Texas AG Demands New Judge in Criminal Trial

HOUSTON (CN) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a district clerk this week to assign a new judge to his criminal case to replace the presiding judge who declined to recuse himself, arguing a replacement is required by law.

State District Judge George Gallagher has aggravated Paxton and his defense team since 2015 when a Collin County grand jury charged Paxton with failing to register with the Texas Securities Board and securities fraud, both felonies, while he was a Texas state representative.

The grand jury indicted Paxton six months after he took office as Texas’ top law enforcement officer. If convicted, he could face up to 99 years in prison and substantial fines.

Paxton’s attorneys hand-delivered a letter to Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel in Houston on Monday, asking Daniel to randomly assign a new state judge, as the clerk would for any new criminal case in Harris County.

The letter says that state law mandates if a change of venue is ordered in a criminal case, the judge issuing that order can continue presiding only with the consent of prosecutors, the defendant and their defense attorney.

“By this letter, Paxton respectfully advises the Harris County District Clerk … that he has not and will not give the statutorily-required written consent under Article 31.09 to allow the Honorable George Gallagher or his court staff to continue to preside over the matter in Harris County,” the letter states.

Daniel’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday morning to a message asking if he will grant Paxton’s request for a new judge, which Paxton’s lawyers say in the letter is “mandated by statute.”

From the start, Gallagher has been noncompliant with Paxton’s efforts to make the charges go away.

Gallagher has denied 10 dismissal motions from Paxton, who argued the charges were unconstitutionally vague and the grand jury was improperly paneled.

The judge has also consistently sided with prosecutors in pretrial motions in the case. In February he granted prosecutors’ request to hold two separate trials: first to try Paxton on the failure to register charge, then on the securities fraud charges.

Paxton’s first trial was set for May 1 before it was moved to Sept. 11. It is expected to last two weeks.

Gallagher cited convenience for moving the trial to Harris County, noting that special prosecutors Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer and Nicole DeBorde and defense attorney Dan Cogdell are all based in Houston, Harris County’s seat.

Paxton is accused of failing to tell investors in McKinney, Texas-based technology firm Servergy that he would earn commissions on their money, and of lying to them that he was investing in the company himself, while he was in the Texas House of Representatives.

Paxton has approached his job as attorney general with fervor as if the criminal charges dogging him don’t exist.

He sued former President Barack Obama’s administration 17 times and scored some major victories. He stopped Obama’s executive actions to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation, to force public schools to accommodate transgender students, and to make more workers eligible for overtime pay.

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