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The Existential Conundrum of Covering Ken Paxton

The latest “news” about the Texas attorney general.

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Protesters call for the resignation of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as they stand on the Collin County Courthouse steps.
AP Photo | Tony Gutierrez

Once again, the legal travails of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are dominating the state headlines. And once again, I’m feeling slightly disaffected: clearly, Texas Monthly should update its readers on the latest developments, but once again ,the developments are in tension with my concept of “news.”

The charges against Paxton, which we already know about—two counts of securities fraud, plus the felony he admitted to more than a year ago—were unsealed this morning, so I guess we have more details on that front, but since we knew what the charges were and an indictment is not a verdict, I can’t summon that much curiosity, frankly. And many reporters in the capitol press corps were on the scene in Collin County, so we have some news about Paxton’s mornings errands: He surrended to authorities at the Collin County jail, posed for a mugshot, and was released on bond.

I guess my role is to offer some analysis, so here it is. The mugshot, clearly, is the most popular detail of today’s news among people following developments; within minutes of release half a dozen people had texted me about it. However, I disagree with the conventional wisdom. The best detail of the day is Patrick Svitek’s sober account of Paxton’s great escape: “Afterward, he apparently slipped out of the courthouse undetected, avoiding the throng of waiting media and Democratic protesters.” Classic Paxton. Thanks, Svitek.

We’ll continue to report on this story as it develops, or as pseudo-developments command the headlines, I guess. But why wait? As readers may recall, I correctly predicted that Paxton would be indicted. Since I have access to this magic time machine known as inductive reasoning, I’ll make another prediction now. Although he’s not legally obligated to do so, Paxton will step down as attorney general—not right away, but within the next year or so (SEE UPDATE). I don’t wish the guy any personal harm, and I don’t take pleasure in anyone’s misfortune, but that would probably be the best thing for his family, for the office of the attorney-general, and for the state of Texas. And more importantly, perhaps, I would guess that’s what Governor Abbott wants. And if so (for reasons I’ll explain in the second part of my post about the Legislative Budget Board, if I ever have a chance to finish that without getting interrupted by whatever is going on with Paxton) Abbott will win: the office may be weak, but a strong governor can get what he wants.

UPDATE: I’m so exasperated by this story that I didn’t even bother to explain my reasoning on the timeline I predicted above, but I immediately received a follow-up question about that. That cheered me up, because it’s a good question, and one that reflects a heartening degree of civic engagement and concern for state government. So here’s the reasoning behind that prediction. If Paxton steps down, Abbott appoints the replacement, who serves until the next general election, unless the secretary of state’s office can’t make the necessary arrangements in time. And in general, Texas Republicans, prefer elections in non-presidential years; Abbott would probably prefer any appointee to serve through 2018. On the other hand, Abbott won by a 20-point margin in 2014; using my time machine, I say it’s a reasonably safe bet that any Republican running for statewide office in 2016 is going to win. (I mean, again: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton). And the cost-benefit analysis here may be shaped by events yet to come. My prediction here is just a prediction, and may prove wrong—but that, in any case, is the reasoning about the timeline.

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  • WUSRPH

    I wonder if Abbott has heard the old story about the relationship between the then attorney general and one of Texas’ legendary “strong governors”…..According to the tale, the attorney general (names will; not be mentioned) would show up at his office some days to find a fully drafted Attorney General’s Opinion typed on his letterhead and all ready to be issued on the top of his desk to which was attached a note from the governor saying” “Sign and release”….which, of course, he dutifully did.

    P.S. I don’t know about you, but I was happy to finally be told just who the conspirators are behind this vicious attack on our attorney general. We can all stop our speculation now that Empower Texans has revealed the evil villain to be none other than Joe Straus. We should have known.

    P.S.P.S. I am really looking forward to your promised pieces on the governor’s budget vetoes and the (perhaps now forgotten) one on sanctuary cities. (I can understand if the sanctuary cities one just never appears on the grounds that we have all been thru all that stuff about the damage caused by illegal aliens several times. I doubt JJ has any new anecdotes and I know I am tired of having to refute them.)

