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Here come the Rangers

I don’t know where this is going to go, but it sure will be fun getting there.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers look into allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants in the lower chamber.

The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

[…]

State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Ranger’s Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.

See here for the background. What might happen next could get complicated.

Aside from the quid pro quo aspect of the scandal, exchanging money in the Capitol or directing expenditures from a Capitol office has been a Class A misdemeanor ever since the Legislature reacted to a 1989 public outcry over the late chicken producer Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks to nine senators in the Senate chamber during a hearing on workers compensation reform.

Besides the issue of whether there was bribery involved, there are also potential election law crimes, including not disclosing the source of campaign contributions directed by Bonnen. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Sullivan on Thursday, alleging nine different potential criminal violations of the Texas Election Code, each a Class A misdemeanor. The lawsuit seeks to preserve evidence and damages of $100,000.

Given the potential for criminal wrongdoing, what happens next?

First, consider the dramatic changes that the Texas Legislature made to how public corruption cases are handled in Texas. Under a state law passed in 2015, the Travis County public integrity unit no longer has jurisdiction over elected officials at the Capitol. Potential criminal cases must be investigated first by the Texas Rangers. As of Thursday, the Rangers had not been asked to investigate the Bonnen/Sullivan controversy, nor had they initiated an investigation on their own, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson.

If the Rangers do investigate and decide further action is warranted, the case is referred to the home county of the public official. That means any corruption charges against Bonnen would have to be brought by the Brazoria County DA. For Burrows, it would be the Lubbock County DA. Travis County would retain jurisdiction only over Sullivan. In cases of multiple jurisdiction, the Texas attorney general’s office can take charge.

Funnily enough, Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges in his home territory of Collin County. Paxton is accused of failing to register as a securities agent as part of his private law practice. He claims he is innocent and that the case is politically motivated. Paxton counts among his allies the funders of Empower Texans. (The plot always seems to thicken in this scandal.)

You know what this would mean: Special prosecutors would be needed. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that approach. It’s almost as if abolishing the prosecutorial power of the Public Integrity Unit was a bad idea with all kinds of potentially unwanted consequences. We are getting way ahead of ourselves here, so let’s reel it in a bit and say we can’t wait to see what happens next. Ross Ramsey has more.

David Temple convicted again

New trial, same result.

A Harris County jury on Tuesday convicted David Temple of murder in the 1999 death of his pregnant wife, opening the door for the former Katy-area football coach to be sent back to prison several years after an appeals court reversed his original guilty verdict because of prosecutorial misconduct.

The panel of seven men and five women handed down the decision following almost eight hours of deliberation and 18 days of witness testimony, including evidence prosecutors withheld during the initial trial and which led to the reversal. In the end, jurors convicted David Temple of murder for a second time, rejecting the defense attorneys’ claim that an alternate suspect, a teenage neighbor, fatally shot Belinda Temple.

As state District Judge Kelli Johnson read the verdict, Temple cast his face downward, sweating and suppressing tears while his family members, including his adult son, burst into a chorus of sobs.

Just feet away, siblings and friends of Belinda Temple let out audible sighs of relief, comforted that the man they have long believed killed her could be locked up once more.

[…]

Testimony in the retrial revolved around two competing timelines of events on Jan. 11, 1999, the day Belinda was found shot to death in her master bedroom closet. David Temple told authorities that he came home from a trip to the park and store with his 3-year-old son and found his wife dead amid an apparent burglary.

Prosecutors argued that the husband — who was in the throes of a secret relationship with a coworker — had executed Belinda with a close-contact shotgun wound shortly after she arrived home from a work and a trip to pick up soup for her sick child. He washed his hands, changed his clothes, and left for the store, before returning home and staging a crime scene, state attorneys said. At some point during his shopping trip, prosecutors said, he ditched the murder weapon, which was never located.

Temple’s defense lawyers contended that their client didn’t have time to murder his wife, given a “narrow window” of opportunity when they were both home alone. They argued that the killing occurred while Temple was at the store, and was carried out by a 16-year-old neighbor who had a bone to pick with Belinda, who was also his teacher at Katy High School.

The neighbor testified during the retrial, telling jurors that he skipped the last class period of the day on Jan. 11, 1999. He said that he spent much of the afternoon on a mostly fruitless quest to find marijuana, and several of his high school friends corroborated parts of his story.

See here and here for the background, and here for the rest of my blogging about this. The re-trial was due to Temple’s attorneys successfully arguing that he had not received a fair trial in 1999 because of misconduct by then-Assistant DA Kelly Siegler. Current District Attorney Kim Ogg recused her office from the do-over, with prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office handling the case. In the end, it seems the jury didn’t buy Temple’s defense. Sentencing is still to come, but I imagine he’ll be spending some more time in prison.

Paxton wants to move his case back to Collin County

Of course they do.

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Paxton’s defense team has asked that the case be moved back to his hometown of Collin County, years after it was moved from there to Harris County. The case was moved hundreds of miles southeast after the prosecutors claimed that Paxton, a Republican who is well connected in that region and once represented it in the Texas Legislature, would not get a fair trial there.

But Paxton’s defense team argued this week that the judge who moved the case to Harris County two years ago didn’t have the authority to do so, as his term overseeing the case had elapsed.

[…]

That leaves [Judge Robert] Johnson, a Democratic judge overseeing the case, with several issues to mull before Paxton faces a jury. Johnson has not yet responded to either side’s motion.

On Monday, Paxton’s defense attorneys argued that if there is a hearing on the prosecutors’ fees, they should also be present — and asked that the judge rule on changing the venue before the pay issue.

The Team Paxton motions were in response to the prosecutors’ motion to confer with Judge Johnson – just them, Team Paxton is not invited – regarding their pay. I can understand that motion, but as the Observer notes, the argument to move the case back to Collin County is a rehash of the same arguments they made when the case was originally moved. That was seen at the time as a win for Paxton, since his team had moved to boot the original judge from the case. It seems unlikely to me that Judge Johnson will agree to just hand the case back to Collin County, but it’s a lead pipe cinch that Team Paxton will appeal that ruling and thus accomplish their main goal, which is delaying this trial from now until the heat death of the universe. Either way, they get something they want. The DMN has more.

We return once again to the Paxton prosecutor pay fight

This is an interesting argument.

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The prosecutors appointed years ago to take Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to trial will continue to fight over their pay rate, lengthening a dispute that has already delayed the case for well over a year.

[…]

Prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer had signaled they might withdraw from the case if they could not be paid. Instead, they are now asking a Harris County judge for a private, “ex parte” hearing over their fees — a meeting that would not include Paxton’s defense team. In a filing this week, they asked Judge Robert Johnson to “issue a new order for payment of fees.”

“The Attorneys Pro Tem’s payment is now an administrative matter for the trial court to decide,” an attorney for Wice and Schaffer wrote. “The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision provides the court with the parameters necessary for the court to use its discretion in discharging its administrative duties.”

They added that “there is no authority suggesting that an adversarial hearing regarding the payment of fees … should be held” — arguing that Paxton’s defense lawyers should not be present for the hearing.

The judge has not yet responded to the request. A spokesman for Paxton did not return a request for comment.

See here for the last update. I’m glad they waited till after the legislative session to advance this argument, as I can easily imagine a hastily-written bill to cut this off at the knees getting rammed through. I’ve no idea if this brief, let alone the assertion that there doesn’t need to be a response from Team Paxton, has any merit or has ever been tried before. But it sure isn’t boring, and I can’t wait to see how Judge Johnson rules. The DMN has more.

David Temple re-trial is now underway

I continue to be fascinated by this.

