McKINNEY, Texas (CN) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday dared special prosecutors to drop their criminal case against him, saying their request to delay his May 1 trial until they are paid violates his right to a speedy trial.
Special prosecutors Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer and Nicole DeBorde, all of Houston, filed a motion for continuance in Collin County Court on March 9, saying they have been working on the case for more than 14 months without pay.
They have been paid roughly half of the $500,000 they requested. Paxton’s filing compares their requests to the shouts of actor Cuba Gooding Jr. of “show me the money” in his is Academy Award-winning role in “Jerry Maguire.”
“Their request for continuance on the sole basis that they, as state employees, have not been paid their asking price of thirty pieces of silver is as offensive to the conscience as it is irrelevant to our proceedings,” Paxton’s response to the motion states.
“Never before has a Texas prosecutor submitted a bill to the county he or she serves for over $500,000 for a single case. Never before has a Texas prosecutor’s payment for a single case been so outrageous as to be stayed by the Court of Appeals.”
The prosecutors said “it would be manifestly unfair, unjust, and unconscionable” for the court to expect them to work for free.
Their pay became an issue when Paxton supporter Jeff Blackard sued Collin County for the second time in January, calling their bill for pretrial work an “illegal expenditure” of taxpayer money.
The Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas temporarily blocked payments pending its final ruling. Blackard’s first lawsuit on the matter was tossed in December.
The prosecutors are asking the trial court to reset the May 1 trial, to begin 60 days after the Fifth Court issues its ruling. They blame Blackard for trying to kill the criminal case against Paxton by defunding it.
“Blackard is now one appellate court ruling away from doing what the state believes no one before him has ever done: shutting down a lawfully constituted criminal prosecution by cutting off funding to the special prosecutors,” their motion states.
Paxton was charged by a Collin County grand jury 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.
He is accused of failing to tell investors in McKinney-based technology firm Servergy that he would earn commissions on their money, and of lying to them that he was investing in the company, while he was in the Texas House of Representatives.
Paxton will first go to trial on the failure to register charge on May 1. He will be tried later on the securities fraud charges. He says the request for delay should be rejected because he is entitled to his “prompt day” in court, even as a holder of political office.
“Paxton has endured eighteen months of public attacks, political backlash, and cries for blood from those politically opposed to him,” his response states. “He has been forced to attend meetings with counsel, pretrial hearings, and countless phone conferences, all while doing his duty representing the citizens of Texas as their attorney general.”
Paxton claims that even if the Fifth Court rules in the prosecutors’ favor in the spring, the parties could appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, which might “take an unpredictable amount of time” to rule.
“In sum, the fee litigation could go on for months while Paxton’s criminal case remains stagnant,” the response states. “Whether the attorneys pro tem will prepare for trial during the interim or withdraw in the face of an adverse ruling remains unanswered.”
Paxton says the prosecutors’ request for a delay contradicts statements they made that Blackard’s lawsuit would not stop the criminal case. He also cited an earlier case that Schaffer and DeBorde were appointed to prosecute in Harris County, where they purportedly submitted their bill after the conclusion of the case.
The prosecutors said Monday they accepted Collin County’s offer to be special prosecutors in the case. “But the defense argues that Collin County should not have to honor its agreement by paying us for the work we’ve performed,” they said in a statement. “It speaks volumes that not one of the ten high-priced lawyers Mr. Paxton has hired can remember what they learned the first semester of law school in contracts.”
Paxton is represented by Dan Cogdell, of Houston, and William Mateja, with Polsinelli in Dallas.