Ken Paxton Gets New Judge, but Felony Trial Stays in Harris County

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has a new judge overseeing his criminal trial — but he may not like this one, either.

For months, Paxton has fought to get a new judge in his trial for securities fraud. Paxton was charged with three felonies in 2015 after he encouraged investors to pour more than $600,000 into a company without telling the investors he was being paid to do so. Paxton has argued he wasn't legally required to disclose the conflict of interest.

Last week Paxton succeeded in his push to have a new judge installed. After the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas ruled in April that Paxton could have a new judge, prosecutors tried to fight the ruling. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to hear that case last week — making the decision to give Paxton a new judge official.

Paxton may not like his new judge much better. His trial was previously overseen by Judge George Gallagher, a fellow Republican. Now it’s being handled by Houston judge Robert Johnson, a Democrat who ran for office on pledges to fix a “broken” criminal justice system.

But the worst part for Paxton isn’t the judge; it’s the location. Paxton has fought hard to keep the case in Collin County, where he previously served as a Texas state senator and where the company Servegy, for which Paxton was seeking investors, is based. But prosecutors complained that Paxton “cheerleaders” were tainting the jury pool and otherwise undermining the case.

Judge George Gallagher decided to move the case to Harris County in April. In a statement, Gallagher reasoned that Harris County was a good venue because that's where both the defense and the prosecution are based. Paxton's lawyers argued Gallagher was trying to rig the case by — well, actually, that isn’t clear.

Since Gallagher’s April decision, Paxton has been fighting to get a new judge. When Gallagher refused to leave the case, the dispute took a nasty turn. A flyer, accusing Gallagher of being “rigged against Texans,” showed up in the mail of some Houston-area residents.

“Gallagher has a long history of abuse & manipulation,” the flyer reads. “Now, he’s been busted trying to fix the Paxton trial.” The mailer contained selectively edited quotes from unrelated court opinions, which accused Gallagher of having “erred” or “abused” his power in previous, unspecified cases.

If found guilty, Paxton could face up to 99 years in prison. While his trial was scheduled to begin in September, he may get a new trial schedule to go with his new judge.

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