Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is fending off numerous legal challenges, some that have been percolating through the legal system since 2015 when he assumed the office of the state’s top law enforcement officer. The make-up of his defense teams — which are mostly male but do include two women — have varied case-to-case, but some attorneys have been retained in almost all of the lawsuits Paxton faces.
Here at The Texas Lawbook, we love a good roundup. Below is a breakdown of who has been hired in each of Paxton’s court battles.
Texas v. Paxton – Felony securities fraud
Since 2015, the year he was sworn into office, Paxton has been under indictment on three felony charges — two counts of first-degree felony securities fraud and one count of failing to register as an investment advisor, a third-degree felony.
The state alleges Paxton failed to tell investors he was being compensated for his work promoting stock in Severgy Inc., a computer hardware company that develops cloud-based data storage servers. He’s accused of selling two people — Florida businessman Joel Hochberg and then-member of the Texas House Byron Curtis Cook — more than $100,000 of stock in the company without disclosing his financial gain from the sale.
High-profile Houston criminal defense attorneys Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer were appointed as special prosecutors in the case.
Heated fights over dismissal bids, what the special prosecutors can be paid for their work and where the case can be litigated have delayed resolution.
This week, the state’s highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, handed the special prosecutors a win in a divided opinion, agreeing that the trial can take place in Harris County, where the case was transferred after a judge in Collin County agreed with concerns that the jury pool in Paxton’s home county could be tainted.
“We’re gratified but not surprised that the court recognized that this defendant must stand trial before a Harris County jury and a judge who will follow the law,” Wice said in a statement to The Lawbook.
The case will be returned to the 185th District Court in Harris County, where a judge who has not yet touched the case now presides over the bench — Andrea Beall, a Democrat and former prosecutor in the county.
Paxton is represented by Philip H. Hilder of Hilder & Associates, Dan Cogdell of Cogdell Law Firm, Michael Mowla of Dallas, Bill Mateja of Sheppard Mullin, J. Mitchell Little of Scheef & Stone and Heather J. Barbieri of Barbieri Law Firm.
The Harris County District Court case numbers are 1555100, 1555101, and 1555102.
SEC v. Paxton
This lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant in March 2017 on Paxton’s motion, but considering its relation to the still-pending state securities fraud charges, it’s been included in this roundup.
In this case, the federal government filed suit in April 2016 against William E. Mapp III, the co-founder and then-CEO of Severgy, its promoter, Caleb J. White, and Paxton, alleging violations of securities laws.
Paxton was accused of promoting Severgy’s stock without telling potential investors he was being compensated for that work. Judge Mazzant had to determine whether Paxton had a duty to disclose his compensation under federal securities laws. Judge Mazzant found there is no such duty under the law.
Judge Mazzant had conditionally granted Paxton’s motion to dismiss months earlier, in October 2016, but gave the government a chance to amend its complaint and try again.
“The question before the court is not whether Paxton should have disclosed his compensation arrangement but whether Paxton had a legal duty under federal securities law to disclose,” he wrote. “As alleged, Paxton’s conduct simply does not give rise to liability under the federal securities laws as they exist today. And it is not the province of the court to stretch federal securities laws beyond their scope to prescribe liability based on moral considerations or policy concerns.”
Paxton was represented by Matthew T. Martens, Alyssa DaCunha, Jaclyn Moyer and Kevin Gallagher of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr in Washington, D.C., J. Mitchell Little of Scheef & Stone and Bill Mateja of Sheppard Mullin.
The SEC was represented by Matthew Gulde, Samantha S. Martin and Timothy L. Evans of the SEC’s Fort Worth office and Jessica Magee of Holland & Knight in Dallas.
The case number is 4:16-cv-0246.
Calco Land Development v. Unity Resources
In December 2016, Calco Land Development filed suit against Unity Resources, Trade Rare, Cook and Hochberg, alleging securities fraud in connection with the purchase of mineral interests — a transaction facilitated by Unity.
Calco alleged Unity failed to make certain disclosures required under state law and received undisclosed profits for the deal at Calco’s expense by engaging in self-dealing.
