Politics

How Will Attorney General Paxton Pay For His Criminal Defense?

Texas’ top law enforcement officer is already racking up legal bills as he fights to avoid trial on securities fraud charges.

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portrait of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

State Attorney General Ken Paxton is hardly the first elected official in Texas history to face criminal charges. The most recent high-profile case involved former Gov. Rick Perry, who was charged with abusing his office, a charge that was later dropped.

Buck Wood, a partner in the Austin law firm of Ray & Wood, says Texas law is straightforward on how elected officials can pay for their defense.

"Under most circumstances, they can use their campaign funds," Wood says. "But Paxton's out of luck, because it can only be used if you're indicted for something related to your official duties, and this has absolutely nothing to do with his official duties. This is, it's like he went out and stuck up a 7-Eleven or something, you know."

Paxton is facing a three-count indictment, alleging he defrauded investors in a high-tech start-up while he was serving as a state representative.

How about raising private donations? That's the question that came before the Texas Ethics Commission in February.

"For the attorney general to go out and solicit donations to pay for his personal criminal defense expenses creates a huge conflict of interest between the donor and the Office of the Attorney General," says Craig McDonald, who testified at the hearing. McDonald heads Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning non-profit group that tracks the influence of money in state politics.

The ethics commission voted 4-to-3 that such donations are not allowed. Dallas-based appellate lawyer Chad Ruback says that ruling is advisory, but he says Paxton would be taking a big risk if he disregards it.

Without access to private donations, there's no real way Paxton can put together a legal defense fund in order to pay his bills. That doesn't leave the attorney general with a lot of choices.

"We believe his most viable option is that he has to pay for them out of his own pocket," says Texas Public Justice's Craig McDonald. Depending on how long the case against Paxton drags on, that could become very expensive indeed.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect quote from a source stating the Texas Ethics Commission has the legal authority to vote to remove an elected official from office. In fact, the Texas Ethics Commission does not have that authority. We regret the error.

 

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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