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Texas Attorney General Brings Budget Wish List to Legislature

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked state senators Wednesday to approve a budget for his agency with funding to hire experts for antitrust litigation against Google, and defended his challenge of the presidential election results of four battleground states.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked state senators Wednesday to approve a budget for his agency with funding to hire experts for antitrust litigation against Google, and defended his challenge of the presidential election results of four battleground states.

In October, Paxton asked for $1.26 billion for his office for the next two years. The Texas Senate Finance Committee recently unveiled a draft budget that would allocate $1.17 billion, $89 million less than what Paxton asked for.

The Legislature meets every other year, so it approves budgets for two-year cycles.

Paxton, a Republican, told the committee that over his six years as attorney general, the agency has recovered almost $1.2 billion for Texas' general fund through legal actions, while saving taxpayers billions of dollars by defending against many multimillion-dollar lawsuits.

"Today is it is litigating over 38,000 cases, which is a lot of cases per lawyer," he said of his 7,500 staff attorneys.

None are more important to Paxton than a federal antitrust case Texas, joined by nine other states, filed against Google in December alleging the company has too much control over digital ad sales.

"I think it will be the largest antitrust case in the history of the world…Almost every state is suing Google, the Department of Justice is suing Google," he said. "I believe our case is the most significant. It has the best chance of being successful, and I believe it will ultimately provide significant revenue in the billions to the state Texas. So we are asking that you guys consider funding that."

Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said in its last couple sessions the Legislature gave Paxton funding to hire well-paid "rock star lawyers" who developed deep institutional knowledge.

"Would you agree we came through for you and a lot of them are gone now?" she asked.

Paxton fired seven senior attorneys after they asked the FBI last year to investigate him, accusing him of abuse of office and bribery over his appointment of a special prosecutor to subpoena adversaries of an Austin real estate developer who donated $25,000 to Paxton's reelection campaign in 2018.

The FBI is now investigating the corruption accusations. It subpoenaed Paxton in December.

Paxton told Huffman he had replaced those lawyers with even better ones and called Texas First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster to the podium to explain why they want funding for the Google case.

Webster said their agency has five in-house antitrust attorneys, none of whom are litigators, compared to the 300 attorneys in the Justice Department's antitrust division. "We needed to bring in outside lawyers to take on this complicated litigation," he said.

If those outside counsel are working on a contingency basis and Texas wins, Huffman said, that could cost the state billions of dollars in fees.

But Webster said the two firms they hired, the Lanier Law Firm of Houston and the Washington firm Keller Lenkler, are not working under a traditional contingency-fee deal. They will only be paid for the hours they work on the case and their fees are capped at $11,000 or less, Webster said.

"Google is going to spend $100 million on experts...We think we need $20 million on experts to go to trial in this case," Webster said.

The Texas Capitol building in Austin. (Photo by Kim Broomhall from Pixabay via Courthouse News)

Paxton has sued the federal government more than 15 times since he took office in January 2015, a role he relishes, tweeting in mid-January he plans to "serve as a major check against” against the “lawlessness” of President Joe Biden’s administration.

True to his word, less than a week into Biden's presidency, Texas sued the United States and Department of Homeland Security officials, winning an injunction Jan. 26 that blocked DHS from placing a 100-day moratorium on deportations.

After Biden signed an executive order halting new drilling leases on federal land and offshore waters, Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed all state agencies to use every tool at their disposal to challenge federal actions that threaten the state's oil and gas industry.

Paxton told the finance committee he expects he will also be suing the federal government over such energy regulations because they affect the revenue of Texas and jobs.

Senator Royce West, D-Dallas, asked Paxton about a lawsuit he filed on behalf of Texas in December at the U.S. Supreme Court, urging it to toss out the election results of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, states whose votes were pivotal to Biden's victory.

West asked what the state's interest was in filing that lawsuit.

"We felt voters of Texans were disenfranchised because other states did not follow the rules," Paxton said, noting that 18 other states joined Texas in the challenge, which the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed for lack of standing, though two justices said they would have allowed the court to hear the case.

West said he is fine with Paxton going after Google and other companies whose practices affect Texans.

"But when we begin to contest what other states have done specifically in elections, which are always partisan, it gives me great concern of whether or not taxpayer dollars are spent prudently," West said.

Webster told the committee the attorney general's office only spent $12,000 on printing costs for the election case, though several of Paxton's senior staff, and Paxton himself, devoted many hours to the case, time they did not document.

Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, pressed Paxton on why he went to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and gave a short speech in support of former President Donald Trump's claims the election was stolen from him.

After dozens of Trump supporters stormed past police into the U.S. Capitol and stopped Congress' Electoral College vote count, in a melee that left five people dead, Paxton claimed the rioters had been confirmed as members of the far-left group Antifa.

Paxton testified Wednesday he and his wife left after the speeches.

"We went to eat lunch and people did what they did," he said.

He said he had come to Washington to meet with White House staff on Jan. 7 about a change to Medicaid funding by the Trump administration that would have cost Texas $24 billion had he not convinced them to nix it.

The testimony comes one day after the Houston Chronicle said top state Republican officials should ask Paxton to resign, or the Legislature should impeach him, in an editorial comparing him to a pollutant that "should be scrubbed from the Office of Attorney General with the thoroughness one applies to disinfecting any other contaminated surface."

Under indictment on securities fraud charges since 2015, his first year as the state's top law enforcement officer, Paxton's trial has been delayed by disputes over fees for special prosecutors assigned to the case and their efforts to move it from Paxton's hometown, the Dallas suburb McKinney, to Houston.

The charges stem from Paxton's tenure in the Texas House and his sale of shares to his friends and fellow Republican state lawmakers.

A Collin County grand jury indicted him in June 2015, claiming he sold shares in the technology firm Servergy without disclosing it was paying him commissions.

Paxton won reelection in 2018, beating back a challenge from a Democrat who tried to make hay of Paxton's indictment. He's up for reelection again in 2022.

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