It’s 1999 in Katy, Texas.

A seemingly perfect couple is falling apart at the seams. David Temple, a high school football coach, is having an affair with a beautiful teacher on campus. His wife, a beloved special education instructor, is becoming anxious. She’s also eight months pregnant.

It was an act of disloyalty, David Temple’s attorneys conceded with opposing state prosecutors. The legal parties disagree, however, on the events of Jan. 11, when Belinda Temple was found shot to death in the closet of her master bedroom.

Lawyers began to reconstruct the murder of Belinda Temple for Harris County jurors on Monday, launching testimony for her husband’s second criminal trial in 12 years. Unlike the first trial, when jurors found David Temple guilty in the killing – a decision that was later overturned by an appeals court – attorneys were tasked with making the panel understand a story from another era.

“We’re going to go back in time,” David Temple’s attorney, Stanley Schneider, began his opening argument on Monday. “We’re going to hear a story of betrayal, two betrayals.”

The lawyer told jurors that while the defendant was unfaithful to his wife, law enforcement also betrayed citizens by operating with “tunnel vision” in the case, which rocked the Katy area in the early 2000s and has maintained a hold in the county ever since.

[…]

“There was only one person on this Earth who had the motive, the means and the opportunity to cause her death,” said Lisa Tanner, a state prosecutor re-trying the case in lieu of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which recused itself after the initial verdict was reversed. Investigators didn’t charge anyone with the crime at first but had questions about Temple’s account, Tanner said. The family’s dog was aggressive and made it difficult for police officers to even gain entry into the yard, making them wonder how a burglar could have made it past. The break-in also seemed staged, Tanner said, as evidenced by the location of broken glass on the floor.

Surveillance videos located Temple being where he said he was on two instances, but the videos are separated by a nearly 45-minute gap, Tanner said.

See here for the background and here for all posts. Again, I don’t have anything to add. We just don’t see many re-trials like this, especially in cases where the original prosecutors had been found to have withheld possibly exculpatory evidence. We’ll never know the answer to the questiof what might have happened if they had played by the rules back then, but we’ll see what happens now that this evidence is known to all. I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

David Temple re-trial starts

The beginning of the next chapter in a long story.

For the second time in 12 years, a former Katy-area football coach is standing trial in the murder of his pregnant wife, seeking exoneration after prosecutorial misconduct caused his first conviction to be reversed.

David Temple’s return to court takes place almost 20 years after his wife’s death, which he has insisted was the result of a botched break-in at their home. The murder and trial in 2007 became drew national attention and the case has remained controversial ever since.

Jury selection began Thursday and will continue this week, with testimony due to begin next month. State District Judge Kelli Johnson, special prosecutors from the Texas Attorney General’s Office and defense attorneys are choosing from a pool of 240 potential jurors.

The amount of time that has lapsed usually benefits the defense, said Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston. It remains to be seen what evidence withheld from the first trial will be presented.

“We probably shouldn’t expect any surprises,” she said. “The question is how much the prosecutors’ case has degraded over time.”

See here for all the background I have on this. The case is being prosecuted by a lawyer from the Attorney General’s office, as DA Kim Ogg recused her office due to the allegations of misconduct against the office from the past. Suffice it to say that this case is a hot potato, and people have strong feelings about it and about David Temple. I’m just interested in seeing how it plays out this time around.

Will Ken Paxton ever be prosecuted?

At this point, I’d have to say it’s very unlikely.

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After mulling the question for nearly six months, the nine Republican judges on Texas’ highest criminal court will not reconsider their 2018 ruling that threatens to imperil the criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In November, a fractured Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a six-figure payment to the special prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial for felony securities fraud fell outside legal limits for what such attorneys may be paid. A month later, the attorneys asked the high court to reconsider that decision in a spirited legal filing that went unanswered until this week.

The court did not provide any reason for rejecting the motion, nor did any judges write dissenting opinions. Few expected that the high court would reconsider its own ruling.

Payments for special prosecutors are based on strict fee schedules, but judges are permitted to approve payments outside those strictures in unusual circumstances, as a North Texas GOP judge did for the prosecutors in the Paxton case. But after Jeff Blackard, a Paxton donor, sued in December 2015, claiming that the fees were exorbitant, the Dallas Court of Appeals voided the prosecutors’ invoice and the payment has been in question. Meanwhile, the trial itself has been derailed again and again.

Wednesday’s ruling threatens the long-delayed prosecution of Texas’ top lawyer, as the prosecutors —unpaid in years — have signaled they may withdraw from the case if they cannot be paid. The prosecutors have also argued that the pay ruling, in limiting how much attorneys may be paid even in cases of extraordinary circumstances, threatens the state’s ability to adequately compensate lawyers representing indigent defendants.

See here, here, and here for the latest updates, and here for even more, if you want to do a deeper dive. We should all have friends as steadfast as Ken Paxton has in Collin County, both on their Commissioners Court and in the person of Jeff Blackard. Friends help you move, real friends help you game the criminal justice system to effectively quash felony indictments.

At this point, either the existing prosecutors decide to stick it out and maybe extract a bit of revenge via jury verdict, or they throw in the towel and the whole thing starts over with new prosecutors. Which in turn would open a whole ‘nother can of worms, thanks to the Lege.

Under Senate Bill 341, which moved quietly and without controversy through the Texas Legislature, only county attorneys, district attorneys and assistant attorneys general would be qualified to serve in the high-stakes, often high-profile affairs that require specially appointed prosecutors. Currently, judges may appoint “any competent attorney,” which some have argued is an insufficient standard.

The author of that bill, Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, has presented it as a cost-saving effort for counties — special prosecutors will now be government attorneys who would not require additional funds — and also as a way to raise the bar of qualifications for special prosecutors.

That would limit the selection pool from the more than 100,000 practicing attorneys in Texas to a much smaller group of several hundred elected prosecutors or attorneys employed by the agency Paxton runs. The replacement for Wice and Schaffer would have to be either a Democratic district attorney, who might be seen as overly aggressive in her prosecution of a Republican statewide official; a Republican district attorney, who could be seen as overly sympathetic to a leader of his own party; or an assistant attorney general, who would be an employee of the defendant.

That law goes into effect September 1. This law does make some sense, and if the Paxton prosecution had been handed off to a DA or County Attorney there would not have been an issue with payment. I for one would argue that this case should absolutely be turned over to a big urban county DA’s office – Harris, Dallas, Bexar, or (oh, the delicious irony) Travis – since an aggressive prosecution is exactly what is needed, and the DAs in those counties will have less to fear from the voters than, say, the Denton or Tarrant or Montgomery County DAs would. I will be very interested to see what the presiding judge decides to do, if it comes to that. In the meantime, we need the voters of Collin County to start voting out members of their Commissioners Court, and the voters of Texas to start electing better jurists to the CCA. You want a lower-level cause to get behind in 2020, there’s two of them for you.

Paxton prosecutors take their shot at a do-over

Good luck.

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In a fiery filing that amounts to a legal Hail Mary, the attorneys appointed to prosecute Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton implored the state’s highest criminal court to take the unusual step of considering their case again because last month’s opinion yielded “a patently absurd result.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in November that a six-figure payment originally approved for the special prosecutors was outside legal limits — a move that boosted Paxton and threatened to derail the case against him, as the prosecutors had indicated they might withdraw if they could not be paid. A month later, the prosecutors have asked the court to reconsider their decision in a crucial case “where the ‘x’ axis of justice and the ‘y’ axis of politics intersect.”