    P.S.P.S.P.S. When do you think we can expect the announcement from the governor’s office that he has “lost confidence” in an indicted judicial officer and expects that officer to resign or have the funding for his office reduced? Or does that only happen when the officer facing charges (without an indictment) is the DA of Travis County who heads up the Public Integrity Unit and that standard does not apply to the Attorney General? (idea stolen from a entry on the TT blog.)

    P.S.P.S.P.S.P.S. Under your timetable, Abbott would not want the job to become open until say October of next year which would make it too late to get on the 2016 GE ballot. Anytime before that would given someone else a chance at picking the AG…For example, if it was before the filing deadlines for next March’s primary, Abbott would have to face a chance that his choice might not be able to get thru the GOP Primary. Similarly, if a resignation came after the primary, but still in time for the General Election ballot, the state GOP Executive Committee would have official power to pick someone to appear on the November ballot. This means, if he wants to be able to fully control who gets the job, it will have to become open after those deadlines….and that is the fall of 2016.

  • dave in texas

    I’m skeptical that General Paxton would resign, given that he continued to campaign even after admitting to having committed a felony, but I agree completely that it would be the best thing for the office and for the state. The only thing I worry about is that this makes it look like the new investigate-possible-offenders-in-their-hometown ethics law that was just passed might be effective. Not everything will be as open and shut as this indictment seems to be.

  • When will indicted Tx Rep Ron Reynolds resign? Never even if convicted.
    That is correct never.

    • WUSRPH

      If convicted of a felony he would be ineligible to serve, even if he did not officially resign. Since he is being charged with misdemeanors, not felonies, there would be nothing that would force him out of office….However, he could be expelled by his fellow members…but that could not happen until the House meets again…which is not officially set until January of 2017……He would have to face the voters before then and, assuming they were mad enough, he might not get renominated or re-elected….I know it just kills you,…but the odds are even if he is convicted, you will continue to be represented by a Black Democrat.

      • yes a twice convicted one, only a dem could be happy their has a record.

        “I know it just kills you”, no it doesn’t kill me. I’m pointing out the differences between republicans and democrats. A conviction is a badge for dems.

        • WUSRPH

          OH, it kills you alright!

          • Indiana Pearl

            It must be Obama’s fault . . .

          • No, you can’t understand because you’re a democrat. Republicans simply find it hard to respect a corrupt politician.

          • Slick

            Republicans elected Ken Paxton, a known corrupt politician. They repeatedly elected Rick Perry, who remains the poster boy for crony corruption.

          • Actually they didn’t. They elected a Christian conservative over a Straus crony.

          • Indiana Pearl

            I detect an anti-Semite.

          • I detect an idiot

          • WUSRPH

            The first time they made a run at Straus they did use the “we need a Christian speaker” line, but that was dropped after all the bad reaction. Since then they have avoided any direct mention of Straus’ religion….One interesting development of recent years has been the fact that folks used to use the phrase “Judeo-Christian” when talking about but what they see as the religious basis for this country but in recent years they seem to have dropped the “Judeo”….even thou they all claim to love Israel so much.

          • HAHAHA!

          • Indiana Pearl

            The U.S. is a secular democracy . . . end of story.

          • Indiana Pearl

            So do Dems . . .

      • Indiana Pearl

        A black Democrat? What a hoot!

        • A black 3 time indicted with several convictions democrat, is being targeted by other dems.

  • WUSRPH

    Further details of the alleged “CONSPIRACY” to get God’s lawyer are now emerging. Now the suggestion is that somehow poor Ken was led astray by one of his “worst political enemies”, State Rep. Byron Cook, who was one of those who invested funds in the company that is alleged to be at the heart of the purported scheme. Cook, in fact, is listed as the complainant in one of the indictments. Why, it is being asked, would one of Paxton’s enemies invest with him? Why would Paxton take that investment ? Something must be fishy? Was Ken set up? or so the conspiracy theorists argue. Of course, the identify of the victim makes little or no difference…What counts is whether (1) Paxton was not registered as a security adviser (2) he advised others to make the investment (3) he inferred he was an investor in the firm (when, it is alleged, he paid nothing for his shares) and (4) he was compensated for making those referrals? That is what the case involves…That is what a jury will decide. It should not care who the investors were…Only that they were allegedly mislead by Paxton when Paxton had something to gain from misleading them. (The investment was allegedly make on July 26, 2011.)

