is all about, if you want to take a deeper dive. For now, both Team Paxton and Collin County DA Willis are saying what you’d expect, that this is all routine, they’ve been fully cooperating, yadda yadda yadda. These things take time to develop, and it’s entirely possible that nothing will come of it. Still, this can’t be a good feeling for either of those gentlemen today.

Also, too:

Paxton is currently under indictment for two first-degree counts of securities fraud and count of failing to register as an investment advisor. He has denied any wrongdoing. Two other special prosecutors – Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer – are heading up that investigation.

Wice, Shaffer and a third special prosecutor are being $300 an hour. They have already turned in legal bills in excess of $250,000, with more to come.

Collin County Judge Keith Self has accused Wice and Schaffer of fleecing the county. He has called on them to resign.

However, with the appointment of Brissette and Gill, it means that the legal bills facing Collin County will continue to mount.

Suck it, Collin County Commissioners Court. The Trib, PDiddie, and Trail Blazers have more.

UPDATE: The Lone Star Project and the Chron have more.

Paxton motion to cap prosecutors’ fees rejected

Sorry, Kenny.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

A state district judge Wednesday rejected Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempt to drastically cut legal fees for prosecutors in the criminal case against him.

District Judge George Gallagher issued two orders overruling Paxton’s objections to the prosecutors’ fees and ordering Collin County to honor an agreement to pay $300 an hour to Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice, Houston defense lawyers who were appointed as prosecutors in Paxton’s case after Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis — a friend and former business partner of Paxton — stepped aside in April.

Paxton’s lawyers had filed a late-December motion arguing that state law and Collin County rules limited payments for appointed lawyers, including prosecutors, to $1,000 each for pretrial work and $1,000 per day of trial.

According to Paxton’s filing, state District Judge Scott Becker agreed that Collin County would pay Schaffer and Wice $300 an hour. Becker later stepped aside, and the case was transferred to Gallagher.

“Judge Gallagher’s order does no more than honor the agreement we entered into with Collin County regarding the rate of compensation for our work as special prosecutors,” Wice said Wednesday.

I must have missed the filing of this motion, since I don’t appear to have anything on it in my archives. It’s not the same as the lawsuit that was filed to limit the prosecutors’ fees, which could take some time to be fully resolved. I’m hard-pressed to think of a non-petty reason for Team Paxton to do this – I mean sure, it might have made the prosecution do less, which certainly has strategic value for the defense, but come on. The only reason this is an issue at all is because there were no non-Paxton crony options for handling this case in Collin County. Whose fault is that? The Chron has more.

Paxton girding for indictment

So are we, Kenny. So are we.

Ken Paxton

A Collin County grand jury is expected to weigh evidence brought by two temporary district attorneys assigned to the case. Paxton’s advisers are furiously preparing for a criminal indictment.

The looming showdown has the camps bickering. Anthony Holm, a spokesman for Paxton, contends the AG should not face criminal prosecution.

“As we’ve said for 14 months now, there was no criminal action because there was no crime,” Holm said. “This was solely a civil event with a $1,000 civil penalty.”

Holm took aim at the special prosecutors assigned to the case, calling Houston lawyers Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice lawyers “whose careers are built on defending the sort of child molesters and Mexican drug cartel leaders that Attorney General Paxton was elected to prosecute.”

Holm also accused a local lawyer who provided information about Paxton to a previous grand jury of having a vendetta.

“The Collin County situation is a drastic departure from objectivity, legal precedent or common sense, and it’s time for people to understand a respected public official is the target of a political vendetta,” Holm said. “This witch hunt must end.”

In a written statement, Schaffer and Wice fired back, saying their investigation was “neither a political vendetta nor a witch hunt.”

“The PR shell game Mr. Paxton’s hired gun employs once again seeks to change the conversation from his client’s conduct to personal attacks on us,” they wrote. “He knows full well that we were appointed by a Republican judge in one of the most conservative counties in Texas to conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation, and that is exactly what we intend to do.”

As the story notes, Paxton admitted to breaking the law to avoid a campaign issue. In his mind, that means the matter was settled, even though it had not yet come to the attention of any prosecutor. Now as we know a complaint has been filed and a special prosecutor appointed with a grand jury waiting in the wings, but Team Paxton wants everyone to believe that it’s all ancient history. It doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid. At least, not for normal people.

