Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who faces an impeachment trial next month, appeared in a Houston court on Thursday to answer for separate criminal securities fraud charges that have been pending for years.
Other than Judge Andrea Beall setting the next hearing date for Oct. 6, no significant decisions were made during the brief meeting.
Both sides agreed to wait for the outcome of Paxton’s upcoming impeachment trial, which is scheduled to kick off Sept. 5, before setting possible trial dates in the fraud cases. They agreed that the outcome of the impeachment trial, as well as an ongoing FBI investigation into alleged corrupt acts perpetrated by Paxton, will affect the outcome of these cases.
“It’s too early to tell. But logically, if he’s impeached in the Senate, he would have greater motivation to resolve this case because his political career, one would think, would be dead,” said Dan Cogdell, who is defending Paxton in both the impeachment trial and fraud cases.
“Dismissal? Settlement? Resolution? who knows,” Cogdell added.
This was the first time Paxton has appeared in court regarding these cases for years. The cases date back to 2015, when a Collin County grand jury indicted him on multiple felony charges for allegedly defrauding investors in a McKinney technology company and for failing to register with state securities regulators.
The suspended attorney general entered and exited the courtroom through a backdoor, avoiding the press, and was accompanied by about a dozen security officers. His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was not present.
After the hearing, both Paxton’s lawyers and the special prosecutors held brief press conferences in which they separately agreed that the outcome of his upcoming impeachment trial will substantially affect these cases. If the Texas Senate votes to remove him from office, then Paxton will have more of a reason to draw up a plea bargain with the prosecutors, they said.
Any federal charges against Paxton will also affect this case, according to the special prosecutors hired to present the case against the attorney general. The FBI is investigating Paxton for allegedly abusing his office to help a campaign donor, which are the corruption accusations that also form the core of the 20 articles of impeachment against him.
“If in fact the feds indict him, on some level we may become footnotes,” said special prosecutor Brian Wice. “That’s going to take center stage, and that could ultimately relegate this to a second act.”
A federal case would be even worse for Paxton if he gets indicted because it’s all very recent behavior, special prosecutor Kent Schaffer added.
“It deals with abuse of office,” he said of the FBI investigation. “Our office originated before Paxton was even attorney general.”
Cogdell said: “History would teach us that if the feds are going to prosecute an individual, the state will step down and step aside.”
Their remarks underscored the possible consequences facing Paxton, one of the nation’s best known state attorneys general. After years under a cloud of lawsuits, Paxton could find out in the next few months whether he gets to keep his elected office, his license to practice law and even his freedom.
In addition to the securities fraud cases, impeachment trial and FBI corruption investigation, Paxton is being sued by a disciplinary committee of the State Bar of Texas for his role in challenging the 2020 presidential election results.
Paxton has denied any wrongdoing, and characterized his legal problems as partisan attacks. He has asked for his articles of impeachment to be dismissed.