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Paxton defense team seeks dismissal of articles of impeachment

In the latest development in the impeachment trial of suspended Texas AG Ken Paxton, lawyers representing him argue charges stemming from alleged misconduct that occurred prior to this year should be dismissed.

AUSTIN, TX (CN) — Suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal team filed a motion Monday to dismiss 19 of the 20 articles of impeachment against him. 

In their motion, the defense argues that a rule known as the “prior-term doctrine” prevents Paxton from being permanently removed from office for violations that occurred before his most recent election.

“The prior-term doctrine provides a necessary safeguard to the Legislature’s awesome impeachment power by affirming the authority of ‘the public, as the ultimate judge and jury,’” the motion read. 

Outlined in the Texas Government Code, Chapter 665.081 states, ​​” An officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer's election to office.” It is through this provision that the lawyers seek to nullify a majority of the articles of impeachment against Paxton.

Supporting their argument, the defense team recalls the impeachment of Col. W.L. McGaughey, a land commissioner, in 1893.

“This court expressly held that ‘[b]ecause it affirmatively appear[ed] on the face’ of the articles that certain allegations occurred on ‘a day and time prior to the commencement of [McGaughey’s] present term in office… they constitute no grounds for his impeachment and removal from the office he now holds,’” Paxton's team wrote.

Similar to the position Paxton now finds himself in, the prior-term doctrine was raised in the 1917 impeachment of Governor James E. Ferguson. He raised a motion to strike four of the 21 articles of impeachment against him. 

His efforts were unsuccessful, and Ferguson was later removed from office, but Paxton’s defense team believes that is no indication that their motion will have a similar outcome. They reason that the doctrine did not apply is because the allegations against Ferguson were for an ongoing crime, whereas the allegations against Paxton are not.

Additionally, the defense contends that Paxton’s alleged misconduct has been well documented, going back to his first term as the state’s top cop in 2015. And despite the public’s knowledge of these allegations, they have chosen Paxton to represent the state of Texas for now three consecutive terms.

Paxton was impeached by the Texas House in late May on a bipartisan vote of 121-23. Members of the House were allied to vote on the 20 articles of impeachment as a whole, not individually. 

The allegations against Paxton include abuse of office, accepting bribes and embezzlement. If the motion is sustained, Article 8 would be the only remaining article of impeachment against him. 

Article 8 says Paxton “misused his official powers by concealing his wrongful acts in connection with whistleblower complaints made by employees whom [he] had terminated.”

After the employees went to federal investigators to report Paxton for using his office to benefit his friend and campaign contributor Nate Paul and accepting bribes from him, they claim they were retaliated against. This year, Paxton moved to settle the lawsuit for $3.3 million which he asked the Legislature to cover, sparking a House Investigating Committee to open an inquiry into Paxton’s dealings and thus sparking the impeachment proceedings. 

According to Article 8, Paxton sought to settle the whistleblower lawsuit against him to delay discovery and prevent key facts about the case from becoming known to voters. 

In June, the Senate adopted its rules for the proceeding. For Paxton to be removed from office, Senators will only have to sustain one of the articles of impeachment. The rules also answered a key question: what role will Paxton’s wife, State Senator Angela Paxton, have? As a member of the upper chamber, she will be required to sit and view the proceedings but may not take part in any votes, deliberations or the asking of questions. 

Under the rules adopted by the Senators, pretrial motions will be taken up on the first day of the trial. 

The Texas Senate’s Impeachment trial is set to begin on Sept. 5. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Angela Colmenero as interim attorney general during Paxton’s suspension. Colmenero replaced John Scott, who served in the role as interim attorney general from May 31 to July 14. Before naming her as interim AG, Colmenero served as Abbott’s deputy chief of staff.

Both the defense and prosecution teams have been placed under a strict gag order, prohibiting them from speaking about the case and evidence. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick issued the order on July 17, following statements made by both sides that he believed “pose[d] a serious and imminent threat to [Paxton’s] right to a fair trial.”

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