Prosecutors see irony, opportunity in $300 fee for Paxton’s outside lawyer
Oct 12, 2020
Prosecutors in the long-running criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday painted the state official as a hypocrite for challenging their $300 hourly fee as excessive yet hiring, at $300 an hour, an “an untested and unqualified rookie” lawyer to lead a high-stakes investigation.
That lawyer, Brandon Cammack — licensed to practice law since November 2015 — was hired by Paxton in early September as an outside counsel to investigate allegations of misconduct by federal authorities that had been raised by Austin businessman Nate Paul.
In a motion filed Friday and posted online Monday by the court, the prosecutors asked state District Judge Jason Luong of Harris County to restore their $300 fee, which had been struck down by the state’s highest criminal court in 2018.
“The first and likely only question the Court should ask of the defendant, given his concession that $300 an hour is reasonable, is why the veteran (prosecutors) with their 80 years of collective experience should not be paid the same hourly rate as a comparative rookie,” the motion said.
Top officials in Paxton’s office have accused their boss of giving improper preferential treatment to Paul, whose home and offices were searched by federal agents in 2019.
Paxton has returned fire, saying he needed to hire Cammack because unnamed employees were impeding the investigation into Paul’s complaints against the feds.
To help defend against his critics, Paxton last week released copies of the outside counsel contract that he and Cammack had signed.
That gained the attention of Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer, the special prosecutors who have been overseeing a 2015 case accusing Paxton of felony securities law violations related to private business deals in 2011 and 2012.
One of the issues delaying the criminal case against Paxton has been an extended legal fight over how much to pay the appointed prosecutors.
A Collin County judge had agreed to pay them $300 an hour. Paxton’s lawyers fought, unsuccessfully, to reduce the fee to no more than $2,000 per lawyer for pretrial work, but a later challenge by Collin County commissioners succeeded in late 2018.
In their motion to Luong, the prosecutors said Paxton’s choice to pay Cammack $300 an hour was “disingenuous.”
“In successfully derailing this prosecution by spearheading a concerted effort to defund it, the defendant has repeatedly referred to the (prosecutors’) $300 hourly rate it in his (court) filings as unreasonable and unwarranted,” they wrote.
When the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2018 that the prosecutors’ rate violated state law and Collin County rules, it ordered the adoption of a new payment schedule that complies with the law.
According to the prosecutors, Paxton’s contract with Cammack simplified the matter.
Except maybe for Paxton, the prosecutors wrote, nobody could plausibly say their eight decades of legal experience does not entitle them to be paid the same rate as Cammack, “whose own experience, training, and expertise, compared to the (prosecutors), is virtually microscopic.”
The criminal case against Paxton is currently bogged down on where to hold his trial.
Prosecutors in 2017 succeeded in getting the case transferred to Harris County, saying they could not get a fair trial in Collin County, Paxton’s backyard.
Various challenges by Paxton’s lawyers paid off last June when a Harris County judge returned the case to Collin County. The prosecutors appealed, and one month later the 1st Court of Appeals overturned the transfer order and sent the matter to Luong to determine where Paxton should be tried.
If Luong decides the case should remain in Harris County, he could then determine how much the special prosecutors should be paid.