But prosecutors now say that at the least, there’s evidence that Paxton violated securities law by not registering with the securities board, a third-degree felony. And Schaffer has said he’ll ask for a first-degree felony indictment, though he won’t elaborate on the charge.

The prosecutors could submit evidence of the securities law violation that Paxton admitted to as a slam dunk case. But at least one legal expert says few people are criminally prosecuted for such offenses.

The state securities board did not refer the case for criminal prosecution.

“It’s technically a violation, but you don’t often see that type of violation charged criminally,” said Dallas lawyer Jeff Ansley, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas and a former Enforcement Attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “That’s very rare.”

So the key question remains: What’s the evidence of a first-degree felony?

I assure you, we are all on pins and needles waiting to find out. One hopes that these two career defense attorneys will not pursue excessive charges on flimsy evidence – you know, the sort of thing they are critical of other prosecutors for – so we’ll see what goods they have.

That Paxton is in legal trouble can be attributed in part to the efforts of a watchdog group, and the determination of a local lawyer.

The public integrity unit within the Travis County district attorney’s office said it lacked jurisdiction and forwarded information to Dallas and Collin counties for lack of jurisdiction. Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk didn’t touch the case either, saying she was not aware of any alleged crimes being committed in the county.

That left Collin County, where Paxton’s friend and business partner, Greg Willis, is district attorney.

After receiving a complaint from Texans for Public Justice, Willis stepped aside and said that “appropriate investigation agencies, including the Texas Rangers,” should handle the allegations against Paxton.

“As soon as we saw what he signed with the State Securities Board, it was obvious that he was admitting to felony conduct,” said Craig McDonald, executive director for Texans for Public Justice. “If Greg Willis hadn’t stepped aside, this thing would have died.”

Meanwhile, Dallas lawyer and blogger Ty Clevenger took the extraordinary step of sending information about Paxton to members of a Collin County grand jury, including three from the same church. He said he also dropped off information to a grand jury member’s home. He got their names from Collin County officials by asking; in Dallas, Hawk declined to release the grand jury’s names.

The grand jury that will hear the Paxton evidence from the special prosecutors is not the same as the one Clevenger sought out. One should always be a little wary of crusaders, no matter how enticing their claims are, but again, one hopes that the evidence will back up whatever comes out. There’s been a lot of trash talk from Team Paxton, which is either bravado or whistling past the graveyard. That grand jury is now in, and it’s put up or shut up time. The Observer suggests what may be coming.

William Mapp, the disgraced founder of Servergy, Inc., was identified at the courthouse by WFAA reporter Tanya Eiserer. Servergy, based in McKinney, claimed to produce energy-efficient servers for corporate clients. The company made extraordinary claims about its core product, the Cleantech-1000, claiming it consumed “80% less power, cooling, and space in comparison to other servers currently available.” But there was a problem: The federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleges that Servergy’s claims about its product were false. And the company, the SEC says, produced fraudulent pre-orders from tech companies like Amazon and Freescale to sell itself to investors.

Servergy raised some $26 million from selling stock between 2009 and 2013, as detailed by information released by the SEC. And it profited from grants from the McKinney Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a local fund that reinvests money collected by local sales taxes. Servergy continued to receive money from MEDC even after a formal SEC investigation began in 2013. Servergy is also connected to a wide variety of other improprieties and shady activities.

Paxton was a prominent Servergy shareholder, owning at least 10,000 shares. But while other investors simply lost their shirts, Paxton’s role in the Servergy case has generated lingering interest from authorities. In 2014, Paxton’s name was included in a list of search terms used by the SEC to subpoena the company, along with several other prominent figures in McKinney. Mapp’s presence at the courthouse today suggests that Servergy’s case is connected to evidence special prosecutors are presenting against Paxton.

That would be a significant escalation in the case against the state’s AG. A large part of the public defense laid out by Paxton’s spokesman Anthony Holm revolves around the assertion that Paxton’s original violation of securities law, regarding his legal clients, was a simple mistake and civil matter that he corrected when it was brought to his attention. The Servergy episode is a whole different kettle of fish, and while it remains to be seen what the prosecutors have against Paxton in connection to this particular episode, it should be a source of significant concern in the AG’s office.