Unity, Trade Rare, Cook and Hochberg moved to designate Paxton — who served as counsel to Unity — as a responsible third party in the suit, alleging he knew about and approved of the conduct that spurred the lawsuit.
A three-justice panel of the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas originally agreed with the trial court in July 2020, holding that Paxton could not be named a responsible third party, but on rehearing en banc in April 2021, the court reversed its decision with only Justice David Schenck dissenting.
Calco and Paxton appealed to the Texas Supreme Court in July 2021, seeking to overturn the en banc Fifth Court of Appeals ruling.
The state’s high court denied the petition for writ of mandamus without explanation in an order issued in March 2022.
According to the docket, the case currently is set for an Oct. 9 jury trial in Collin County.
Paxton is represented by C. John Scheef III, J. Mitch Little, Byron Henry, Justin R. Simmons, Walker S. Young of Scheef & Stone.
The Collin County District Court case number is 417-04885-2016.
In October 2020, eight of Paxton’s top aides were either fired from their posts or resigned. Soon thereafter, four of them — James Blake Brickman, J. Mark Penley, David Maxwell and Ryan Vassar — filed suit against Paxton alleging they were fired in retaliation for reporting to the FBI and the Texas Rangers their belief that Paxton abused the power of his office to benefit campaign donor Nate Paul.
The alleged wrongdoing they reported included bribery and tampering with government records. After repeatedly arguing in the trial court and on appeal to the Texas Supreme Court that the Texas Whistleblower Act doesn’t apply to him, Paxton reached a $3.3 million settlement with the whistleblowers in February.
State lawmakers are required to approve the settlement, which has yet to happen. It has been widely reported that Paxton’s request for approval of the settlement prompted the Texas House investigation that led to his impeachment.
Paxton is represented by William S. Helfand and Sean O’Neal Braun of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith and Judd E. Stone II, Lanora C. Pettit and William F. Cole of the Texas attorney general’s office.
The whistleblowers are represented by Thomas A. Nesbitt and William T. Palmer of DeShazo & Nesbitt, T.J. Turner of Cain & Skarnulis, Don Tittle and Roger Topham of Law Offices of Don Tittle and Joseph R. Knight of Ewell Brown Blanke & Knight.
The Texas Supreme Court case number is 21-1027.
State Bar Professional Misconduct Suit
The state bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline filed suit against Paxton in Collin County in May 2022, accusing the AG of professional misconduct stemming from his bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The Commission alleges Paxton made misrepresentations to the high court in that lawsuit, violating the rules of professional conduct that every attorney in Texas must abide by.
Collin County District Judge Andrea K. Bouressa rejected Paxton’s bid to have the suit dismissed in January, and Paxton appealed to the Fifth Court of Appeals where the case is currently pending.
On appeal, Paxton called the Commission’s actions “unprecedented” and argued it doesn’t have jurisdiction to bring the suit, citing both sovereign immunity and the separation of powers.
“What the Commission calls misrepresentations are just allegations in a complaint — that is, the attorney general’s good-faith assessments of the law, facts, and evidence at the time Texas v. Pennsylvania was filed,” Paxton argued. “Nor can the Commission save its claims by baldly asserting that the attorney general seeks to ‘exempt’ himself from the ethical rules — a proposition equal parts hyperbolic and irrelevant.”
The Commission is represented by Royce LeMoine and Michael G. Graham of Commission for Lawyer Discipline.
Paxton is represented by Christopher Hilton, William F. Cole and Judd E. Stone II of the Texas attorney general’s office.
The Fifth Court of Appeals case number is 05-23-00128-CV.
The most recent legal battle stems from the May decision by the Texas House of Representatives, in a 121-23 vote, to adopt 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton and to suspend him from office.
He’s accused of abusing the power of his office, including by firing the alleged whistleblowers, bribery, obstruction of justice, making false statements in official records, conspiracy and attempted conspiracy.
Legal legends are involved on both sides of that case, with Rusty Hardin and Dick DeGuerin leading the prosecution and Dan Cogdell and Tony Buzbee handling Paxton’s defense.
The trial before the Texas Senate is set to take place no later than Aug. 28.