Rehearing, they argued in a filing last week, is critical for ensuring that the high court’s proceedings “appear fair to all who observe them.” [Read the filing here]

[…]

In the Dec. 21 filing, prosecutor Brian Wice wrote that the prosecutors “would never have accepted the formidable task of prosecuting the Texas Attorney General over the last three-plus years had they been able to look into the future and discern that their pay would come within a coat of paint of minimum wage.”

From the opening sentence, the 18-page filing doesn’t mince words.

“If you’re fortunate enough to be Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, you can lawfully create and endow a defense fund to pay for an armada of top-flight legal talent that most defendants can only dream of to defend yourself against three felony offenses,” Wice wrote.

In the motion for rehearing, which includes references to Atticus Finch, Shakespeare, Gilbert & Sullivan and the impending “Sword of Damocles,” the prosecutors implore the state’s highest criminal court to take the unusual step of considering their case again because last month’s opinion yields “a patently absurd result” that would pay the special prosecutors “unconscionable” rates.

Letting the ruling stand, Wice argued, would allow any local government in Texas “to derail what it sees as an unjust prosecution by de-funding it.” And that type of funding dispute can be influenced by major political players, he suggested.

“Make no mistake,” he wrote. “While it was the Commissioners who prevailed in this Court, Paxton first recognized that the best, indeed, the only way to derail his prosecution was to de-fund it by challenging [prosecutors’] fees three years ago.”

See here and here for the background. I mean, the prosecutors are 100% right on the merits, and they lay it out with utter clarity. I maintain that the Legislature can and should fix this by making the state pick up the tab for prosecutions like this, but that won’t help here, even if we could be sure that a bill to address this would pass. We need the Court to do the right thing, which they failed to do the first time around. It’s either that or they show that they don’t care about the law when one of their own is on the sharp end of it.

CCA may have killed the Paxton prosecution

Ugh. Just, ugh.

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday potentially imperiled the long-delayed criminal prosecution of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, ruling that payments to special prosecutors were outside legal limits.

If they cannot get paid, the prosecutors have suggested they could withdraw from the case against Paxton, a three-year-long legal saga that has dragged on in fits and starts amid side fights like the dispute over legal fees.

In its opinion Wednesday, the state’s highest criminal court said a lower trial court was wrong last year to approve a six-figure payment to the three special prosecutors handling the Paxton case. The prosecutors’ invoice was rejected by commissioners in Collin County — Paxton’s home county — touching off the legal fight that made its way to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Here, the trial court exceeded its authority by issuing an order for payment of frees that is not in accordance with an approved fee schedule containing reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum rates,” the opinion said.

The Court of Criminal Appeals invalidated the payment and ordered the lower court to re-issue it in accordance with the fee schedule.

“While we are disappointed with the majority’s ruling and are exploring all legal options available to us, it does not alter the fact that Ken Paxton remains charged with three serious felony offenses,” the prosecutors said in a statement responding to the ruling.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have no idea what happens next. A copy of the opinion is here, and the Observer has some thoughts. Maybe the prosecutors stick it out – maybe now Collin County will agree to pay them something reasonable, now that they can dictate the terms more. Maybe they step down and some other prosecutors step in. Maybe it all goes up in flames. The fact that we’re having this conversation at all is a scandal that needs to be addressed by the Lege. The possibility that Paxton may end up skating because the system as designed was not capable of finding a prosecutor for the charges against him is too gruesome to contemplate, so I’m not going to think about it any more today. Have some turkey or turkey-alternative, watch some football, and quit griping about how it’s Christmas season already. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Don’t expect a Ken Paxton trial to happen this year

Delays, delays, nothing but delays.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted for fraud nearly three years ago but is unlikely to go on trial before Election Day.

Paxton’s trials are on hold while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decides whether the prosecutors on the case are being overpaid. The court went on summer recess Wednesday, and won’t hear any cases or issue any major opinions before the fall.

This means they won’t announce a decision in the pay case until September, at the earliest, which experts said will delay Paxton’s trial dates until after the Nov. 6 election — and probably into next year.

“I just don’t see there’s any way it gets tried before the election,” said Rusty Hardin, a Houston attorney who has represented everyone from Enron employees to athletes and TV stars. “I would have doubted that the trial would have happened before the election even if the Court of Criminal Appeals would have decided today.”

There’s more, so read the rest. Just for a sense of the timeline here, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas halted the special prosecutors’ pay last February, then ruled they had to give a bunch of it back to Collin County in August. The CCA then stayed that ruling pending any action it would take in September, and after giving everyone 30 days to respond to the prosecutors’ appeal of the 5th Court’s ruling, they agreed in December to formally review that ruling. At that time, it delayed the actual Paxton trial, which was originally set to start on December 11, to this year. More than six months later, the CCA has not scheduled oral arguments for that appeal, and so here we are. There are other factors at play here – the damage done to the Harris County courthouse by Harvey greatly complicates things, for example – but either until this lawsuit gets resolved, nothing else will happen. And just any ruling won’t get us back on track, because if the CCA lets the 5th Court’s ruling stand, the special prosecutors will resign, and we’ll have to start more or less from scratch. Ken Paxton could well be collecting his state pension by the time this sucker gets to a courthouse.

You’ve heard the expression that “justice delayed is justice denied”. Usually, that applies to the defendant, who is entitled by the Constitution to a fair and prompt trial. In this case, as Democratic nominee for AG Justin Nelson says in a statement, Ken Paxton is benefiting from the unending delays, with the assistance of his legislative cronies. You’d think a guy who loudly proclaims his innocence would want to get this over with, but not Ken Paxton. It would seem he’s just fine with putting this off, at least until after the election. Feel free to speculate as to why that might be.

No Paxton trial till prosecutor pay case resolved

It’s not on the court calendar at this time.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s fraud trials have been put on hold as the lawyers pursuing the criminal charges against him fight for years of back pay.

Judge Robert Johnson has taken Paxton’s three criminal cases off his docket for now, the court confirmed to The Dallas Morning News on Friday. While court staff did not have a reason for the removal, the three attorneys prosecuting Paxton have repeatedly asked for the cases to be halted while they fight to have their pay resumed.

The delay will almost certainly push Paxton’s trials into general election season, when he will be seeking another term as the state’s top lawyer. In July, Paxton’s indictments will turn three years old.

[…]

“The (Paxton) case is kind of waiting to go to trial based on [the CCA’s] decision,” said Larry Meyers, a Democrat who lost his seat on the criminal court last year. “About six weeks would probably be a fairly responsible time for them to get an opinion out.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals won’t take up the prosecutors’ case until January 10, so a decision could be issued just before voters go to the polls in the March 6 primary elections. If the court sides with the prosecutors, jury selection in Houston will likely proceed without much further delay. If it doesn’t, the prosecutors have threatened to step down, a move which will temporarily derail the case against Paxton as the county looks for replacement lawyers.

See here for the background. If the CCA rules for the prosecutors, figure on the trial beginning in late spring or early summer. If not, figure on something like the third of never. Let’s hope for the best.

CCA to review Paxton prosecutors pay case

Good.

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The state’s highest criminal court agreed Wednesday to take a closer look at prosecutors’ long-running fight to get paid for their handling of the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The move by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals could have a major impact on the separate case against Paxton. The prosecutors have suggested they will bail if they cannot get paid, likely imperiling the more than two-year case against the state’s top lawyer.

“We are gratified but not surprised by the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision to formally hear this landmark proceeding, one that impacts trial judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys across Texas,” the prosecutors said in a statement Wednesday.

Prosecutors asked the Court of Criminal Appeals in September to reverse a ruling from a lower court that voided a six-figure invoice for work that goes back to January 2016. The prosecutors said the decision by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals — spurred by a legal challenge to the invoice by Collin County commissioners — was a “clear abuse of discretion.”

