TX appeals court weighing whether state bar can discipline Ken Paxton for challenging 2020 election

Texas appeals court weighing whether state bar can discipline Ken Paxton for challenging 2020 presidential election

By Joshua Fechter

The Texas Tribune

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Whether the Texas State Bar can take away Attorney General Ken Paxton's law license could hinge on whether appellate justices believe the organization is trying to control what lawsuits he files on the state's behalf — or whether the group has the jurisdiction to punish him for pushing false theories in a lawsuit over the 2020 presidential election.

Lawyers for Paxton argued before a three-justice panel of the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals on Wednesday that the bar overstepped its bounds when it sued the attorney general last year for professional misconduct. A disciplinary committee for the State Bar of Texas, the organization that regulates law licenses in this state, alleged the attorney general made “dishonest” representations in a widely condemned lawsuit — quickly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court — that tried to throw out election results from former President Donald Trump’s 2020 loss in four battleground states.

Paxton’s lawyers argue that, by suing him, the bar is “attempting to control the Attorney General's decision going forward about what types of lawsuits to file, and what kinds of legal theories to pursue,” Lanora C. Pettit, principal deputy solicitor general, told justices Wednesday.

That argument drew skepticism from Justice Erin Nowell.

“That’s a big leap,” Nowell said.

Paxton’s unsuccessful attempt to intervene in four other states’ elections leaned heavily on discredited claims of election fraud in those swing states.

The Texas bar has argued its conduct rules for lawyers apply to Paxton, too.

“The underlying attorney discipline case here is about ethics,” Michael Graham, an attorney representing the state bar, told justices. “The substantive questions at the heart of that attorney discipline case, like any other, have nothing to do with politics or anything else. They have everything to do with whether an attorney is engaged in professional misconduct and, if so, what's the appropriate disciplinary sanction for that misconduct?”

A Collin County judge hasn’t ruled on the merits of the case but sided with the bar earlier this year when he ruled the group has the ability to sue — a decision Paxton quickly appealed. The appeals court is weighing whether to reverse the lower court's ruling, but did not rule Wednesday.

The bar’s actions raise questions about whether any elected official who is also a lawyer could have their law license threatened if a member of the public doesn’t agree with them, Justice Emily Miskel said — with which Graham disagreed.

“General Paxton, for instance, has been Attorney General for almost a decade now, and to my knowledge, there's not a raft of complaints or attorney disciplinary actions against him for filing suits,” Graham said.

But there might be if the bar is successful, Miskel said.

“If it's effective, then everybody should (file a grievance against) any elected official who happens to be a lawyer because it's a great way to get a second bite at the apple of a policy decision you don't like,” Miskel said.

That may be the case, Graham said, but such a complaint would still have to pass muster with the bar.

If the bar prevails, Paxton could face punishment anywhere from a reprimand to full disbarment and the loss of his law license.

The bar’s attempt to discipline Paxton is among several legal battles he’s waging. The Texas Senate acquitted Paxton in September on 16 articles of impeachment alleging bribery and corruption. But Paxton is expected to go to trial in April on state securities fraud charges eight years after he was first indicted on those charges.

He also faces a federal investigation into claims by former top staffers that he abused his office to help Austin real estate magnate Nate Paul, a friend and donor — claims that formed the basis of impeachment allegations against the attorney general. And on Tuesday, a Burnet County judge said those former employees’ lawsuit against the attorney general could proceed.

Disclosure: The State Bar of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

The businessman at the center of Ken Paxton’s impeachment charged with new federal crimes

By Zach Despart 

The Texas Tribune

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Nate Paul, the Austin real estate investor whose relationship with Attorney General Ken Paxton was central to his September impeachment trial, was charged with new crimes by federal prosecutors on Wednesday.

The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas filed an amended indictment charging Paul, 36, with four counts of wire fraud related to allegations that he lied to business partners who invested in real estate with his company, World Class Holdings, and its affiliates.

They are in addition to the eight felony counts prosecutors filed in June, which allege that Paul provided false information to financial institutions in order to obtain loans to purchase properties.

Paul’s attorney, David Gerger, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Paul’s trial is scheduled for July of 2024.

Neither of the indictments mention Paxton, who was acquitted by the Texas Senate of 16 articles of impeachment in September.

Paul and Paxton met sometime before 2020, though the origins of their friendship remain unclear. Seven former senior aides to Paxton reported the attorney general to the FBI in September 2020, concerned that his friendship with Paul included corruption and bribery.

They alleged that Paxton abused his office by helping Paul investigate and harass business rivals, delay foreclosure sales of his properties and procure confidential records on the police investigating him.

