AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Three attorneys prosecuting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on securities fraud charges asked the state’s highest criminal court Tuesday to reinstate their $199,000 bill for their pretrial work on the case.
Collin County commissioners approved the special prosecutors’ first bill of $242,000 for the case in January 2016.
Collin County’s seat, McKinney, is 30 miles north of Dallas.
But the commissioners, the county’s executive board, refused to pay the prosecutors’ second $199,000 bill in January, and asked the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas to vacate state judge George Gallagher’s order directing the county to do so.
In siding with the commissioners, the appellate court found that Collin County’s state judges had exceeded their authority under Texas law by allowing judges to deviate from a fee schedule they set for payment of appointed attorneys.
The county’s local rule states: “The judge presiding over a case may authorize payment to appointed counsel that varies from the fee schedule in unusual circumstances.”
But the appellate court stuck to a strict adherence to the county’s fee schedule, which calls for “a fixed fee of $1,000 for pre-trial preparation, and a fixed fee of $500 for each one-half day of trial” for felony cases.
The special prosecutors, Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer, and Nicole DeBorde, all of Houston, filed a mandamus petition on Tuesday, asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate the order so they can collect the $199,000.
They say that if left in place, the order will make it hard for state judges to find attorneys to take on cases for fees much lower than their normal hourly rates.
Criminal cases are typically handled by a county’s district attorney, but Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis recused himself after a Collin County grand jury indicted Paxton in July 2015, because he is a college friend and business associate of Paxton’s.
“Left unchecked, the court of appeals’ decision divesting trial judges of the discretion to control their dockets will have a chilling effect on their ability to appoint competent advocates willing to take on the most complex criminal cases,” the prosecutors’ Tuesday petition states.
“Its decision will also have a chilling effect on trial judges across Texas, inhibiting their ability to appoint competent attorneys pro tem willing to take on the most complex, prosecutions against public officials on shoestring budgets.”
Paxton, 54, faces two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the securities board. The charges date back to 2011, when Paxton was a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
He is accused of failing to tell investors in the tech firm Servergy that he would earn commissions on their money and of lying to them that he was investing in the company.
Paxton is set for trial on Dec. 11 in Houston on the failure-to-register charge.
Gallagher moved Paxton’s trial to Houston from Collin County, where Paxton lives, finding it would be more convenient for attorneys on both sides because many of them live in Houston.
If convicted of all charges, Paxton could be sentenced to up to 99 years in state prison.