Days after the prosecutors appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals in September, it put the lower-court ruling on hold. But the court waited until Wednesday — nearly two months later — to announce its decision to review the ruling.

See here and here for the background. All of this jousting over paying for the prosecutors has pushed the trial back into 2018, with the next court date awaiting the disposal of this case. You know how I feel about this, so let’s hope for once that the CCA’s infamous pro-prosecutor tendencies will be a force for good for once. The Chron has more.

TCDLA pulls Paxton prosecutors brief

Get your act together, y’all.

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A leading organization of criminal defense lawyers on Tuesday withdrew its legal brief in support of prosecutors who are fighting to get paid for work on the criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The friend-of-the-court brief, which argued that the payment fight could endanger the system for ensuring that indigent defendants are properly represented at trial, was withdrawn because it did not follow proper procedures by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the organization said.

David Moore, president of the association, said the brief to the Court of Criminal Appeals was pulled because it had not been approved by the group’s executive committee, which unanimously voted Monday to withdraw the document.

That committee will now examine the issue to determine if the brief should be approved or if the matter should be decided by the full board of directors, said Moore, a lawyer in Longview.

“I fear,” said Brian Wice, one of the prosecutors, “there may be other issues in play driving its decision to withdraw its brief other than a purported ‘failure to follow proper procedures and policies.’”

“The larger question is why Mr. Paxton’s defense team does not want the Court of Criminal Appeals to consider” the brief, Wice said, adding that it raised compelling points about the payment fight’s impact on public policy and proper legal representation for indigent defendants.

Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s defense lawyers, said he expected further action to be taken against “the parties responsible for its filing.”

“I will not have any further comment on the matter now except to express my grave disappointment in the impropriety of the filing of such a pleading in a case of this magnitude and am gratified that the proper steps to correct the situation have begun,” Cogdell said.

Austin lawyer David Schulman, one of the brief’s authors, said he and others involved believed they had followed the organization’s bylaws, but he declined to discuss specifics.

“This wasn’t any kind of guerrilla action. We thought we were authorized, but we were wrong,” he said.

See here for the background. It’s clear that the arguments made in the TCDLA brief would be good for the defense bar as a whole, but not good for Team Paxton, as they would greatly benefit from having the courts screw the special prosecutors in their case. As Mr. Spock famously said, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. I hope there are enough people with a larger view of things at the TCDLA who can override these objections.

In support of the Paxton prosecutors

Good to see.

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In an unusual step, six prosecutors and Texas’ criminal defense attorneys association have joined a continuing legal storm over how much the special prosecutors overseeing the criminal case against Attorney General Ken Paxton should get paid.

Preventing the three special prosecutors in Paxton’s case from getting paid would thwart justice, according to Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey Jr., Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, former State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn and Enrico Valdez, a Bexar County assistant district attorney. The group intervened late Friday with the state Court of Criminal Appeals.

[…]

In a separate filing with the appeals court, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association argues much the same thing, saying that courts have previously ruled that proper compensation for appointed prosecutors is necessary and that the Collin County Commissioner’s Court should honor the payments to the three special prosecutors in the Paxton case.

“We’re gratified that prosecutors and defense attorneys with almost 200 years of collective experience agree how very important this case is, and that we’re entitled to the relief we seek in the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Houston attorney Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors in the case, said in a statement Sunday.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the prosecutors’ brief is here, and the TCDLA brief is here. Friday was the deadline for all to submit documents in support of or opposition to the Fifth Court’s ruling. The Statesman adds details.

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, in a brief filed recently with the Court of Criminal Appeals, argued that unless the ruling is reversed, it will place strict limits on legal fees, “effectively preventing the judiciary from being able to appoint qualified lawyers in difficult cases.”

“All of the gains made and all of the advances and improvements accomplished in indigent defense in Texas over the last 20 years will fall to the wayside,” the association argued. “Texas will return to the days of sleeping lawyers and otherwise unemployed insurance lawyers taking court appointments in criminal cases.”

A second brief by six current or former prosecutors — including Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore and County Attorney David Escamilla — also urged the appeals court ruling to be overturned, arguing that it undermines the pursuit of justice in cases, like Paxton’s, where outside prosecutors are appointed after a local district attorney steps aside for a conflict of interest or similar reason.

Judges must have the discretion to set higher fees for unusual or difficult cases, they told the court.

“After all, it is often the unusual cases that require the most skilled and qualified attorneys, and these are the very attorneys who are most likely to decline the representation without adequate compensation,” said the prosecutors, who included former State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn and Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey Jr., a Republican.

[…]

“Without the ability to pay a reasonable market rate in these rare circumstances, courts are effectively without power to fulfill their constitutional obligation,” the defense lawyers group told the Court of Criminal Appeals.

According to the brief from the Travis County prosecutors and others, the lower-court ruling also undermines the ability of court-appointed prosecutors to do a complicated and taxing job that often includes seeking warrants, handling grand juries, responding to defense motions, interviewing witnesses, reviewing evidence and preparing for trial.

In addition to discouraging qualified lawyers from serving as prosecutors, the prosecutors’ brief complained that the ruling allows politics to invade criminal justice decisions — such as in Collin County, where commissioners have voiced support for Paxton while seeking to limit payments to those prosecuting him.

“It creates a situation where the local county commissioners can effectively stop a criminal prosecution,” the brief said.

I’ve been saying a lot of these things myself, so I’m glad someone with actual legal credentials is making those arguments formally. Galveston Count and the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas filed briefs in support of Collin County, since all they really care about is the financial impact. I’ll say again, the state could solve this very easily by picking up the tab in these cases. It’s a small amount of money in that context, and it would avoid all these problems. Someone needs to file a bill to this effect in 2019.

Paxton trial delayed again

This will happen some day. I hope.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s trial has been put off for a third time.

The judge in the securities fraud case against Paxton sided Wednesday with prosecutors who had been pushing for another trial delay because of a long-running dispute over their fees. The decision by Harris County District Court Judge Robert Johnson scrapped Paxton’s current Dec. 11 trial date and left the new one to be determined, possibly at a Nov. 2 conference.

Paxton had been set to go to trial on Dec. 11 on the least serious of three charges he faces. The date for that trial had already been pushed back twice because of pretrial disputes, first over the venue and then the judge.

[…]

In a feisty hourlong hearing Wednesday, the prosecutors and Paxton’s lawyers sparred over a familiar subject: whether they should hold off on a trial until the prosecutors could collect a paycheck — an issue currently tied up in a separate legal battle. Earlier this year, when the case was before a different judge, he denied the prosecutors’ first request to delay the trial until they could get paid.

Johnson had a different take Wednesday, granting the prosecutors’ latest motion for continuance. He asked both sides to come up with a new trial date, preferably in late February or early March. After some back and forth — a Paxton lawyer proposed a new trial date on March 6 — they all agreed to continue the discussion at the Nov. 2 pretrial conference.

The prosecutors had been seeking to put off the trial until the state’s highest criminal court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, could sort out the payment issue. Last week, the Court of Criminal Appeals stepped into the dispute over the prosecutors’ pay, issuing a stay of a lower-court ruling last month that invalidated a six-figure paycheck for them. In its decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals gave all sides 30 days to respond to the prosecutors’ contention that the lower court, the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals, overstepped its authority when it voided the payment.

If the Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately rules against the prosecutors — effectively leaving them without pay for the foreseeable future — they will move to withdraw from the case, Wice said.

Paxton’s team had none of it. His lawyers contended the prosecutors were seeking to undermine Paxton’s right to a speedy trial and repeatedly pointed to the prosecutors’ previous failures to get the trial delayed due to the payment issue.

“It’s time,” Paxton lawyer Dan Cogdell said. “It’s time to try the case.”

See here for some background. The first I’d heard of this motion was Tuesday when the Trib and the Chron reported on it. You know where I stand on this, and while I agree with Team Paxton that I’d like to get on with this already, I would note that it is well within their power to ask Paxton’s buddies Jeff Blackard and the Collin County Commissioners Court to drop their vendetta against the prosecutors, since that is the main stumbling block at this time. I really don’t see how anyone can object to them wanting to get paid what they were told they would be paid, nor can I see how anyone would expect them to work for free. The solution is simple if they want it to happen. Until then, we await the November 2 hearing at which everyone argues over a new court date.

CCA stays Paxton prosecutor pay ruling

A bit of sanity at last, though we’re not out of the woods yet.

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Texas’ highest criminal court has stepped into the long-running dispute over the prosecutors’ pay in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton, putting on hold a lower-court ruling that voided a six-figure invoice.

In a decision Monday, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of an Aug. 21 ruling by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals that had invalidated the $205,000 payment, which covered work going back to January 2016. Last week, the prosecutors asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse that ruling, calling it a “clear abuse of discretion.”

In its order Monday, the Court of Criminal Appeals gave all sides 30 days to respond to the prosecutors’ arguments.

[…]

“We’re extremely gratified that, after a thoughtful and careful review of our writ, at least five judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals recognized that we were entitled to a stay of the Fifth Court of Appeals’ order,” prosecutor Brian Wice said in a statement. “We’re cautiously optimistic that the Court will ultimately conclude that the Fifth Court’s unwarranted decision to scuttle the fee schedules of over two-thirds of all Texas counties was a clear abuse of discretion.”

See here, here, and here for the background. This isn’t a ruling in the case, just basically a stay on the 5th Court order pending oral arguments. The CCA could still uphold the lower court’s ruling, which would be bad. But at least there’s now a chance we could affirm the principle that private citizens should not be able to derail prosecutions. The Chron and the DMN have more.

Paxton prosecutors officially petition the CCA over their pay

Last chance.

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The special prosecutors in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking the state’s highest criminal court to help them get paid.

On Tuesday, the prosecutors asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse a ruling from a lower court last month that voided a six-figure invoice for work that goes back to January 2016. The prosecutors said the decision by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals was a “clear abuse of discretion.”

The ruling “will have a chilling effect on the ability of trial judges to appoint qualified lawyers — defense attorneys and special prosecutors alike — willing to take on the most complicated and serious cases,” the prosecutors wrote.

The Court of Criminal Appeals must now decide whether it will hear the prosecutors’ case. Prosecutor Brian Wice asked for oral arguments.

It is a high-stakes moment for the trio of Paxton prosecutors, made up of Houston attorneys Nicole DeBorde, Kent Schaffer and Wice. If the Court of Criminal Appeals turns them down, they will likely have to make a decision about whether to continue working for free.

See here, here, and here for the background. You know where I stand on this. It’s a travesty this has even gotten this far. If the CCA doesn’t put an end to this nonsense, it’s a get out of jail free card for Paxton. Winning in court is one thing, winning by forfeit is another altogether. Don’t screw this up, CCA. The DMN has more.

Collin County wants its pay back

Of course they do.

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Collin County is about to start another fight over the prosecution of indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Since 2015, the county has been billed more than half a million dollars to prosecute Paxton, who faces securities fraud charges. But fresh off a court win that voided half of those costs, county commissioners now want the rest of their money back.

On Monday, the commissioners voted unanimously to sue for the more than $205,000 they paid the special prosecutors in January 2016. They argue that since a Dallas court struck down the prosecutors’ hourly fees — ruling they broke local and federal rules — the county should be reimbursed for all that it’s spent on the case.

See here and here for the background. What Collin County is doing is unprecedented, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get what they want. I have hope that the CCA will reverse this ridiculous ruling, but I can’t say I have faith. What I want to know is this: What happens if at some point the prosecutors say “screw this, I’m going to back to my real job”? In particular, what happens if they say this before the Paxton trial begins? I’m hard-pressed to imagine a scenario more ridiculous than Ken Paxton winning his trial by forfeit, but it could happen. What is the fallback position here, and has anyone other than me considered it?

By the way, let me also note that this is a rather extreme example of why local elections matter. Having a Democrat on Collin County Commissioners Court would not have changed the course of their actions, but it at least would have provided a voice of opposition. I don’t know what the electoral map looks like from this perspective – I may try to check it out if I can – but getting a foothold in red counties like this has got to be a priority.

Paxton prosecutors to petition CCA

Last chance to get paid.

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The state’s highest criminal court will get a chance to decide whether the special prosecutors appointed in the criminal cases against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton can be paid the $300-an-hour rate they were promised.

Kent A. Schaffer, one of the three special prosecutors in Texas v. Paxton, said the trio will file for a writ of mandamus with the Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate the Fifth Court of Appeals decision Monday to void the judge’s order authorizing an approximately $205,000 payment.

“It’s not over yet,” said Schaffer, a partner in Bires Schaffer & DeBorde in Houston.

[…]

Collin County paid the first order issued by Judge George Gallagher of Tarrant County to pay the special prosecutors $254,908 for pretrial work, but county commissioners balked at making the second payment ordered by Gallagher in January. Instead, the commissioners filed for a writ of mandamus to compel the trial court to vacate its order requiring payment.

According to the Fifth Court’s opinion in In Re Collin County, Texas, Commissioners, Rule 4.01B adopted by Collin County’s judges authorizes payments of pro tem attorneys to deviate from the schedule adopted by the judges. The three-judge panel of the Fifth Court, which heard the commissioners’ petition for a writ, noted in its opinion that Rule 4.01B appears to thwart the objective of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 26.05, which requires district judges to adopt a schedule of reasonable fees for appointed attorneys.

See here for the background. After all this time, I confess I’m a little unclear on what happens if the special prosecutors lose. Does this mean they will then have been paid all they’re ever going to be paid, or does it mean their pay will be recalculated and readministered based on a much lower hourly rate? In either case, this is ridiculous and will indeed make it impossible to find qualified special prosecutors in future situations. You know my answer to this – the state should pick up the tab when a state official is involved. That ain’t happening any time soon, so let’s hope the CCA makes it all go away, at least for now.

5th Court of Appeals screws Paxton prosecutors

Ugh.

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The prosecutors pursuing charges against Attorney General Ken Paxton haven’t been paid in more than a year and a half — and they will continue to wait on a payday.

On Monday, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas voided a $205,000 invoice dating back to January 2016, saying state laws and local rules did not allow the three special prosecutors to be paid the $300-an-hour rate they were promised.

[…]

[David Feldman, attorney for the special prosecutors,] argued state law and local rules gave Collin County district judges, who decide how much to pay special prosecutors, discretion to stray from fee rules in unusual circumstances. He called it “honorable” that his clients continued to prosecute the case when they hadn’t been paid in 19 months.

But the Dallas court on Monday sided with the commissioners, saying Texas law requires counties to “set both minimum and maximum hourly rates” in these cases. By adopting local rules that allowed them to exceed their own maximum fees, the court said “the judges exceeded their authority.

“The statute does not prevent the judges from taking into consideration the possibility of ‘unusual circumstances’ in setting the range of reasonable fees allowed,” Justice Molly Francis wrote for the court. “But the legislature intended each county to have an agreed framework that sets out the specific range of reasonable fees that could be paid.”

