Judge to move Paxton trial from Collin County
Start is postponed from May 1 after bid to toss felony charges is denied.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal trial will be moved from Collin County and postponed from May 1, a judge ruled Thursday in a series of orders that also rejected Paxton’s latest bid to dismiss charges linked to private business deals in 2011 and 2012.
Ruling on final pretrial mat- ters, state District Judge George Gallagher granted a request by prosecutors to move Paxton’s trial to another county, saying the location will be determined “at a future date.” A new trial schedule will be set once a site is selected, Gallagher said.
Prosecutors had argued that they couldn’t get a fair trial in Collin County, where Paxton lives.
Gallagher didn’t explain the reason for any of his one-page orders, and Pax- ton’s lawyers quickly filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider moving the trial, saying the decision “is com- pletely unsupported by the evidence and is contrary to the law.”
“The special prosecutors, after ample opportu- nity, have presented zero evidence that a trial cannot be safely and speedily had in Collin County,” the motion said.
In a separate order, Gallagher rejected Paxton’s motion to dismiss the charges over “prosecutorial miscon- duct.” Further details of the allegations weren’t available. The motion was sealed from public view and discussed before the judge in a closed hearing Wednesday because it pertained to grand jury proceedings.
The judge also denied prosecutors’ request to delay the start of Paxton’s trial until an appeals court determines whether they can be paid for their work on the case.
Paxton, his lawyers and prosecutors were barred from discussing the rulings after Gallagher issued a gag order Wednesday that prohibited interviews with reporters.
Thursday’s rulings provided the latest twists in a legal battle that began in summer 2015, when a Collin County grand jury indicted Paxton on two counts of secu- rities fraud for soliciting investors in Servergy Inc. in 2011 without disclosing that he was being paid by the McKinney tech company. The first-de- gree felonies carry a maxi- mum punishment of 99 years in prison.
A separate indictment accused Paxton of failing in 2012 to register with state securities regulators, a third-degree felony with up to 10 years in prison that was the subject of the postponed trial.
Paxton spent almost a year fighting to have the three state charges dismissed, but those efforts were rejected by his trial
judge, the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals and, finally, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in October.
In addition, the U.S. Secu- rities and Exchange Commis- sion had filed a civil lawsuit in 2016 accusing Paxton of securities fraud in his representation of Servergy. A federal judge, however, dismissed the lawsuit in early March, ruling that federal law didn’t require Paxton to disclose to investors that Servergy was paying him to tout its stock.
The ruling didn’t affect the state criminal charges against Paxton, who has remained in office after pleading not guilty.
In their request to move the trial, prosecutors pointed to what they called a coor- dinated “crusade” by Pax- ton and his supporters to taint the jury pool in Collin County by raising doubts
about the criminal charges and maligning prosecutors and “victims in the securities fraud counts.”
Prosecutors also said Paxton enjoyed the “ultimate home field advantage” in Collin County, which he represented in the Texas House and Senate for 12 years until he was elected attorney general in 2014, becoming the first statewide elected official from the county since 1866.
Paxton’s lawyers, who dismissed the claims as exaggerated and distorted, presented evidence in the form of a survey by pollster Glen Bolger that showed the majority of Collin County citizens “have not formed an opinion one way or another about Mr. Paxton or the special prosecutors,” according to a brief filed Thursday with Gallagher.
The only win for Paxton’s legal team Thursday came when Gallagher rejected the prosecutors’ request to delay the trial until a dispute over their pay is resolved.
In January, the 5th Court of Appeals blocked Collin County from paying the three prosecutors $205,191 for 13 months of work, including all of 2016. The appeals court website indicates that it will hear as-yet unscheduled oral arguments in a claim by Jeffory Blackard, a North Texas real estate developer who
has donated to Paxton’s campaigns, that state law and county rules limit the pay to $1,000 per prosecutor for pretrial work, instead of fees of $300 an hour.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is to stand trial on businessrelated charges.