During this time, Paul’s business empire — which he once told a reporter was worth $1 billion — was faltering. In 2020 alone, 18 of Paul’s properties filed for bankruptcy.

The claims of the whistleblowers, who either quit within weeks of their report or were fired by Paxton, became the basis of the Texas House’s vote in May to impeach Paxton. The House members leading investigation argued that in return for those favors, Paul paid to renovate Paxton’s home and helped him pursue and cover up an extramarital affair with a former Senate staffer.

During the impeachment trial, whistleblowers testified they believed Paul to be a criminal and were concerned that Paxton was essentially turning the keys of the office over to him.

In the new filing, prosecutors said Paul repeatedly misled partners about how he was using partnership funds, a deception furthered by overstating the balances of partnership accounts.

“During his career in commercial real estate, Paul has repeatedly engaged in deception to persuade individuals and organizations to entrust money to him, and he has used the money to enrich himself and expand the commercial real estate businesses that he controls,” the indictment states.

The indictment lists six businesses as victims; three in Texas and one each in Florida, Colorado and North Carolina. The government is seeking to seize $172 million and any properties connected to Paul’s alleged criminal conduct.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-delayed securities fraud trial set

By Patrick Svitek 

The Texas Tribune

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-delayed trial on securities fraud charges has been set for April 15.

State District Judge Andrea Beall scheduled the trial during a hearing Monday morning in Houston. Paxton attended the hearing but did not speak at it.

Paxton was indicted on the charges over eight years ago, months into his first term as the state’s top law enforcement official. The charges stem from accusations that in 2011 he tried to solicit investors in a McKinney technology company without disclosing that it was paying him to promote its stock. Paxton has pleaded not guilty.

The trial is a reminder that Paxton's legal problems persist even after the Texas Senate acquitted him last month in an impeachment trial on unrelated allegations. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presided over that trial and has faced intense criticism for taking $3 million from a pro-Paxton group in the lead-up to the trial.

"Unlike the impeachment, this is going to be a fair trial," special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told reporters after the hearing. "This judge is not corrupt. This judge is not on the take."

The hearing was brief and did not settle one lingering pretrial issue: how much the special prosecutors should get paid. The judge also scheduled a February pretrial conference.

Paxton's lawyer Philip Hilder told reporters his side was "gratified" with the trial date and criticized the special prosecutors for their focus on their pay.

"It's show-me-the-money," Hilder said. "It's all about the money to them."

The prosecutors say they have not been paid since January 2016. A Paxton supporter filed a lawsuit challenging their fee schedule in the early months of the case, and both sides have been wrangling over the issue ever since.

The trial has been delayed for years over a number of pretrial disputes, including the prosecutors' pay and the venue. The case began in Paxton’s native Collin County but was moved to more neutral territory in Harris County at the prosecution’s urging.

Paxton faces two counts of securities fraud, a first-degree felony with a punishment of up to 99 years in prison. Paxton also faces one count of failing to register with state securities regulators, a third-degree felony with a maximum of 10 years in prison.

The impeachment trial centered on different allegations of bribery and malfeasance made by former top deputies in his office. When the House impeached Paxton in May, it included multiple articles of impeachment related to the securities case, but the Senate set those aside for the trial and dismissed them afterward.

While the prosecutors emphasized they expect a fairer trial than the one the Senate conducted, Hilder declined to draw any comparisons. The impeachment trial "was unrelated to what we're defending against," Hilder said.

The impeachment articles focused on allegations that Paxton misused his office to help his friend investigate claims that he was being targeted by federal and local law enforcement, in exchange for favors that included giving a job to a woman with whom he was having an affair.

While the Senate's acquittal was a political triumph for the third-term Republican, Paxton still has significant legal issues. In addition to the securities fraud case, he faces a federal investigation into the claims by his former top staffers, who allege he abused his office to help a friend and donor, Nate Paul.

In the securities fraud case, the prosecutors' pay may be the last major pending issue before the trial. In 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals struck down the fee agreement, arguing that it fell outside legal limits for what such attorneys may be paid. The court ordered a previous Harris County judge overseeing the case to come up with a new payment schedule, but that never happened and the prosecutors have continued to go unpaid.

During the hearing Monday, Paxton lawyer Bill Mateja sought to propose an order addressing the pay issue from his side's perspective. But Beall repeatedly said she would decide on her own.

The judge did not indicate when she would make a ruling on the pay, according to one of the prosecutors, Brian Wice.

Wice said Paxton's lawyers are so focused on their pay because they have known "the only way to derail this prosecution was to defund it." Wice said he is owed "a lot" and Schaffer estimated he has "500 unpaid hours" dating back to 2016.