See here and here for some background. I will say again, this basically amounts to a get-out-of-jail-free card for state officials who are accused of crimes in their home counties. The state should be responsible for the cost of such prosecutions, wherever they occur, and they should cover the going pay rate for attorneys who are qualified to handle a high-profile case. It’s the only way to avoid these shenanigans.

Paxton’s trial date set

Mark your calendars.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will face trial in December for the first of three criminal charges, a Houston judge ruled Thursday.

Jury selection will begin Dec. 1 and testimony will start on Dec. 11 for the single count of failing to register as an investment adviser with the state.

Paxton, who was indicted in 2015, also faces two first-degree felony charges of securities fraud.

The hearing Thursday was the second in the case for state District Judge Robert Johnson of the 177th Criminal Court, a freshman jurist assigned to oversee Paxton’s case after it was moved from the attorney general’s home of Collin County.

Paxton’s trial was originally scheduled for May, then moved to September. Both those dates were scrapped amid upheaval over where the trial should be held and whether the visiting judge would remain at the bench.

See here and here for the background. The start date for the trial also happens to be the filing deadline for 2018, so Republicans could be a bit out of luck if Paxton has no primary opponent. The issue of who is paying for the special prosecutors remains unresolved, though there may be a further hearing from Judge Johnson on the matter. For now at least, we have a trial date. The DMN and the Trib have more.

We should all have friends like these

It’s like they say: Friends help you move. Real friends help you move dead bodies. Really real friends help pay for your criminal defense.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nearly two years into his fight against state securities fraud charges, is continuing to get plenty of help from his friends to cover his soaring legal bills.

The Republican accepted nearly $218,000 in 2016 earmarked for his legal defense from “family friends” and others who Paxton says are exempted from state bribery laws that bar elected officials from receiving gifts from parties subject to their authority, according to a newly-released financial disclosure statement.

Those donations are on top of more than $329,000 Paxton accepted for the same cause in 2015.

Steven and Carrie Parsons of Dallas made last year’s biggest contribution, $75,000. They have also donated thousands of dollars to Paxton’s political campaign.

Alfred and Janet Gleason of Green Valley, Ariz. made the second biggest legal fund donation in 2016: $50,000, according to the filing. Ray and Ann Huffines also gave Paxton $10,000. Ray’s brother is state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

As attorney general, Paxton’s authority could extend broadly, so in his disclosure he cited an “independent relationship” exception that allows gifts from family members and those “independent” of an officeholder’s “official status.”

“All gifts for legal defense were conferred and accepted on account of a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of General Paxton’s official status,” Paxton’s disclosure form states.

In all, 15 people or couples chipped in for Paxton’s legal defense last year. And one entity called Annual Fund Inc. contributed $10,000. It funnels money to groups that make independent political expenditures — political action committees that can spend unlimited amounts of cash without disclosing where it came from. Annual Fund Inc, according to Bloomberg, primarily gives to a group called Citizens for the Republic, whose national chairman is conservative media personality Laura Ingraham.

Yeah, no possibility of conflict of interest in any of this. Move along, citizen, nothing to see here.

First Paxton trial hearing in Harris County

Not much happened, but there are some big questions to address.

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The securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton kicked off Thursday in Harris County with no new trial date being set.

Instead, the new judge in the case, Robert Johnson, asked both sides to come back July 27 to continue discussing a potential schedule. Prosecutors pushed to hold off setting a trial date until they can get paid – an issue currently tied up in a Dallas appeals court.

Paxton has had two previous trial dates scrapped due to legal disputes – first over the venue, then over the judge. The hearing Thursday was the first time Paxton appeared before Johnson, the new judge, in the relocated venue of Harris County.

[…]

The issue of the prosecutors’ pay has long consumed the case. Collin County commissioners voted last month not to approve payments to the prosecutors and to instead take the dispute to the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals, where it has not yet been resolved.

“As long as they continue to sue us, our hands our tied,” said one of the prosecutors, Brian Wice. “This is an unprecedented attempt to defund and ultimately derail the prosecution.”

Paxton’s lawyers countered that the payment case could take much longer than the prosecutors were letting on.

“Whether they get their money is not our problem,” Paxton lawyer Dan Cogdell said, adding that the citizens of Texas also deserve a speedy trial. “He is the sitting attorney general.”

See here and here for some background. As the DMN notes, the 5th Court of Appeals says it will issue a ruling in the Paxton prosecutors pay lawsuit sometime after July 19. How much after, we don’t know. Maybe the issue will be moot by the time July 27 rolls around. Modulo further appeals, of course. Judge Johnson has asked both parties to submit procedural timelines of the case by July 7, for that July 27 hearing. Maybe we’ll get some of these questions answered then. The Chron has more.

Collin County would like us to pick up the Paxton prosecutor tab

I’ll bet they would.

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As Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal troubles head into their third year, there’s another question aside from whether he’ll beat the rap — who will pay for it all?

Taxpayers in Collin County, where Paxton was indicted on three felony charges, have had to pick up the tab. This hasn’t gone over well in McKinney, a conservative stronghold where the Republican attorney general is not only a well-known resident but also the first statewide official elected from the area in almost 150 years.

After months of pressure and multiple lawsuits from Paxton loyalists to halt funding to the case, local officials recently voted to stop paying the prosecutors at all.

Then, late last week, after months of mulling the idea, county leaders finally took their grievances to court. One is even hoping the county can rid itself of the case and its price tag altogether by getting taxpayers in Houston, where Paxton will stand trial, to pick up the rest of the tab.

It’s been 18 months since the prosecutors were paid. With a brand-new judge presiding over the case and multiple related lawsuits pending, when, how much and who will pay them is more a mystery than ever before.

[…]

In a brief filed with the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, the county commissioners argued the prosecutors’ pay was “outrageously high” and illegal. Their fees violate a state law, they said, that requires counties to adopt “reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum hourly rates” for compensating special prosecutors.

They want the court to throw out the prosecutors’ last paycheck — which topped $205,000 — and have voted to reject paying the bill until in the meantime. This last invoice, filed in January, covers all of 2016.

David Feldman, the prosecutors’ lawyer, said his clients’ decision to continue while not being paid “shows a commitment to serving the public good.” The three prosecutors — Nicole DeBorde, Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice — are criminal defense attorneys who charge many times this rate in their private practices.

“It’s honorable that they’re continuing to invest time in the prosecution because this is not something they went out and asked for.

[…]

Harris County Criminal District Court Judge Robert Johnson, a Democrat elected last year, was chosen this week to replace Gallagher. Johnson could choose to hike or slash the prosecutors’ paychecks as he sees fit.

On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the fight over the case’s cost. But depending on Collin County’s future decisions, he may be forced to weigh in.

County Judge Keith Self, one of the five Collin County commissioners, wants to discuss whether there’s a way to push the case’s costs onto Harris County. The commissioners haven’t discussed this proposal, he said, but he’s “hopeful” they’ll be open to the possibility.

Commissioner Duncan Webb said they should wait until the Dallas court makes a decision.

“I want to get the issue resolved, the quicker the better, and do what we’re legally supposed to do and pay what we’re legally supposed to pay,” Webb said. “I don’t know whether Harris County’s going to get involved with this or not. That’s way out there at this moment.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m sure our Commissioners Court will be delighted to hear about this. Remember how I’ve said that it would probably make more sense for the state to pay for special prosecutors in cases like this, if only to avoid these shenanigans? I still think that’s the right idea. In the meantime, it may be awhile before the 5th Court gets involved again.

