Paxton trial postponed to March, or even later

Ken Paxton
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

HOUSTON — Once again, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s trial has been punted.

It seems unlikely that Paxton will be in front of a jury until at least March.

The Harris County judge overseeing the securities fraud case against Paxton sided late Wednesday with special prosecutors. The trial delay is the result of a long-running dispute over their fees and complaints about setbacks due to Hurricane Harvey.

The decision by Harris County District Court Judge Robert Johnson moved Paxton’s current Dec. 11 trial date and left the new one undetermined. The new trial date will be decided at a Nov. 2 hearing, although March 12 was one start-date proposed.

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.

For more than two years, Paxton has been fighting charges that he misled investors in a company from before his time as attorney general. The delayed trial deals with the charge that Paxton failed to register with the state securities board. Paxton has pleaded not guilty to all the allegations. He has already been cleared in a similar, civil case at the federal level.

Flooded offices in the wake of Hurricane Harvey were one issue, but the special prosecutors’ payday appeared to be the main concern.

“We’re in a situation where we continue to do work and we haven’t been paid,” special prosecutor Brian Wice told the judge. “Why should we continue to work for free?”

At issue: Paxton is insisting on his right to a speedy trial, but the prosecutors want a delay long enough to see the resolution of separate litigation over their invoices in this case.

After total billing in the case reached $575,000, the Collin County Commissioners Court challenged the legality of a court order requiring them to pay the most recent $205,000 invoice. The commissioners won at the appellate level, but now the high Court of Criminal Appeals has decided to consider the matter.

Since their most recent payment was halted, the prosecutors contend they’ve been forced to cut back on their time preparing for the case. They will “need to spend many more hours preparing for trial to ensure they can adequately represent the interests of the state.” But they want to be paid for it.

Trent Seibert can be reached at 832-258-6119 or at [email protected].

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.