    P.S. I wonder if any other state representatives took Ken’s investment advice.

  • Blue Dogs

    Any chance Abbott might replace him with one of the current Justices of the TX Supreme Court to become the new State AG ?

  • Indiana Pearl

    The thread of Texans for Public Justice runs through the Delay, Perry, and Paxton indictments. Although Delay’s charges were dropped, he lost his power.

    Anyone want to weigh in on TPJ?

  • Byron Cook killed the public employee union reform and Abbott’s ethic reforms for Straus. This is simply political retribution for Paxton standing up to Straus while in the Tx House and winning in 2014.

    • WUSRPH

      So somehow Cook and Straus tricked Paxton into getting Cook to invest in Paxton’s friend’s company in 2011 so that four years later they could get him indicted by a special prosecutor who defended Tom DeLay by a grand jury in the most conservative Republican county in Texas? And how many impossible things do you normally believe before breakfast? That is when you are not spouting the “official defense” line you were instructed to plant?

      • Erica Grieder

        Hold up. Let’s look at the timeline.

        May 2014: Paxton admits to a felony, is reprimanded by the state securities board.
        July 2014: TPJ files a criminal complaint, arguing that Paxton committed a felony, citing as evidence Paxton’s May 2014 confession to committing a felony.
        April 2014: TPJ’s complaint having eventually been referred to Collin Couny, after a lot of internecine dithering, a judge (called in after the collin county DA recused himself from tackling a criminal complaint against a guy in his little McKinney circle) asks the Texas Rangers to investigate Paxton
        July 2014: the special prosecutors announced that as a result of the investigation, triggered by Paxton’s confession in May 2014, they’re going to ask the grand jury to charge Paxton with some other stuff too.
        August 2014: JOE STRAUS CONSPIRACY AGAINST KEN PAXTON IS CONFIRMED BY PAXTON’S INDICTMENT

        Story checks out. Excellent analysis, JBB!

        • uh oh you’ve done it now!

        • Beerman

          Erica/WUSRPH, you two folks are very knowledgeable about Texas State affairs and can hopefully answer the following questions:

          Does Paxton qualify for a State Pension? Is he vested and/or does he need more service time? What is an estimate of the annual dollar value/payout for him if he finishes his AG term? Amount if he does not finish? Would a felony conviction disqualify him from a pension?

          Do you think that his State pension would play a part in his decision to resign because of his criminal problems? Your thoughts would be appreciated, Thanks.

          P.S.- anyone else on this blog with knowledge regarding these questions, please jump in…….

          • WUSRPH

            Yes, Paxton qualifies for a state pension. It takes 8 years service in the Legislature to vest and he served 12 plus he has one year credit as attorney general. You become eligible to begin drawing the pension at 60 with 8 years service or at 50 with 12 years. Since he is 52, he could begin drawing it now.

            No, he would not lose his pension if he were convicted of a felony. There were bills to prohibit legislators who were convicted of a felony from getting their pensions in the past session but a quick check does not show that they passed. Even if they had, they would not have affected the Paxton case as they covered only felonies related to the office. None of the charges against him have anything to do with his having been a state representative and state senator.

            I can only give you a very rough estimate of what he would receive if he started drawing his pension now or in three more years. The amount depends on a number of factors, including what form of payout he choses. For example, you can decide to receive the full amount of your pension within your lifetime or set it up so your survivors receive some level of benefits. Which of several formulas you choose makes a difference in the amount received.

            Most people have the impression that Legislators have set it up so that they receive massive sized pensions, but they exaggerate the amounts actually received. As it is now, a legislator’s pension works out to about an average of $3,220 per year of service. Thus, if Paxton were to receive the maximum amount possible leaving nothing for his survivors, starting this year he would draw a gross of something in the line of $38,640 per year. However, the actual amount would be smaller since the pension is subject to income tax and any deduction he may have to provide health insurance coverage for his family. (The actual amount paid to state pension recipients is confidential by law.)

            Needless-to-say, this is not enough for most people to be able to raise an family. Nor would I suspect that it would be enough to tempt him to resign in order to begin drawing it now.

            I hope that answers your questions.