See here for the background. All I can say is “oh please, oh please, oh please”. We’ll see what happens.

L’affaire Paxton gets larger

Oh, yeah.

Ken Paxton

When Attorney General Ken Paxton publicly admitted that he violated a state securities law last year, the State Securities Board was obligated by law to gather evidence against him and immediately refer it to prosecutors who could seek criminal charges.

But prosecutors in Travis and Collin counties said the securities regulators did not refer Paxton’s case to them, an apparent violation of requirements set by state law, the American-Statesman has confirmed.

In May 2014, when Paxton was a state senator running for attorney general in the Republican primary runoff, he accepted a reprimand and $1,000 fine from the State Securities Board, whose five members were appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry.

In that proceeding, Paxton admitted to soliciting clients for a Texas investment firm without registering as an investment adviser representative — a violation that can be prosecuted as a third-degree felony under the State Securities Act — and without disclosing that he would receive 30 percent of management fees.

But despite state law that required Securities Board Commissioner John Morgan to “at once” refer evidence of a criminal violation to the appropriate prosecutors — a standard that has been in place since 1957 — there is no evidence that securities regulators did so in the Paxton matter.

Robert Elder, a State Securities Board spokesman, said the agency would not comment.

In Collin County, where Paxton lived while soliciting investment clients three times between 2004 and 2012 as an unregistered adviser, prosecutors received no information about Paxton’s activities from the board, said Bill Dobiyanski, first assistant district attorney.

In addition, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit — which prosecutes corruption by public officials — did not hear from securities regulators about Paxton’s admission of violating securities law, said Gregg Cox, director of special prosecutions for the Travis County district attorney’s office, which includes the Public Integrity Unit.

[…]

Allegations that the State Securities Board hadn’t followed the law were raised last week in a strongly worded letter sent to Wice and Schaffer by the director of the left-leaning Progress Texas PAC.

In a July 8 letter, Glenn Smith suggested that Gov. Greg Abbott, who was still attorney general at the time, also didn’t follow requirements set out in the Texas Securities Act.

“On the surface, those failures raise suspicions of widespread conspiracy among several agencies and officials aimed at minimizing the criminal exposure of Mr. Paxton,” wrote Smith in the letter, which he provided to the Statesman.

Cait Meisenheimer, an Abbott spokeswoman, declined to comment on Smith’s letter. Wice also declined to comment on the letter, and Schaffer could not be reached for comment.

In his complaint, Smith specifically names Texas Securities Commissioner John Morgan and Collin County District Attorney Willis.

“With something like this, which is a clear confession of a felony by Sen. Paxton, the sort of silence and inactivity of public officials was very suspicious to me from the beginning,” Smith said. “They were compelled to act and failed to act, and this deserves attention.”

See here, here, and here for the background on the State Securities Board stuff, and see the original Statesman story for a copy of the letter. It’s always the coverup that gets you, isn’t it? The State Securities Board, full of Rick Perry appointees, should have followed the law and done its duty. Attorney General Greg Abbott should have followed the law and done his duty. Collin County DA Greg Willis should have done his duty a lot more quickly and without having to be pushed into it. That’s hindsight for you. Now I really can’t wait till the special prosecutors start laying out their case to the grand jury.

Meet your Paxton prosecutors

Technically, they’re district attorneys pro tem, for those of you keeping score at home.

Ken Paxton

Two Houston attorneys have been appointed to replace Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis in any potential prosecution of his friend and business partner Attorney General Ken Paxton. The Texas Rangers are looking into whether Paxton should be criminally prosecuted for violating state securities law.

Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice will serve as criminal district attorneys pro tem, according to an order signed Tuesday by Scott Becker, a judge in Collin County district court. The order leaves open the possibility of “further additional appointments.”

[…]

While neither Schaffer nor Wice have worked as prosecutors, both have extensive criminal defense backgrounds. Wice recently worked on the defense team of NFL Star Adrian Peterson with attorney Rusty Hardin and is the legal analyst for KPRC-TV in Houston. He is most known as the appellate attorney for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Shaffer has represented high-profile politicians and business leaders including R. Allen Stanford, former Congressman Craig Washington and handled legal affairs for athletes and celebrities including Farrah Fawcett.

