Ethics Charges Hurled|in Paxton Case Sidebar

     DALLAS (CN) – A Texas judge faces an ethics complaint for appearing on TV and criticizing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attorneys’ behavior in defending Paxton from criminal securities fraud charges.
     The ethics complaint accuses State District Judge Chris Oldner of violating several sections of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Aaron Harris, of North Richland Hills, filed the complaint on Jan. 11 with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
     Oldner recused himself in July last year after overseeing a Collin County grand jury that charged Paxton with two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the Texas State Securities Board. If convicted, Paxton could face up to life in state prison .
     In asking for the charges to be dismissed last month, Paxton’s attorneys blasted Oldner, saying he did not have the discretion to recuse jurors. They said that Oldner entered the grand jury room and “robbed this grand jury of randomness” by asking prospective jurors if they wanted to serve, and sending home those who declined.
     They also accused Oldner’s wife of disclosing the indictment to a county commissioner before it had been made public.
     Oldner defended days later on “Inside Texas Politics,” a talk show on ABC-affiliate WFAA-TV.
     His appearance was unusual in that judges rarely comment publicly on cases over which they presided.
     Harris said the judge’s comments about Paxton’s defense being “desperate” and making a “tapestry of false allegations” were unethical: that he “knew or should have known that the statement would have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing” Paxton’s case. Harris also questioned why Oldner waited so long to recuse himself, and that his contradictory statements on the recusal “convey at the least the appearance of impropriety.”
     Harris said Oldner stated in the interview that the Collin County district judges had agreed to recuse themselves from the case to have a judge from another county appointed, but that Oldner also said he recused himself to avoid the appearance of bias in Paxton’s favor because he had socialized with Paxton and contributed to his political campaign.
     “If this is true, then Judge Oldner’s belated and public claim regarding an alternative basis for recusal – the appearance of bias in favor of Paxton due to an alleged contribution and social contact – makes no sense, even if that basis were a legal grounds for recusal,” Harris said in his complaint.
     Oldner’s political campaign on Wednesday called the ethics complaint “completely without merit.”
     Oldner is a Republican candidate for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
     “It’s just another just another example of how dark-money special interest groups seek to bully and intimidate ethical, conservative judges who strictly follow the law,” Oldner’s campaign told The Dallas Morning News. “It has to be humiliating that they had to resort to a young, low-level political operative to do their bidding.”
     Harris responded that it is “very telling” that Oldner did not address the merits of his complaint.
     “I have no idea where he gets ‘dark money’ or anything like that,” Harris told the Morning News. “I’m not sure how a concerned citizen is a special interest group.”
     The Morning News described Harris as “a North Richland Hills politico who’s worked on anti-[school] bond efforts and other Tarrant County campaigns.”
     Harris, 35, a real estate investor, also managed the campaign of state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. Stickland, like Harris, believes the conservative Texas Legislature is not conservative enough, according to the Morning News.

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