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Government/Politics

Attorney General Paxton’s Legal Challenges Grow As Prosecutors Prepare A Grand Jury Case

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Ryan E. Poppe
Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General

McKinney, just northeast of Dallas, is the county seat of Collin County.  It’s where rock-rib Republicans elected Ken Paxton to the Texas House and Senate. It was his home base as Texans elected him as attorney general last fall.

Collin County is also where Paxton admitted to advising clients to purchase stock from an investment firm without telling them he’d earn commissions when they invested.  Paxton admitted soliciting clients without filing the proper registration papers with the state, and the State Securities Board fined Paxton $1,000 last year. 

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Craig McDonald, Executive Director for the non-profit Texans For Public Justice

The civil matter became a criminal case when Craig McDonald, executive director for the non-profit Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint with the state’s public integrity unit.

“If you know someone recommends a hot deal, you might act differently if you knew that that person who was recommending a financial investment to you was getting 30 percent of it. So a pretty clear cut consumer protection law and he violated and he admitted he violated because he was disciplined by the state securities board,” McDonald said.

The Collin County district attorney declined to investigate possible criminal charges.  He eventually recused himself from the case and a district state judge assigned it to the Texas Rangers and two special prosecutors.

The prosecutors, who are Republicans like Paxton have said they will pursue a first-degree felony charge which would carry a fine of up to $10,000 and a possible sentence of life in prison. 

Anthony Holm is Paxton’s spokesman.  He calls the criminal proceedings a political hit job.

“This appears to be a politically motivated effort to ruin the career of a longtime public servant. The Texas State Securities Board, the Travis and Dallas District Attorney’s office all reviewed this matter and not one of them pursued a criminal action, not one of those three,” Holm reiterated.

All three of those government offices, say they referred the case back to Collin County because that’s where the violations allegedly occurred.

Now, while the grand jury in Paxton’s home county prepares to hear that case, other events have made the target on the Attorney General’s back a little bigger.

In Austin, a group of 150 lawyers have filed a letter with the State Bar of Texas, asking the legal organization to disbar Paxton- take away his law license.  

And Paxton’s name has surfaced in a federal investigation of McKinney-based Servergy.  The Associated Press reports Paxton is an investor in the company which is being questioned about defrauding investors by making false claims about its technical abilities.

Professor Stephanie Stevens helps oversee the Criminal Justice Clinic at St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio. She says Paxton’s legal problems are especially challenging when you’ve been elected to be the state’s top lawyer.

“The indictment itself doesn’t mean that he is guilty, the problem that comes into play I think is how much time will he have to take away from his job to defend himself, certainly we have to worry about what is the appearance of our chief legal officer being indicted for, not just a criminal offense, but a criminal offense that is fraud and dishonesty,” Stevens explained.

Stevens says if Paxton were to lose his law license, he wouldn’t automatically be forced to give up his job as attorney general.

“Strangely enough, our Texas constitution doesn’t actually require that the attorney general be a licensed attorney. Although practically speaking, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could function in the role as attorney general and not be a licensed attorney,” Stevens pointed out.

Star Bar officials say any consideration of disbarment would be a long way off.  The outcome of the grand jury hearing will come much sooner.

Special prosecutors handling Paxton’s criminal case say they will begin presenting evidence to a Collin County Grand Jury in the next two to three weeks.