A Texas appellate court [last] Friday said without a live controversy, it doesn’t have jurisdiction in a fight to block payment for the special prosecutors appointed to handle the felony securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas dismissed real estate developer Jeff Blackard’s bid to enjoin the Collin County Commissioners Court from paying a trio of special prosecutors under a $300 hourly rate agreement, citing the county’s recent vote against paying an invoice from the prosecutors. Blackard had argued the county’s local court rules require appointed prosecutors to be paid under a limited flat fee schedule, and his quest to block hefty payments to the prosecutors raised what the appeals court referred to as unusual and challenging procedural issues.

Blackard had requested the appellate court abate his suit indefinitely, based on the possibility the county might in the future approve payment of a fee invoice at a time and in an amount that he contends is illegal, according to the opinion. But the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over contingent future events that may not occur, and the matter is not ripe for resolution, a panel of the court said.

“Because the Commissioners Court has rejected the invoice and has authorized counsel to challenge the district court’s order, no pending ‘illegal’ expenditure of public funds currently exists for Blackard to seek to enjoin,” the court said.

I don’t really know what any of this means. I’m just trying to keep track of it all.

Paxton gets his new judge

From the Be Careful What You Wish For department:

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has received a new judge in his securities fraud case.

Harris County District Judge Robert Johnson’s court has been randomly assigned to the case, according to Bill Murphy, a spokesman for the county district clerk.

Paxton’s lawyers had fought for months to get rid of the previous judge, George Gallagher, who had presided over the case since its early days in 2015. They were finally successful last week when the state’s highest criminal court declined to overturn an appeals court ruling backing their push for a new judge.

Last year, Johnson, a Democrat, narrowly unseated a Republican incumbent, Ryan Patrick, the son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

See here for the background. That sound you heard was karma committing a hit-and-run on Ken Paxton’s dogma. I mean look, I’ve been saying all along that the “win” Paxton scored in getting Judge Gallagher was in name only, since (unless one truly believed Judge Gallagher had been issuing or would be expected to issue rulings unfair to Paxton) one judge should be more or less like any other. As such, getting Judge Johnson should not mean anything to the prosecution or the defense either, at least pending any rulings he makes that may be fodder for a future appeal. However tasty the irony of all this is, it wasn’t really a “win” for Paxton when Gallagher got booted and it’s not really a “loss” with Johnson being selected. It’s just another judge, who will proceed to do what judges do. The Chron has more.

We have the Paxton case

By “we”, I mean Harris County.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case is officially moving to Harris County.

In an order signed Friday morning, Judge George Gallagher vacated several previous orders scheduling hearings in the case and directed the Collin County District Clerk’s Office to transfer the proceedings to the Harris County District Clerk.

Gallagher’s order effectively triggers the search for a new judge in the case, following up on a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling this week that removed him as the judge who would presided over the embattled attorney general’s securities fraud and registration case. Special prosecutors asked the court to keep Gallagher.

The ruling marked a win for the first-term Republican attorney general who has been fighting to remove the judge from his case since Gallagher opted to move the trial out of Paxton’s home of Collin County in April.

See here, here, and here for the background. I always want to put the “win” here in quotes, since I believe it’s a victory in name only, with no practical effect. But I suppose it makes Paxton feel better, so we mustn’t discount that.

The DMN adds some technical details.

A new judge will be assigned by random. Harris County assigns judges for criminal cases using the “Automated Random Assignment System,” a kind of massive bingo cage containing 220 balls that spits out assignments.

On Thursday, Harris County District Courts Administrator Clay Bowman told The Dallas Morning News that Administrative Judge Robert Schaffer would be shepherding the assignment.

“Our local administrative judge is the person who will be handling, sort of shepherding, the assignment of the case,” said Bowman, who added Olen Underwood, the regional presiding judge for Harris and 34 other counties in southeast Texas, would likely also be involved.

There are nearly two dozen criminal district judges in Harris County who could be assigned the case. Nearly half are Democrats. These judges, who are locally elected, have received thousands of dollars in donations from all three prosecutors and two of Paxton’s top attorneys in the past.

This story also calls the ouster of Judge Gallagher as a “win” – specifically, a “major victory” – for Paxton. I wonder if that narrative will change if he draws a Democratic judge. Not that it should matter, of course – it shouldn’t matter in any event who the judge is, since they’re supposed to be all impartial and judicial and all. But whatever. The updated Chron story, which refers to Paxton being handed a “major win”, says that the judicial bingo process should occur “sometime very early [this] week”, so we’ll keep an eye on that. Mazel tov to whoever gets this one dropped in their lap.

CCA declines to get involved in Paxton judge dispute

That’s that, then.

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Texas’ highest criminal court has declined to intervene in the dispute over the judge in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s securities fraud case.

On Friday, prosecutors asked the state Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse a lower appeals court ruling that supported Paxton’s push to remove the judge, George Gallagher. On Wednesday, however, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied the prosecutors’ request without explanation.

The Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals had ruled Gallagher lost jurisdiction over the case when he changed venue to Harris County in April. The ruling voided all subsequent orders by Gallagher, including one that slated a September trial date.

[…]

Before the appeals court ruling, Paxton was set to go to trial Sept. 12 in Houston on the lesser of three charges he faces.

See here for the background. As I said, I really don’t think it makes any difference who the judge is – certainly, it shouldn’t make any difference, given how this is supposed to work. Whatever the merits of how we got here, I say let’s get another judge in place and get this show on the road. The DMN has more.

Paxton prosecutors appeal decision to boot judge

And on we go.

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Prosecutors in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking the state’s highest criminal court to overturn a ruling backing his push for a new judge.

Paxton’s lawyers scored a win Tuesday when a state appeals court ruled the judge, George Gallagher, had lost jurisdiction by changing venue to Harris County in April. The Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals directed Gallagher to vacate all subsequent orders, including one that set a September trial date.

On Friday, prosecutors responded to that ruling by asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse it, suggesting the 5th Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to make the decision in the first place. They also questioned the court’s interpretation of a part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that Paxton’s team has leaned on in its campaign for a new judge.

The prosecutors are asking for oral arguments before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

See here for the background. I imagine for the prosecutors it’s not a matter of who the presiding judge is but of the trial schedule. Installing a new judge means pushing back the September 12 trial date, possibly by a lot. The special prosecutors, I am sure, would like to eventually wrap this business up and get back to their regular lives. Add in the jeopardy to them getting paid for their work, and they are strongly incentivized to bring this to a close. We’ll see what the CCA has to say.

5th Court rules Paxton judge overstepped

Yet another bizarre turn in this increasingly bizarre case.

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A state appeals court sided Tuesday with Attorney General Ken Paxton in his bid for a new judge in his securities fraud case, ruling the current judge lost jurisdiction when he changed venue to Harris County in April.

The court also directed the judge, George Gallagher, to vacate all subsequent orders, including one that set a September trial date.

The ruling by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals appears to add some uncertainty to the case, though it represents a breakthrough for Paxton’s lawyers. For weeks, they have been arguing Gallagher did not have the authority to follow the case out of Collin County.

The appeals court did not explicitly order Gallagher’s removal from the case but voiced agreement with Paxton’s lawyers that he is “without authority to continue to preside over” it. Paxton’s attorneys have repeatedly argued Gallagher cannot follow the case to Harris County because they have not provided written permission as required under the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure.

In issuing his opinion Tuesday, Justice Robert Fillmore also lifted a stay the appeals court had put on the trial court proceedings earlier this month.

See here for the background. The Chron adds some details.

The decision vacates all decisions made by Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher after his April 11 ruling to move the case across the state amid concern about Paxton’s political connections in the attorney general’s home county.

