After weeks of trading barbs in legal filings, defense attorneys and prosecutors in the case against Ken Paxton, Texas' first sitting attorney general in more than three decades to face criminal indictment, will head back to court Tuesday.
Paxton's numerous pretrial motions to dismiss the charges against him preview the arguments his attorneys will probably make in court this week—primarily that a “vindictive” Republican judge made such grave procedural errors in handling Paxton's case that the AG's three felony indictments should be tossed. But, as the Houston Chronicle reports, a whole other matter could “throw a wrench into the proceedings”: Paxton doesn't want to be filmed inside the courtroom.
Paxton's attorneys first objected to cameras in the courtroom this summer, when Paxton first stood before state District Judge George Gallagher to plead not guilty to three indictments for felony violations of state securities laws. Gallagher, a judge in Tarrant County, was appointed to the case after another judge recused himself.
In arguing for Gallagher to ban cameras from Paxton's court hearings, the AG's lawyers noted that Collin County judges typically don't allow cameras in their courtrooms. As the Austin-American Statesman reported back in August, Gallagher in response "firmly told the attorney general that he will decide how his court functions."
By mid-November, Gallagher had set rules allowing for one TV camera and one still camera inside the courtroom during Paxton's proceedings; all other electronic devices, including laptops, audio recorders and cell phones, would still be banned under the judge's order.
But Paxton's lawyers apparently plan to broach the issue again during this week's pretrial hearing, which is expected to last two days. As the Chron's Lauren McGaughy reports:
"We had objected, as you'll recall, after the arraignment to the use of cameras in the courtroom, and we continue to object," Bill Mateja, one of Paxton's attorneys, told the Chronicle on Monday. "Our understanding is that Collin County local rules are that cameras are not allowed in the courtroom. There is an exception with the parties' consent, and we have not consented."
When asked if he expected the issue to impact Tuesday's hearing, Mateja answered, "I don't know. Truthfully, I have not heard anything." When asked what the Paxton team would do if they entered the courtroom Tuesday and a camera was present, Mateja added, "I'm not going to comment any further. We'll take that up if that situation arises."
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The quibbling over TV cameras seems to fit with the rest of Paxton's defense strategy to attack the system that indicted him, while largely sidestepping the serious allegations at the heart of his case—that he failed to register with the state securities board and that he duped a fellow Republican lawmaker and another businessman into putting money into a North Texas tech company that's now under investigation for lying to investors (prosecutors claim Paxton didn’t disclose the company was paying him to solicit investors).
Judge Gallagher was appointed to Paxton's case only after state District Court Judge Chris Oldner, who oversaw that grand jury proceedings in the case, recused himself after the indictments were announced. Paxton's motions to dismiss the charges against him over the past month hint at why Oldner might be itching to distance himself from the Paxton mess. In his attempt to quash the indictments, Paxton saved most of his venom for Oldner, accusing the judge of leaking information about the sealed indictments to his wife (in his filings, Paxton included text messages between Oldner’s wife and a county commissioner gossiping about the case) and even of somehow angling to get the high-profile case assigned to his courtroom.
Special prosecutors on the case, in a series of acerbic responses filed in court over the past month, have called Paxton's defense a “Grassy Knoll-like conspiracy” that comes dangerously close to accusing a sitting judge of criminal misconduct without the slightest evidence.
Needless to say, this week's court hearing could be very entertaining—provided it's all caught on camera.