DALLAS (CN) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s relentless pursuit for a new judge in his criminal securities fraud case may have succeeded Tuesday, when an appeals court found the trial judge lost jurisdiction when he moved the case from suburban Dallas to Houston.
A three-judge panel with the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas granted Paxton’s petition for writ of mandamus vacating all orders signed by state District Judge George Gallagher after his April 11 order transferring venue from Collin County to Harris County.
The appeals court did not explicitly remove Gallagher from the case, however, injecting more uncertainty in the 2-year-old case.
Paxton was charged in 2015 with a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the Texas Securities Board and two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud. He faces up to 99 years in state prison if convicted.
He is accused of failing to tell investors in McKinney-based tech firm Servergy that he would earn commissions on their money, and of lying to them that he was investing in the company. The alleged crimes took place while he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Gallagher, a trial judge from Tarrant County, was assigned to the case after a Collin County judge recused himself. Gallagher has ruled against Paxton since, rejecting four applications for habeas corpus and six motions to quash in December 2015.
In granting special prosecutors’ request to change venue in April, Gallagher apparently was persuaded that Paxton’s legal team had launched a “crusade” to taint the Collin County jury pool.
Paxton was originally set to go to trial in Collin County in May on the failure to register charge before being tried separately on the securities fraud charges. His first trial was rescheduled for September in Harris County after the venue change, but the Fifth Court’s order vacates that date.
Paxton has tried to get a new judge at least four times since the venue change. Gallagher rejected Paxton’s first request for a new trial judge on April 17.
Two weeks later, Paxton asked Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniels to randomly assign a Harris County judge. He then asked the head of the First Administrative Judicial Region in Dallas to remove Gallagher. Judge Mary Murphy declined, saying she lacks the power to do so and that the trial and appellate courts have jurisdiction.