The prosecutors have previously raised the possibility they could withdraw from the case if they are not paid. Asked about that Monday, Schaffer said "we have to see what happens," while Wice promised he is "not going anywhere."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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Ken Paxton was acquitted at his impeachment trial, but he still faces legal troubles

For years, the powers and protections that come with being Texas’ top lawyer have helped Ken Paxton fend off ethics complains, criminal charges and an FBI investigation.

With the Texas Senate’s Saturday vote to acquit Paxton of corruption charges at his impeachment trial the Republican has once again demonstrated his rare political resilience. And he retains the shield of the attorney general's office in legal battles still to come.

After being cleared, Paxton, 60, thanked his lawyers for “exposing the absurdity” of the “false allegations” against him, and he promised to resume doing legal battle with the administration of President Joe Biden.

"The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt," he said in a statement. “Now that this shameful process is over, my work to defend our constitutional rights will resume.”

Back in office, Paxton nonetheless still faces serious risk on three fronts: an ongoing a federal investigation into the same allegations that led to his impeachment; a disciplinary proceeding over his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election; and felony securities fraud charges dating to 2015.

Here's what to know about each.


Paxton came under FBI investigation in 2020 when eight of his top deputies reported him for allegedly breaking the law to help a wealthy donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

The former deputies' accusation that Paxton abused his power to help Paul were at the core of Paxton's impeachment. Lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives say it was the still-open question of funding a $3.3 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by four of the deputies that sparked the impeachment investigation.

Several of Paxton's former deputies took the witness stand against him. They recounted going to the FBI and testified that the attorney general tried to help Paul fend of a separate FBI investigation

They also testified that Paul employed a woman with whom Paxton had an extramarital affair. Another former employee, Drew Wicker, said Paxton second-in-command later discouraged him from speaking with the FBI.

Paul was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks. He has pleaded not guilty and was not called to testify at the impeachment trial.

The federal investigation of Paxton has dragged on for years and was shifted in February from a prosecutors in Texas to ones in Washington, D.C. In August, federal prosecutors began using a grand jury in San Antonio to examine Paxton and Paul's dealings, according to two people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules around grand jury proceedings.

One said the grand jury heard from Wicker, Paxton’s former personal aide. At the impeachment trial, Wicker testified that he once heard a contractor tell Paxton he would need to check with “Nate” about the cost of renovations to the attorney general’s Austin home.

Paxton has consistently denied wrongdoing. One of his defense attorneys, Dan Cogdell, acknowledged in August that authorities were still interviewing witnesses but said the “case will go nowhere at the end of the day.”


In 2015, Paxton was indicted on charges of defrauding investors in a Dallas-area tech startup by not disclosing he was being paid by the company, called Servergy, to recruit them. He faces five to 99 years in prison if convicted and has pleaded not guilty.

The indictments were handed up just months after Paxton was sworn in as attorney general. He won second and third terms despite them.

Paxton's trial has been delayed by legal debate over whether it should be heard in the Dallas area or Houston, changes in which judge would handle it and a protracted battle over how much the special prosecutors should get paid.

Weeks after the Republican-led Texas House voted to impeach Paxton, the state's high criminal court ruled his trial would proceed in Houston. The judge overseeing it said in August that she would set a trial date after the impeachment trial.

Cogdell said that month that if Paxton were removed from office it would open the possibility of him making a plea agreement in the case.


Also on hold during Paxton's impeachment trial was an ethics case brought by the state bar.

In 2020, Paxton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to, effectively, overturn then-President Donald Trump's electoral defeat by Joe Biden based on bogus claims of fraud. The high court threw out the request.

Afterward, the State Bar of Texas received a series of complaints alleging that Paxton and a deputy had committed processional misconduct with the suit. The bar didn't initially take up the complaints but later launched an investigation.

Last year, the bar sued seeking unspecified discipline for Paxton and his second-in-command, alleging they were “dishonest" with the Supreme Court.

Paxton dismissed the bar's suits as “meritless” political attacks. The attorney general's office has argued that because it is an executive branch agency and the bar is part of the judicial branch, the cases run afoul of separation of powers under the state constitution.

A judge overseeing the bar's case against the deputy, Brent Webster, accepted this argument. But he was reversed on appeal in July. That month, another court scheduled arguments in the disciplinary case against Paxton only to delay them when it became clear they would fall in the middle of his impeachment trial.

The attorney general's office continued to defend Paxton in the case even after he was suspended from office. If he's found to have violated ethics rules, Paxton faces the prospect of disbarment, suspension, or a lesser punishments.

In Texas, Ken Paxton legal team works to invalidate every article of impeachment before trial

By Robert Downen The Texas Tribune

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Attorneys for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a flurry of motions over the weekend that seek to dismiss additional articles of impeachment, arguing that the allegations are baseless or fall under the legitimate duties of the attorney general’s office.

