Criminal Justice

Texas AG Ken Paxton makes deal to avoid felony securities trial

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) speaks to reporters on Feb. 26 in Washington after oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether Florida and Texas social media laws can stand. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), a conservative firebrand acquitted last year in a historic impeachment trial, has reached an agreement with prosecutors to avoid trial on long-standing state felony securities fraud charges.

Paxton was charged nearly a decade ago, accused of defrauding investors at a Dallas-area tech company by not disclosing that he was paid by the company to recruit them. The case has been delayed for years by pretrial disputes over the trial’s location and special prosecutors’ fees.

Under the agreement reached in Harris County District Court on Tuesday, prosecutors will dismiss felony charges against Paxton if he successfully completes 100 hours of community service and 15 hours of legal ethics classes and pays restitution of $271,000 by September. Paxton, who was a state legislator when some of the alleged actions occurred, had previously pleaded not guilty.

Paxton, 61, did not have to formally enter a plea or testify Tuesday. (He also declined to testify during his impeachment trial.) He had faced up to 99 years in prison if convicted, as well as disqualification from holding state office.

Paxton bypassed reporters as he left the courthouse, but his attorney Dan Cogdell said Paxton “is more than happy to comply with that agreement,” which he emphasized was “not a plea bargain.”

“This is not an admission of guilt because he is not guilty,” said Cogdell, who said the legal case was pursued because of Paxton’s role as attorney general. “This was a case that we believe in fact we knew from the beginning they could not prove.”

Special prosecutor Brian Wice, Collin County district attorney pro tem, defended the agreement. “Justice was certainly delayed,” he said, but “justice was not denied.”

Wice said that Paxton was treated as any other defendant would have been and that the agreement “sends a message that you’re not going to be treated any differently.”

“Our primary duty is to do justice and not to convict,” Wice said. “So the question is not who won, but was justice served? And I believe that it was.”

Special prosecutors had been working with Paxton’s attorneys in recent weeks to resolve the charges before an April 15 trial date.

Paxton also had faced U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges, but those were dismissed by a federal judge in 2017.

He still faces an FBI investigation into accusations of corruption related to a wealthy donor, which figured in his impeachment trial. Paxton also is fighting efforts by former aides to compel him to testify in a state whistleblower lawsuit that includes allegations that triggered his impeachment by the Texas House.

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