[…]

“Under the plain language of the statute, (Gallagher) is without authority to continue to preside over the cases and is also without authority to issue orders or directives maintaining the case files in Collin County. Consequently, all orders issued by (Gallagher) after he signed the April 11, 2017 transfer order are void,” read the ruling written by Justice Robert M. Fillmore.

Absent an appeal to the state’s court of criminal appeals, the ruling dictates that Gallagher is no longer responsible for the case. The ruling also calls for court documents to be moved to Harris County where another judge would be appointed.

The ruling also nixes a trial date for Sept. 12, when the state’s special prosecutors were expected to try Paxton on charges he failed to register as an insurance adviser. When the trial will be held would be up to a new judge, possibly delaying a resolution on the case as Paxton’s political adversaries determine whether the criminal charges will hurt him in the next election. The filing deadline to run for office is in December.

OK, so this is obviously a win for Paxton, since he’s been fighting like a cornered wolverine to get Judge Gallagher off the case. Mission almost certainly accomplished! That said, this feels like a win on paper that may not translate to much in practical terms. For one thing, the trial will still be in Harris County – Paxton had opposed the change of venue – and argued that all of Judge Gallagher’s rulings since January were invalid. As far as I know, the last ruling of any consequence by Judge Gallagher was the move to Harris County, which was on April 11. Other than having the administrative judge for the region appoint someone new to the bench, it’s not clear to me what else has changed.

And not to put too fine a point on it, as aggrieved as Paxton is by Judge Gallagher’s rulings, who’s to say any other jurist would have ruled differently? Unless you believe that Judge Gallagher had it in for Paxton, I don’t see why any other judge would be likely to make a difference in the outcome. So fine, bring on a new judge. And let Paxton go unchallenged in the primary because he hasn’t been adjudicated yet. If he winds up being convicted next May or so, that will be fine by me. The DMN has more.

Time for the 5th Court to decide on Paxton prosecutor pay

Do your job, y’all.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s months-long effort to remove the judge in his securities fraud case is coming to a head in a Dallas appeals court.

Prosecutors say the 5th Court of Appeals has no jurisdiction to get rid of the judge, George Gallagher, because he has moved the case out of its reach — to Harris County. But Paxton’s lawyers say there is no evidence the case has been sent there yet, making the 5th Court of Appeals the appropriate place to push for Gallagher’s removal.

The 5th Court of Appeals paused the case earlier this month to give all sides an opportunity to hash out the dispute. A number of responses stemming from that decision were due Tuesday.

The prosecutors, in their latest response, called it “deja vu all over again” to see Paxton ask the 5th Court of Appeals to intervene in the case. His lawyers were unsuccessful last year in trying to get the court to dismiss the charges.

The prosecutors held firm Tuesday in their central argument against Paxton’s attempt to get the 5th Court of Appeals involved, saying his “claims are ultimately undone by the same facts that purport to fortify them; the transfer of venue to Harris County makes the Harris County appellate courts the proper place” to ask for Gallagher’s removal. Harris County is served by the 1st Court of Appeals.

Paxton’s lawyers countered that the prosecutors “entire argument is premised on the flawed assumption” that Gallagher remains the presiding judge in the case. They reiterated that they have not consented to letting Gallagher follow the case to Harris County, arguing it thus remains in Collin County — and under the jurisdiction of the 5th Court of Appeals.

See here, here, and here for the background. One thing we can all agree on is that there are no new arguments being made. The court just needs to decide whose argument it buys. Time to get this done and move on.

Collin County punts prosecutor pay question back to appeals court

Incoming!

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The Collin County Commissioners Court has voted to not pay the prosecutors pursuing criminal charges against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The 5th Court of Appeals last week directed the commissioners to vote on the prosecutors’ latest bill before it can rule on a lawsuit challenging the fees’ legality. On Monday, the commissioners voted against paying the latest invoice, which tops $205,000 for a year’s work.

“We’re faced with a black-and-white choice: You either pay it, or you challenge it,” said County Judge Keith Self, who sits on the five-member commissioners court. “But don’t expect what we do today to stop the criminal trial.”

Self was addressing the dozen people who attended the Monday meeting and asked the commissioners to reject the latest bill. Most called the criminal case against Paxton a “witch hunt” and pleaded with the commissioners to do something about it. One woman said she was praying for them; another man called the case “frivolous;” still another attendee likened the whole thing to something out of the Soviet Union before adding, “They had genocide.”

The commissioners voted 4-0 (one member was absent) to not pay the prosecutors, who submitted their last invoice in January. They also asked the county’s attorney to prepare for their own court challenge over the fees issue, something the commissioners last year said was an option.

See here and here for the background. Who knew Collin County was so full of drama enthusiasts? My bleeding heart is getting a real workout over here, y’all. Seriously, though, it’s time for the court to put an end to this nonsense and tell Collin County to suck it up and pay the prosecutors. To do otherwise is to ensure that no one will ever want to serve as a special prosecutor in a high-profile case like this ever again. If you think that’s justice, then you really need to re-read your old Soviet history books.

Special prosecutors named in Temple case

We’ll see how they proceed.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has been tapped to prosecute the murder case against former Alief Coach David Temple in the 1999 death of his pregnant wife.

State District Judge Kelli Johnson appointed Lisa Tanner and Bill Turner, two lawyers with the AG’s office, as special prosecutors almost two weeks after Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg withdrew from the case because of potential conflicts of interest with her office.

Both Temple’s attorney and a spokesman for the victim’s family praised the choice.

“We’re thrilled beyond thrilled to have these prosecutors appointed,” said victims’ advocate Andy Kahan. “We couldn’t have asked for a better choice.”

He said he hopes they put Temple back in prison for the slaying of Belinda Lucas Temple, who was 8 months pregnant with the couple’s second child when she was killed in their home.

“We’re confident that at the end of the day, they’ll see things the way we’ve seen things since 1999,” he said.

Temple’s defense attorney, Stanley Schneider, likewise praised the choice.

“Lisa Tanner has been trying cases around the state for probably 30 years,” said attorney Stanley Schneider. “She always shows up prepared.”

Tanner and Turner will first have to decide if they are going to retry Temple, who maintains his innocence.

See here for the background. The decision about whether to proceed at all or not is the first big choice Tanner and Turner will have to make. At some point one side or the other isn’t going to be happy with them anymore, but at least for now no one is complaining about not getting a fair shake.

Appeals court chooses not to decide in Paxton prosecutor pay case

This is oddly fitting.

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The 5th Court of Appeals on Wednesday said they won’t make a decision on whether the three prosecutors’ fees are legal until the county votes to pay their last bill, which topped $205,000. The prosecutors’ pay has been on hold since January.

The court has told the Collin County Commissioners Court to vote on the fees within the next thirty days, after which the court will rule on the fees’ legality. County Judge Keith Self, who sits on the commissioners court, called the decision “judicial overreach,” and said it’s time to go to trial in the Paxton case so the county can “stop the bleeding.”

“We’ve entered the theater of the absurd,” he told The Dallas Morning News on Friday. “Let’s pay the bill. Let’s get this case to trial. If an injustice has been done, let the trial sort it out.”

The commissioners will vote Monday on the prosecution’s latest bill, Self said. He could not guess how the vote would turn out, but if the commissioners turn down the payment, it could hamper the court’s ability to decide the case pending before them.

See here for the background. As the noted philosopher Geddy Lee once said, “if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”. In this case, the 5th Court of Appeals has chosen to decide at a later date, with the hope that they won’t actually need to decide. I’d say we’re not only in the theater of the absurd, we’ve been there long enough to see another feature. I can’t wait to see what Collin County Commissioners Court does on Monday.

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.

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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.