In the documents, filed before Saturday’s deadline for pretrial motions and made public Monday, Paxton’s attorneys routinely accused House impeachment managers of using “any means necessary” to “overturn the will of voters” who elected Paxton last year.

Paxton’s team also downplayed the severity of the accusations against him — including those surrounding his firing of whistleblowers from his office who reported him to law enforcement for alleged bribery — and argued that many of the claims are without merit or do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.

In addition to challenging individual articles, Paxton’s lawyers filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing all 20 articles of impeachment that were approved 121-23 by the House in May, arguing that the accusations are unsupported by evidence.

The House impeachment managers have until Aug. 15 to respond in writing to all pretrial motions. Paxton’s impeachment trial, with 30 Texas senators acting as jurors, is set to begin Sept. 5.

Combined with earlier filings, the latest pretrial motions set up a dramatic confrontation in the early moments of Paxton’s trial — a series of votes by senators on whether to eliminate some or all of the articles of impeachment before evidence can be presented. A majority of senators — 16 — can approve dismissal of an article, placing an early test on the determination of the chamber’s 19 Republicans to allow a trial on the allegations.

If all articles were to be dismissed, the impeachment trial would be over before it began. If any article survives, the trial would move to opening statements by lawyers for the House impeachment managers. Paxton’s lawyers could deliver their opening statements immediately afterward or defer until later in the trial.

The new filings are the latest in which Paxton’s team, led by Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, has sought to have articles tossed.

Last week, Paxton’s team filed two motions to dismiss 19 of the 20 articles of impeachment, arguing that all but one — Article 8 — ran afoul of the “prior-term doctrine,” which they said bars officials from being impeached for conduct that predates their most recent election. They argued that almost all of the allegations outlined by House investigators were known to voters when they reelected him to his third six-year term in 2022.

But while those filings attacked the impeachment articles on procedural grounds, the new flurry of motions individually addressed the merits of the allegations against Paxton. The lawyers also sought to dismiss Article 8, which deals with Paxton’s request that the Legislature finance his $3.3 million lawsuit settlement with the whistleblowers — a request that prompted the initial House investigation into him earlier this year.

In its filing, Paxton’s team framed the lawsuit settlement as a “money-saving agreement” of “ordinary employment litigation.” It also accused the House of having “done violence to our democracy” by attempting to impeach Paxton over what it described as a “routine” function of his job.

The new filings also hint at Paxton’s potential defense strategy for allegations involving Nate Paul, a political donor and Austin real estate investor who was arrested in June on federal felony charges of lying to financial institutions to secure business loans. House investigators accused Paxton of misusing his office to help Paul’s business and to interfere with criminal investigations into Paul’s activities. In return, investigators alleged, Paul paid to remodel Paxton’s Austin home and hired a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair.

In the filing, Paxton’s team downplayed the relationship with Paul and argued that there was no evidence that Paxton formed “an illegal agreement” to help Paul in exchange for a benefit — a “quid pro quo” required under state bribery laws.

“As they stand, the Articles allege nothing more than that the Attorney General had a personal relationship with a constituent and that the constituent found something the Attorney General did to be agreeable in some way,” Paxton’s attorneys wrote. “If that is enough to amount to a bribe, scarcely any elected official is innocent of the House’s notion of bribery.“

On the other side of the legal fight, House impeachment managers filed a motion Saturday requesting clarity on several Senate-approved trial rules. They asked that cross-examination not count toward the 24 hours allotted to each side to present evidence; that both sides exchange “all documents, photographs or other materials expected to be used at trial” by Aug. 22; and that House managers be allowed to use their wireless mobile devices while on the Senate floor during the trial.

Disclosure: Tony Buzbee has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been impeached

Just hours after Donald Trump threatened Texas Republicans on impeaching their own attorney General, claiming he would “fight” anyone who did so…

… and despite his own threats …

NEW: Texas AG Ken Paxton has personally called House members while on the floor threatening them with political retribution if they vote in favor of impeachment, Rep. Charlie Geren announced on the House floor.

— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) May 27, 2023

… the decidedly not “Radical Left Democrats” and “RINOS” Texas House voted overwhelmingly to do the right thing. 

Breaking: Texas House votes to impeach @KenPaxtonTX, 121-23 #txlege

— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) May 27, 2023

This makes Paxton the first Texas statewide official to be impeached since 1917. He faces 20 charges. Unlike federal impeachment, a Texas impeachment immediately suspends the official from all official duties.

The Texas Senate will now hold a trial. Two-thirds is required to permanently remove  and bar him from future office.