Texas' attorney general defiant as fraud case back in court

AP News
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Posted: May 12, 2016 4:11 PM
Texas' attorney general defiant as fraud case back in court

DALLAS (AP) — Texas' attorney general fought Thursday to stop his indictment on securities fraud from ending his political career, first by urging an appeals court to dismiss the charges, then by trying to close party ranks at the state Republican convention just blocks away.

Attorney General Ken Paxton arrived at the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas Thursday with more defiance and outspokenness than in any previous court appearance. Paxton had taken the unusual step of releasing a four-minute video on the eve of his appeal, blaming the felony charges on political enemies and vowing to stay in office.

Paxton has spent most of his 17 months in office under indictment, accused of defrauding wealthy investors before he became the state's top prosecutor by not telling them he was being paid to steer their money toward a high-tech startup called Servergy Inc. The video was the most Paxton has publicly addressed the case. More of the same is expected Saturday, when his speech to Republican powerbrokers at the party convention immediately follows the headliner — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who will be making his first big appearance since ending his presidential run.

"I want you to hear directly from me unfiltered by liberal reporters, spin doctors and political opponents. These charges are false, and I will prevail against them in court," Paxton said in the video.

Paxton has pleaded not guilty and faces five to 99 years in prison if convicted.

About a dozen supporters made the short walk from the Republican convention to the courthouse, where Paxton sat in the gallery with his wife while his attorneys argued that the grand jury that indicted him was improperly picked. Paxton's defense team has been newly encouraged since another appeals court in February dismissed a criminal case against former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was charged with abuse of power.

Paxton attorney Bill Mateja said the Perry case shows how appellate judges can deservingly clear charges before costly trials get underway. But the special prosecutors in Paxton's case bristled at the comparison.

"It's not Rick Perry. It's Ken Paxton. We have the law and the facts on our side," special prosecutor Brian Wice said.

Paxton's appeal largely boils down to his claims that a judge in his hometown of McKinney improperly asked for volunteers in a room of about 80 prospective grand jurors, and narrowed down the panel from there. Mateja told the court that prevented the grand jury from truly being randomly selected, but several justices challenged that argument.

Wice also rebutted speculation that the grand jury was itching to indict from the start. "In Collin County, (Paxton's) hometown, they could have volunteered with an eye for deflecting," Wice said.

Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Republicans have been silent on Paxton since his indictment last summer.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber