Texas AG Paxton Fights to Oust Judge in His Criminal Case

DALLAS (CN) — A persistent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked for removal of the judge overseeing his criminal securities fraud case – his third such attempt since his trial was moved in April from his home in suburban Dallas to Houston.

Paxton, 54, a Republican from McKinney, filed a motion with Judge Mary Murphy, who presides over the First Administrative Judicial Region in Dallas. Murphy oversees administration rules and advises state judges for a 34-county region in North Texas.

Paxton opposes state District Judge George Gallagher’s “continued participation and rulings” in his case because Gallagher’s appointment to the administrative judicial region ended on Dec. 31, 2016. He wants the case moved back to the 416th District Court in Collin County due to the Gallagher’s “expired assignment,” according to court records.

Judge Murphy quickly rejected Paxton’s motion Thursday morning, saying she “does not have that power” to remove Gallagher. She said the matter is instead within the jurisdiction of the trial and appellate courts and that the case is still with the 416th District Court.

“Assignment of a judge to a case does not deprive other judges who have jurisdiction from hearing the case, unless the judge is recused or disqualified,” she wrote in an email message. “It does not appear that any party has requested the sitting judge of the 416th District Court to hear any matters in this case.”

Gallagher has overseen Paxton’s criminal case since 2015. Originally a Tarrant County judge, Gallagher was assigned to the Collin County case after state District Judge Chris Oldner recused himself due to his previous ties to Paxton.

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. If convicted, 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, and of doing so while he was in the Texas House of Representatives.

Paxton was originally scheduled go to trial in Collin County this month on the failure to register charge before being tried separately on the securities fraud charges. His first trial is now scheduled to begin in September in Harris County.

Gallagher irritated Paxton’s attorneys in February when he granted prosecutors’ request for two separate trials. He then moved the trial in April, apparently persuaded by prosecutors’ arguments that Paxton’s team had launched a “crusade” to taint the Collin County jury pool.

He cited convenience for moving the trial, noting that special prosecutors Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer and Nicole DeBorde and defense attorney Dan Cogdell are all based in Houston.

Gallagher rejected Paxton’s first request in April to recuse himself and assign the case to a Harris County judge.

Paxton then asked Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel to randomly assign a local judge to the case, as he would for a new criminal case.

Gallagher on Wednesday declined to comment on Paxton’s latest filing.

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