See here for the background. It’s interesting to name two lawyers who have never worked as prosecutors for this, but they are certainly well qualified to handle the procedure. One might surmise that if they wind up going forward with charges against Paxton, their case will be pretty darned solid. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Willis recuses himself from Paxton probe

Good call.

Ken Paxton

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has asked a judge to relieve him from further involvement in investigations of his friend, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Late Monday, Willis said that earlier in the day, he filed a motion with state District Judge Scott Becker to recuse himself from probes of whether Paxton, a friend and business partner, should face criminal charges for failing to obtain a Texas State Securities Board license. Becker, the administrative judge in Collin County, could name someone to act in Willis’ place as district attorney in the matter.

Earlier this month, Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the Paxton matter and make a recommendation.

“Whenever the Rangers complete their investigation, there will be a district attorney on the case that will have no connection to me or my office,” Willis said in an interview late Monday.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m glad that Greg Willis had the good sense to do this, and to do it without dragging it out and being coerced or shamed into it. It may well be that Paxton is ultimately cleared of all charges, but until then he needs to be treated the same as anyone else in that position would be. Getting a prosecutor who isn’t conflicted is a good start for that. The Trib has more.

House approves bill to move Public Integrity Unit

Like it or not, looks like this is going to get done.

Rosemary Lehmberg

The Texas House gave initial approval Monday to a stripped-down bill that would remove public corruption cases from Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit.

Final House approval is expected Tuesday.

House Bill 1690, initially approved 94-51, was amended on the House floor to apply solely to corruption allegations against elected or appointed state officials, who would be investigated by the Texas Rangers and prosecuted, if the allegations are confirmed, in the official’s home county.

House members adopted an amendment dropping state employees from home-county prosecution, keeping the status quo that would keep those cases in the county where a crime occurred — typically Travis County, where most state employees work.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, joined Democrats in arguing that home-county prosecution would create a special privilege, and a “home-court advantage,” for state officials that is not available to other Texans.

“I just want to plead with you that you not create, with this bill, a specially protected class,” Simpson said. “I urge you not to treat yourself better than the constituents who you serve.”

A Simpson amendment to allow corruption cases also to be prosecuted in the county where the crime occurred was defeated, 93-49.

The Senate has already passed a similar bill, moving Republicans much closer toward realizing a longtime goal — removing corruption cases from Travis County, a Democratic stronghold where, they believe, GOP officials cannot receive a fair hearing.

Like the Senate version, the bill by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, would not move the majority of cases handled by Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit — including fraud against state programs, insurance fraud and tax fraud.

King estimated public corruption cases affected by his bill would affect only about 2 percent of the unit’s caseload.

See here for background on the Senate bill. I don’t think this is the worst idea ever – it’s better than simply handing this off to the Attorney General’s office, for example – but I agree with Rep. Simpson about how it treats legislators versus everyone else, and I agree with RG Ratcliffe that this does not take the politics out of the process, it just changes them. It may take awhile, but I’d bet that one of these days there will be a scandal over how a future investigation into an officeholder is handled, or not handled, by the Rangers and that officeholder’s home county DA. Anyone want to bet against that proposition? Note that this isn’t a partisan thing – since the Governor appoints the head of DPS, a future Democratic Governor could be just as liable to engage in shenanigans as any other kind of Governor.

And speaking of shady officeholders and their buddies back home:

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, won approval of a provision potentially affecting [Attorney General Ken] Paxton. It would require a local prosecutor who currently or in the past has had “a financial or other business relationship” with the target of a probe to ask the judge to let him be recused “for good cause.” If the judge approved, the hometown prosecutor would be considered disqualified, Turner’s amendment says.

As he explained the amendment, Turner did not mention Paxton or Willis or their offices. Bill author Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, accepted the amendment, which passed on a voice vote.

[…]

The question of criminal prosecution of Paxton appeared to be going nowhere until grand jury members were given information about his licensure violations. One grand jury member expressed a desire to look at the matter. Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate and make a recommendation.

