Attorneys for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an appeal on New Year’s Eve, challenging a judge’s decision that the criminal case against him should proceed.
In a motion filed back in November, Paxton’s attorneys attempted to have the securities fraud charges against him tossed out based on alleged judicial misconduct.
On Dec. 11, 2015, Judge George Gallagher of Tarrant County denied the motion to dismiss the grand jury’s felony indictments accusing Paxton of securities fraud and neglecting to register as an investment advisor.
The judicial misconduct raised in the motion stemmed from allegations against State District Judge Chris Oldner, who oversaw the grand jury that indicted Paxton last summer. The motion alleged that the grand jury was impaneled incorrectly, that Oldner improperly entered the grand jury room while it was in session, and leaked secret grand jury information to his wife. Oldner recused himself from the case without explanation just before the indictments were made public.
As the attorney general continues to fight the felony charges against him, his future in politics is uncertain at this point, according to Mark Jones, a political scientist and professor at Rice University.
“Certainly the charges are a cloud hanging over Attorney General Paxton at this time, which is one of the reasons he has been working relatively hard to get the case dismissed. But what happens when, or if the case goes to trial, will have a major impact on any potential reelection in 2018.”
Jones explained that, typically, winning a first reelection is not something an attorney general is overly concerned about.
“Normally, you would expect that an incumbent attorney general would not have to worry all that much about facing a serious primary challenge in 2018 for his first reelection. But in Paxton’s case, the indictments have cast a cloud over his potential reelection,” Jones said.
The political analyst stressed that a great deal of Paxton’s fate as attorney general has to do with whether he is convicted or exonerated.
“If he’s exonerated, then it’s unlikely to cause him too much trouble in the Republican primary. On the other hand, if he’s convicted, he may very well not run because of it,” Jones said.
“It’s important to distinguish that there are 3 separate charges, and one of them he already admitted to – the one about not registering as an investment advisor. So if that’s the only one he is formally convicted of, it’s going to be less damaging than the first two. If he’s convicted on the other two, he’s probably looking at resignation -- or there would at least be very strong pressure on him to resign,” Jones explained.
Texas law make it a felony to act as an investment advisor without registering with the state. Paxton admitted to violating the law during the Republican primary and was fined $1000.
“In general, right now, everyone is pretty much taking a wait-and-see option – that is, almost all Republicans have taken the position of, ‘Let’s let the justice system work this out and we will reevaluate when the jury has made its decision,’” he said.
Though there may be some that question Paxton’s competence as attorney general, it’s important to keep things in perspective, Jones said.
“This is something that predated his time as attorney general. But it’s certainly not a positive. There’s no way to spin it into a positive -- it’s a negative. The only question remaining is: is it sufficiently negative that it dooms any possibility of reelection before it starts, or if he does run for reelection, [does] it weaken his bid such that another Republican would be able to beat him in the primary,” he said.
Jones said that he believes Paxton would not be in the legal battle he is in if he weren’t serving in the state’s top legal office.
“Without question, this would not have been filed,” Jones said when asked if Paxton’s position played a role in his legal woes. “If Ken Paxton was not the attorney general but just a random lawyer from the Metroplex, it’s very unlikely that these charges would have ever been filed by a prosecutor. What [politics does] is it raises your profile and results in greater scrutiny. Had he not been running for higher office, it’s likely this would have just disappeared into the ether if it ever would have been raised at all,” Jones said.