Judge Rejects Texas Ag Ken Paxton's Request To Throw Out Nearly Decade-Old Criminal Charges

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, leaves the 185th District Court after a hearing in his securities fraud case, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at the Harris County criminal courthouse in Houston.  A judge on Friday rejected Paxton’s attempts to throw out felony securities fraud charges that have shadowed the Republican for nearly a decade. (Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, leaves the 185th District Court after a hearing in his securities fraud case, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at the Harris County criminal courthouse in Houston. A judge on Friday rejected Paxton’s attempts to throw out felony securities fraud charges that have shadowed the Republican for nearly a decade. (Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP)
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HOUSTON (AP) — A judge on Friday rejected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ’s attempts to throw out felony securities fraud charges that have shadowed the Republican for nearly a decade.

The decision by state District Judge Andrea Beall, an elected Democrat, keeps Paxton on track for an April 15 trial on charges that he duped investors in a tech startup.

If convicted, Paxton faces up to 99 years in prison. Paxton, who has pleaded not guilty, appeared in the Houston courtroom for the hearing, sitting at the defense table with his attorneys.

“He’s ready for trial … This thing has been pending for eight years. (The special prosecutors) want to dance. Put on your shoes. It’s time to go. Let’s dance,” Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s attorneys, told reporters after Friday’s court hearing.

Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors handling the case, said it was important that Paxton’s case go to trial because “no one is above the law. And that includes Ken Paxton. And that’s why this case matters.”

During Friday’s hearing, the other special prosecutor in the case, Kent Schaffer, announced he was withdrawing ahead of the trial.

After the hearing, Wice said the two prosecutors parted ways after disagreeing over Schaffer’s push to avoid a trial and instead settle the case through pre-trial intervention.

Wice said Schaffer had recently reached out to Cogdell with the offer for pretrial intervention, which is like probation and would ultimately lead to the dismissal of charges if a defendant stays out of legal trouble.

Wice said he doesn’t believe pretrial intervention would have been appropriate because there would be no admission of guilt and no jail time.

“And without an acknowledgment of guilt, to me, that was worse than a slap on the wrist. That was, gee, let’s get you a cocktail, a hot meal, and breath mint. And that wasn’t going to happen on my watch,” Wice said.

Cogdell said Schaffer had reached out to him about the proposal and he would have been happy to resolve the case without a trial and a dismissal of the charges.

Schaffer did not immediately reply to a call seeking comment on Friday.

Wice said another Houston lawyer, Jed Silverman, will take Schaffer’s place.

Paxton did not address the court as his legal team argued that a long trial delay since he was first indicted in 2015 violated his right to a speedy trial.

Paxton is charged with defrauding investors in a Dallas-area tech company called Servergy by not disclosing that he was being paid by the company to recruit them.

The case has been delayed for years with pretrial disputes over whether to hold the trial in the Dallas area or Houston, and payment for the state’s special prosecutors, who have contended they have not been consistently paid in the case.

During the hearing, Cogdell argued Paxton should not have his rights violated because of the payment dispute. He added Wice and Schaffer were not suffering financially, pointing out that Wice drives a Mercedes and Schaffer drives a Rolls Royce.

“It’s a Bentley,” Schaffer responded.

Wice argued most of the delays were caused by Paxton’s side and that his attorneys had never previously raised the issue of a speedy trial violation. Wice said that since the 2015 indictment, Paxton has been “living his best life” as he’s twice been reelected and has bought millions of dollars in real estate.

The criminal charges are among the myriad legal troubles that have long dogged Paxton over his three terms as one of the nation’s highest-profile state attorneys general. He was acquitted last year during a historic impeachment trial in the Texas Senate over accusations that he misused his office to help a wealthy donor.

The 61-year-old Paxton has shown remarkable political resilience, maintaining and growing strong support among GOP activists on the state and national level, including from former President Donald Trump.

Paxton still faces legal troubles. A federal investigation has been probing some of the same charges presented in his impeachment.

He is also fighting efforts by former top aides to make him testify in a whistleblower civil lawsuit that also includes allegations central to the impeachment.

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Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report from Austin.

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