HOUSTON (AP) — A judge on Thursday ordered that the felony securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton be returned to his home county in North Texas.
State District Judge Robert Johnson in Houston agreed with a July 18 motion filed by Paxton's attorneys that pointed out that the assignment of state District Judge George Gallagher, a Tarrant County judge, to Paxton's case in Collin County had expired before he ordered Paxton's case moved to Harris County.
Johnson voided the change-of-venue order and returned the case to Collin County, a conservative suburban Dallas county that is Paxton's home.
Special prosecutors assigned to Paxton's case had argued they were unlikely to find an impartial jury in Collin County. In opposing Paxton's motion to void the change of venue, the prosecutors argued that the state's 5th Court of Appeals had rejected the contention that Gallagher was not authorized to order a move. The appeals court ruled Gallagher's authority extended until he ordered the case moved in April 2017.
“The only thing more wrong than the judge’s ruling is that it took him almost a year to make it. We’re confident the court of appeals will set it aside and keep venue in Harris County where it belongs," said special prosecutor Brian Wice.
There was no immediate comment from Paxton or his legal team.
Paxton, who would face five to 99 years in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty. Even though re-elected in 2018, he has spent the bulk of his five years in office under an indictment that accuses him of improperly steering investors toward a tech startup without disclosing that he was being paid by the company.
A civil fraud case filed against Paxton by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was dismissed in March 2017.