Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Reaches Deal to Avoid Criminal Trial

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Nearly nine years after his indictment on charges of felony security fraud, Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, reached a deal with prosecutors on Tuesday to avoid a criminal trial that had been set to begin next month.

The deal, announced by the prosecutors and lawyers for Mr. Paxton during a hearing in Houston, does not involve any admission of guilt but requires Mr. Paxton to pay nearly $300,000 in restitution, take legal ethics classes and perform 100 hours of community service.

At the hearing, the judge in the case, Andrea Beall, asked questions but observed that the agreement had been made between the parties and the court could not block it.

“No judge can force a prosecutor to present evidence or call witnesses,” Judge Beall said. “This court does not have any say in this contract,” she added, before asking Mr. Paxton, who sat silently in the courtroom, if the signature on the document was his.

“Yes it is,” Mr. Paxton replied.

For Mr. Paxton, a three-term Republican incumbent, the agreement amounted to another victory over opponents who have long hoped that his legal troubles would lead to his political undoing. Last year, Mr. Paxton survived an impeachment by fellow Republicans in the Texas House over separate accusations of corruption and abuse of power made by his former top aides at the attorney general’s office.

A lawyer for Mr. Paxton, Dan Cogdell, said on Tuesday that the attorney general was glad to put the securities fraud case behind him. He underscored that the agreement was not a “plea bargain” and did not represent any admission of wrongdoing on Mr. Paxton’s part.

“He didn’t plead; there is no admission of guilt,” said Mr. Cogdell during a news conference after the hearing. “There will never be an admission of guilt because he’s not guilty.”

The deal appeared to put an end to a nearly decade-long legal saga that has seen the case delayed repeatedly, moved between Texas counties and ultimately set for a trial in Houston — far from Mr. Paxton’s home turf of Collin County, north of Dallas, where a grand jury handed up an indictment in 2015 and where Mr. Paxton has deep political ties.

The charges, which include two counts of felony securities fraud, stemmed from actions by Mr. Paxton when he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives, before his election as attorney general.

Mr. Paxton was accused of misleading investors in 2011 into putting money into a Dallas-area technology company without disclosing to them that he was making a commission on their investments. The investors included Mr. Paxton’s friends and a fellow state representative at the time. Mr. Paxton was also charged with failing to register with the state securities board.

Some of the accusations hung over Mr. Paxton’s first run for attorney general in 2014. But he was not indicted until several months into his first term as the state’s top lawyer.

Because of his political ties, the local district attorney in Collin County recused himself and appointed a pair of special prosecutors. The case languished for years as Mr. Paxton’s lawyers fought over the proper venue for a trial and the level of pay for the special prosecutors.

One of the special prosecutors, Brian Wice, said in an interview that the deal announced on Tuesday was “the fair, right and just thing for both sides.”

“The question wasn’t whether anyone was going to win,” Mr. Wice added. “The question was whether we had honored our oath to seek justice, and that’s what we believe that we did.”

Supporters of Mr. Paxton, including the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, celebrated the deal on Tuesday. Mr. Patrick presided over the trial by the Republican-dominated Texas Senate that acquitted Mr. Paxton after his impeachment.

“This bears a striking similarity to the impeachment debacle,” Mr. Patrick said in a statement. “The political hit squad in the Texas House failed again in their persecution of Ken Paxton.”

Mr. Cogdell, the lawyer for Mr. Paxton, also represented the attorney general during the impeachment trial and said that both proceedings were motivated by politics.

“They were shots fired from different grassy knolls,” Mr. Cogdell said in an interview. “He would not have been charged but for the politics of it.”

Mr. Cogdell added that he believed Mr. Paxton would have been acquitted of the securities fraud charges but accepted the deal because of the uncertainty of a jury trial.

Mr. Paxton has 18 months to complete the terms of the deal. Failure to fulfill them could result in a resumption of the criminal case. If that were to happen, there would be no more delays, Judge Beall said, and she would set a “very speedy trial.”


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