Judge to move Pax­ton trial from Collin County

Start is post­poned from May 1 af­ter bid to toss felony charges is de­nied.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

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.

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