Turner, the amendment sponsor, said the original bill would let a local prosecutor seek to be recused “for good cause.” That’s insufficient, he said.

“Obviously, it’s not appropriate for the prosecutor to be involved in that case,” Turner said.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, won approval for a related amendment. It would let an investigation’s target ask a judge to recuse a prosecutor with a conflict of interest.

That’s something, but we’ll see if those amendments stick. There’s two competing bills now, so it’s a matter of which one gets passed by the other chamber first, and if a conference committee is ultimately needed. The House bill is far from great, but it’s better than the Senate bill. The question is whose approach will win. The Chron and the Trib have more.

Collin County grand jury interested in Paxton case

Very interesting.

Ken Paxton

A Collin County grand jury has asked the Travis County District Attorney’s office for its investigative file on Ken Paxton, indicating the panel wants to look into the attorney general’s admitted violations of state securities law.

“Collin County appears to be the venue where this evidence needs to be heard,” says the letter from the grand jury vice foreman. “Therefore, we are requesting the documents be sent to us as soon as possible.

“After reviewing the investigative evidence, we may invite you or your appointed representative to appear before us to answer questions,” the letter continues. “We respectfully ask that our request remain confidential.”

The vice foreman, who asked that not to be identified, confirmed the letter had been sent to the Travis County District Attorney’s office, but declined to comment further, citing the need for grand jury secrecy.

The letter, obtained by the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, came less than two weeks after the Collin County District Attorney’s office indicated it had not and would not investigate the case unless it receives a criminal complaint from a law enforcement agency.

[…]

Ty Clevenger, a Collin County lawyer and blogger who has been critical of [Collin County DA Greg] Willis, saying he should appoint a special prosecutor to the look at the Paxton case, first posted the letter late Wednesday.

“Willis’ actions have been inexcusable. That’s why I filed the bar grievance against him,” said Clevenger, adding he believes Paxton’s admission under oath that he broke state law is enough for an indictment and conviction. “I’m a Republican. As Republicans, if we don’t get our act together, this is really going to come back to bite us.”

See here and here for the background. As of late yesterday, DA Willis finally took action.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has asked the Texas Rangers to look into Attorney General Ken Paxton’s violation of state securities law, Willis’ office said Thursday.

[…]

The Collin County district attorney’s office confirmed Thursday it had received a complaint from a “political group.” The allegations in the complaint, Willis’ office said, were similar to those recently passed along by Travis County prosecutors.

“Our office took steps to have appropriate investigative agencies, including the Texas Rangers, follow up on those allegations,” Willis’ office said in the statement. “To facilitate this process, we have today requested Travis County’s files for law enforcement.”

That’s good, though it remains to be seen if Willis will accede to the request/demand that he recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor if the Rangers turn up enough evidence for this to be pursued further. Still, we’re now getting somewhere, and that’s something. RG Ratcliffe and Christopher Hooks, each savoring the irony of this happening at the same time as the Huffman Public Integrity Unit bill was being passed in the Senate, have more.

TPJ refiles complaint against Paxton

We’ll see if they have any better luck this time.

Ken Paxton

Texans for Public Justice on Monday re-filed its criminal complaint against Attorney General Ken Paxton with local prosecutors in Dallas and Collin Counties, arguing the latter should recuse himself because of conflict of interest concerns.

“Mr. Paxton’s conduct demands a thorough and independent investigation,” Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, wrote to Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis.

“We further believe that as a friend and business associate of Mr. Paxton that you should recuse yourself from this matter. To ensure independent and impartial judgment, you should forward our complaint to the proper judicial authority to appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate Mr. Paxton’s conduct.”

[…]

McDonald has accused Collin County of “stonewalling” his group’s efforts because of Willis’ long-time friendship and business relationship with the new attorney general. The two men have known each other for more than 30 years and have invested in at least four different ventures together.

The conflict of interest problems McDonald cites in his letter also have concerned lawmakers considering a proposal to move the Public Integrity Unit outside of Travis County. Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, on Friday also called for Willis to recuse himself, and said the concerns the Paxton case raises illustrate the pitfalls of handing public corruption cases to hometown prosecutors who inevitably have deep ties with local politicians.

