Defunding the Paxton Case
Court guts pay for special prosecutors trying AG for fraud
Just before we all sat down for our Thanksgiving feasts, a Texas court granted our embattled attorney general a near-guarantee that the ongoing criminal case against him will move at a glacial pace, or even wither away completely. On Wednesday, Nov. 21, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the $300/hour payment to the three special prosecutors in the case, appointed by the original Collin County trial judge, violates both local guidelines and Texas state law. "Here, the trial court exceeded its authority by issuing an order for payment of fees that is not in accordance with an approved fee schedule containing reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum rates," the CCA majority opinion holds. If they can't get paid, the prosecutors have said, they may withdraw, putting the future of the case in limbo. (The plaintiff in this case, the Collin County Commissioners Court, wants to pay the attorneys – who stepped in when D.A. Greg Willis, a friend of Paxton's, recused himself – $1,000 total for their pretrial work, for which they've invoiced nearly half a million dollars.)
Paxton's path toward trial on felony counts of securities fraud has been stalled since December 2017 as courts sorted out the attorney-pay issue. And the CCA's opinion may have implications beyond the Paxton case, by limiting trial courts' ability to appoint experienced attorneys for more complicated cases. "The Court's decision today will likely affect an overwhelming number of criminal cases in Texas and will possibly result in even more claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for indigent defendants," CCA Justice Elsa Alcala wrote in her dissent. The appeals court ruling follows Paxton's narrow re-election victory against Democrat Justin Nelson, who continually skewered the A.G. for his legal woes.