Paxton lawyer says August too soon for Texas impeachment trial

Tribune Content Agency

FORT WORTH, Texas — A lawyer for impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday that the official’s trial in the Senate could drag on for months.

The state Senate is expected to convene as a court of impeachment by Aug. 28. Senators are scheduled to meet June 20 to consider rules for the proceedings.

Tony Buzbee, a Houston attorney, said if the Senate wants to have a “real trial,” there’s a lot of work to be done between now and August. He called the indictment an engineered “sham.”

“And if it takes us a year to show that, then we’ll take a year to do it,” Buzbee said. “And to suggest that we can have a trial in August, I would suggest if we are going to have a real trial, if we’re really going to have a trial, it’s going to take a lot longer than that. I would also suggest that if we’re going to have a real trial, we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and this August or maybe next August.“

It’s not clear how the proceedings could be delayed. Asked what mechanism he has during a Wednesday news conference at the Texas Republican Party of Texas headquarters, Buzbee said the defense team would find out when they see the Senate’s rules for the trial.

His preference is that the matter be tossed out before going to trial.

“No court of law in this country would even consider, but if you decide to consider it should be thrown out in a one-page motion,” Buzbee said, addressing the Senate.

Buzbee is known for representing former Gov. Rick Perry in a criminal case and more recently victims of the deadly crowd rush at the Astroworld Festival Travis Scott concert. Also representing Paxton is Houston attorney Dan Cogdell, who is handling a pending criminal case.

Several Texas Attorney General Office staff members have taken a leave of absence to aid in the proceedings, conservative news website The Daily Wire first reported.

“Paxton is innocent of these accusations,” Cogdell said Wednesday. “Let’s not let that get lost in the weeds. He is absolutely 100% innocent of the accusation.”

The House’s impeachment managers have announced that Houston attorneys Dick Deguerin and Rusty Hardin will prosecute the case.

“This is not about punishing Mr. Paxton. It’s about protecting the public, protecting the citizens of Texas,” DeGuerin said during a June 1 news conference.

In a Wednesday interview, DeGuerin said he expects the trial to last two or three weeks, but it will depend on the procedures set by the Senate.

“Given that the entire Senate sits as the jurors, I would expect that the Senate simply cannot devote the amount of time that Tony Buzbee claimed it would take,” he said.

DeGuerin added that several of the impeachment articles are related, where evidence could be presented at the same time.

The Texas House on May 27 voted to send 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton to the Senate for trial. The articles include disregard of official duty, false statements in public records, constitutional bribery, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and attempted conspiracy, misapplication of public resources, misappropriation of public resources, dereliction of duty, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust.

Several of the articles deal with claims that Paxton abused his office to aid a campaign contributor, real estate investor Nate Paul. Four former employees filed a related whistleblower lawsuit. The House General Investigating Committee began its probe into the attorney general after Paxton agreed to settle the whistleblower suit with more than $3 million in taxpayer dollars. The funds are subject to legislative approval.

Some of the articles also stem back to Paxton’s pending securities fraud case. He was indicted in 2015, but has not gone to trial in the case.

Paxton’s attorneys on Wednesday reiterated concerns about the impeachment process in the House, including arguments that it lacked due process, relied on hearsay and criticisms that Paxton and his team weren’t able to provide a defense. Buzbee called the House proceedings a “hurried, secret, kangaroo court.”

“The speaker’s followers and himself thought that they could pull off what could only be described as a drive-by shooting on a holiday weekend to politically assassinate one of the leading conservative voices not only in Texas, but also in the United States,” Buzbee said.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan declined to comment.

They also disputed that Paul paid for kitchen renovations for Paxton, a claim in one of the articles, and that Paxton had caused delays in his criminal trial, obstructing justice, the subject of another article.

Responding to Paxton’s teams assertion that he’s innocent, DeGuerin said they haven’t yet seen the “very strong” evidence. The majority of House Republicans voting in favor of the impeachment articles shows that it wasn’t political, he said.

Both Republicans and Democrats reached by the Star-Telegram after the proceedings said they were not political in nature and that the evidence presented warranted a trial. Tarrant County Republicans Tony Tinderholt and Nate Schatzline were among those who voted against the impeachment resolutions, citing concerns with the process.

“It’s not about politics,” DeGuerin said. “It’s about principle.”

As for the House’s procedure for the impeachment proceedings, Buzbee said the House acts as a grand jury.

“Typically a grand jury hears what the prosecutor has to say and that’s it,” DeGuerin said. “It’s often and almost always simply reading of reports or hearsay.”

Investigators for the House General Investigating committee testified on their findings publicly ahead of the committee’s impeachment recommendation and vote.

“The accusations have been made,” DeGuerin said. “Now it’s time for the trial.”

The question of whether to convict is now in the Senate, where lawmakers will act as a jury of sort. As the proceedings continue, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tapped former Texas Secretary State John Scott of Fort Worth to serve as interim attorney general.

On the last day of the session, the House announced its impeachment managers, which include Fort Worth Republican Charlie Geren, and the Senate laid out a general timeline for the trial. Junction Republican Rep. Andrew Murr, one of the House impeachment managers and chair of the House General Investigating Committee, said he expects the proceedings will operate like a civil or criminal trial.

“The trial is understood to occur just as a civil or a criminal trial would lay out,” he said during a May 29 press conference. “You will see witnesses called, placed under oath, subject to both direct and cross examination. Rules of evidence are assumed to apply, and the parties through counsel would make arguments of counsel and objections.”

Lt. Gov. Patrick, president of the Texas Senate, has largely refrained from commenting on the Senate trial. One outstanding question is whether Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, will recuse herself from the proceedings.

During a Texas Public Policy Foundation event on May 30, Patrick described expectations for the proceedings that appeared to mirror Murr’s. Patrick said he anticipates witnesses will be called and the proceedings will operate like a “regular trial.”

At the end of the trial, once the facts are laid out, the senators will vote, he said.

“To all our friends in the media, don’t ask me any more questions because I can’t answer them,” Patrick said. “Look at me like a judge before a case and look at our senators like that.”

DeGuerin said he’s eager to know the rules for trial.

“We’ll play by the rules, and I think that once the light of day is shown on what General Paxton has done, a fair jury will convict him,” he said.

Buzbee said they’ve already identified 66 witnesses who will need to give sworn testimony.

“We’re going to stand, and we’re going to stand firm,” Buzbee said.