See here for the background. A copy of the letter sent to Collin County DA Greg Willis is here, a copy of the letter sent to Dallas County DA Susan Hawk is here, and a copy of the complaint sent to Collin County is here. I can’t wait to see what if any response they get. What recourse TPJ may have if no action is taken is not clear to me.

TPJ still wants Paxton investigated

At the very least, they don’t want the matter dropped due to blithe indifference.

Ken Paxton

The head of a public watchdog group said he again will urge law enforcement to launch a probe into Attorney General Ken Paxton’s admitted violation of state security laws after learning that the Collin County District Attorney’s Office, headed by a Paxton friend and business partner, has taken no action in the case.

“The Collin County district attorney is just stonewalling,” said Texans for Public Justice Executive Director Craig McDonald, who added that no one from District Attorney Greg Willis’ office had informed his group the case had stalled or told him how to proceed. “Within the week, I will do something in Collin County, once I find out what I have to do.”

Willis’ office last week said it was not investigating the allegations against Paxton, despite the case being referred to it by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in late January.

“We are not an investigative agency. So a complainant should be directed to the Collin County law enforcement agency where the acts occurred so an investigation could take place,” Collin County First Assistant District Attorney Bill Dobiyanski told the Houston Chronicle on Friday. “If and when that occurs, a case may be filed with our office. Our position is anyone with knowledge of a crime occurring in Collin County should report that to the police department where the acts occurred.”

[…]

The Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit began investigating the matter after Texans for Public Justice complained that the violation constituted a third-degree felony under state law.

After punting the investigation until after the 2014 elections, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg in late January said Travis County was not the appropriate venue for the investigation and referred it to prosecutors in Collin County and Dallas County.

Dallas soon confirmed it would take no action, leaving Willis the sole remaining prosecutor considering Paxton’s case. Last week, however, Willis’ office said “we do not have a case from Travis County or anyone else.”

The statute of limitations for a third-degree felony is three years. With neither Collin County nor the Texas Department of Public Safety currently investigating the matter, Paxton could be on a path this year to be clear of any possible further punishment for the violations unless the case is revived.

McDonald said that while he was surprised his Austin-based group was not informed of the need to refile a complaint with law enforcement, he was not shocked that the case had stalled in Willis’ office.

“We’ve never been made aware by Collin County or any other authority that our complaint would sit in a filing cabinet unless we took further action,” McDonald said. “We were always skeptical that the district attorney would do anything but sit on this case because we believe there is a close relationship between Paxton and the Collin County DA. This whole system that sends cases back to the local DA is a system designed to give politicians a walk, especially if that politician happens now to be the attorney general.”

See here, here, and here for the background. TPJ has since confirmed that it will file a new complaint in Collin County. It’s one thing for a DA to investigate and then decline to bring charges. It’s another thing for a DA to go out of his way to avoid having to do an investigation, especially when the person who needs investigating is a crony. Surely the Collin County DA could have at least read over the report from the Travis County DA and maybe placed a courtesy call to TPJ to let them know what their procedures are. Better yet, maybe they should appoint a special prosecutor and get out of the way.

The matter gets tricky for Collin County, where District Attorney Greg Willis could determine whether to prosecute. Willis and Paxton are longtime friends. Both are listed on the most recent board of directors online filing of Plano-based Unity Resources LLC. They are limited partners together in three firms and co-investors in another.

Against that backdrop of multiple conflicts, Willis is hard-pressed to explain why he shouldn’t recuse himself and seek appointment of a special prosecutor who can objectively weigh the merits of the case. The public’s faith in the justice system requires that there be no hint of prosecutorial bias or that staffers under Willis’ direction might fail to pursue justice to protect their boss and his friend.

Willis’ office says there has been no prosecutorial action since the case was referred from Lehmberg’s office. Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

These are not nitpicky issues. State securities law imposes registration requirements to protect the public from victimization by investment frauds and scams.

The fact that Paxton violated the law repeatedly over several years suggests a troubling pattern unbecoming of the esteemed office he now holds. That’s why an independent prosecutor needs to assume control of this case.

Unfortunately, I doubt there will be any consequences for DA Willis if he chooses to continue to do nothing. As things are, he has sent a pretty clear message that he’s not interested. We’ll see if that remains the case after the new complaint is filed.