Ken Paxton fraud case should move back to Collin County, judge rules
The decision is a big win for the Texas attorney general, who has been under indictment since 2015 and now faces new criminal allegations from top staff. The prosecution plans to appeal.
Originally Published; Oct 23, 2020 | Republished by LIT; Oct 26, 2020
AUSTIN — The criminal cases against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton should be transferred back to Collin County, the presiding judge announced Friday, marking a huge win for the embattled GOP official.
Harris County District Court Judge Jason Luong, the fourth judge to preside over Paxton’s cases, said his court effectively lost control of the cases in June when his predecessor decided to transfer the cases to Collin County.
Luong further cemented his decision by stating that if an appeals court disagrees and finds he does have jurisdiction, the cases still should be transferred back because they should never have been moved from Collin to Harris County in the first place.
The special prosecutors pursuing the criminal charges against Paxton promised to appeal the decision, which they said divested “the citizens of Harris County of their right to determine if Ken Paxton is a felon.”
“We trust the court of appeals will set aside this clearly erroneous ruling and keep these felony prosecutions in Harris County where the law mandates they belong,” Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer said in a statement.
Paxton’s defense team applauded the ruling and admonished the prosecutors.
“We now have two separate judges saying that the case needs to be returned to Collin County for trial — I trust the Special Prosecutors will withdraw their appeal and let the case proceed,” Philip Hilder said.
The cases against Paxton originated in Collin County in 2015, when a grand jury indicted Paxton on charges of securities fraud and failure to register with the state as an investment adviser representative.
The cases were moved to Harris County in 2017, when the prosecutors argued they would not be able to hold a fair trial in Collin County.
In his Friday decision, Luong, the judge who ordered the change of venue, did not have the authority to do so because his assignment to the court had already expired when he issued the ruling.
The cases have been on and off since then, as the two sides continue to fight over the proper venue, appropriate judge and how much the prosecutors should be paid. Luong’s decision to move the cases back will likely further delay any potential trial date.
Dan Cogell, another member of Paxton’s defense team, mentioned the case’s long history in a statement Friday, noting the cases have been pending longer than Donald Trump has been president.
The decision to move the cases back to Collin County is a huge win for Paxton, who has lived and worked there for decades, during an especially difficult time for the attorney general.
Earlier this month, several of his top employees accused Paxton of new criminal acts — including bribery, abuse of office and improper influence — for allegedly using his office to help a friend and donor. And on Friday, Paxton’s agency announced his mother had died.
If found guilty, Paxton could face two to 10 years in prison for the third-degree felony and five to 99 years for each of the first-degree felonies, as well as fines.
Paxton pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, saying the fraud allegations were a partisan attack by former state Rep. Byron Cook, whom, despite being a fellow Republican, Paxton once called a “political adversary.”
Paxton successfully fought federal civil fraud charges arising from these same allegations twice. He was re-elected attorney general in 2018.