            P.S. The pension received by a member of the legislature is not based on the legislative salary of $7,200 per year but, instead, is tied to the salary of a district judge. Starting Sept. 1, district judges will be paid $140,000 per year by the State (there are often local supplements, but they do not affect the pension amount). The pension is based on 2.3% of that salary times the number of years service. To determine a legislator’s maximum annual pension (subject to reductions cited above and to income tax) you would multiple $140,000 by .023 by the number of years of service. In Paxton’s case, with 12 years service, that becomes $3,220 by 12 or $38,640 GROSS.

            P.S. The reason some folks get upset at the way a legislator’s pension is figured is because the pensions of all unelected state employees are based on their actual salaries times 2.3% times years of service. If Ken Paxton’s pension were figured on that basis, it would be $7,200 x .023 x 12 which would produce a pension of about $166 per month of just over $1,987 per year rather than the $38,640 he could actually receive.

          • Beerman

            WUSRPH, Thanks a million for the info. Lots of research there and it is appreciated. It answered the questions for me and was really an eye-opener regarding State pensions for elected State officials. And, I agree that the present amount for Paxton would not be a reason for him regarding his upcoming decisions regarding his indictments.

            Of course, being able to remain AG for several terms would enhance his potential pension earnings; however, it appears that he will be a short-term God’s attorney for the State. Again, thanks for your help.

          • WUSRPH

            I could note the longer Paxton remains AG the higher is pension is likely to be…both because of more years of service and because he may be able to base it on the AG’s actual salary rather than that of a district judge. If he could do that, it would make his pension $150,000 x .023 x years of service (say 16) which would be $55,200 per year GROSS. This means that he would be giving up about $16,560 for each year he quit before his term would end.

          • Erica Grieder

            WUSRPH Your comment game is absolutely on point this week. Thank you!

          • Indiana Pearl

            Let’s ask former Maryland governor McDonnell. He’s also negotiating for his pension.

    • Luanne Platter

      Wait, how long did the public employee union reform sit in the Senate – 50+ days, right? Gets to the House at the end, a train wreck but It’s Cooks fault. Right. Do these people blaming Cook (the victim) also blame rape victims? Clearly Cook was already the top target of MQS & Co. Expect them to go full jihad now that he has singed their anointed one. Will these great enablers ever hold one of their own accountable???

      • Nope 2 weeks in Tx Senate after eligible for a vote.

        “The Senate acted on it two weeks ago — about two weeks after it was eligible for a vote.”

        Then dems blocked a hearing in the Tx House.
        ” In the House, Democrats blocked Cook’s attempt to call a hearing early this week”

        Then Chairman Cook refused to bring it for a vote.

        “State Rep. Byron Cook confirmed Saturday that he does not plan to schedule a vote on legislation that would end automatic payroll deductions for union and non-union dues of most public employees.”

        This is what happens when you make deals with dems to protect their union base.

        It was Cook’s fault.

        Per Ross Ramsy TT
        http://www.texastribune.org/2015/05/23/key-house-leader-union-dues-bill-dying/

        • WUSRPH

          If anyone is at fault, it was the Democratic members of the House who were able to block a hearing by a parliamentary move. The result was that, had Cook reported the bill when if finally was eligibile, it would have resulted in the deaths of numerous other bills that would back up on he calendar during a lengthy fight over the anti-union bill. By not forcing that fight, Cook made it possible for many other members to pass bills of importance to them and their constituents. That is called considering the greater good……

          • bs, he blocked the bill. Greater good? Stop covering for Straus and his cronies.,

          • WUSRPH

            If I thought you understood anything about how a body of more than two people must cooperate with each other and consider the good of the group in order to function I would be worried about the lack of understanding shown by your observations….but knowing that you are unable to cooperate even with yourself, I just let it pass.

          • Usually when a dem is promoting the greater good it means he has his hand in my pocket….

  • A Democrat Texas State Representative went on trial today and not one word from Texas Monthly?
    However there is a plethora about a republican being indicted.

    • Erica Grieder

      Texas attorney general > a state representative, especially when we’re talking about one who has no particular influence, for a variety of reasons.

      Texas Monthly has been critical of Reynolds, incidentally, as have other outlets. The fact that he wasn’t a top news story yesterday just means that he wasn’t a top news story http://www.texasmonthly.com/lists/worst-representative-ron-reynolds

      • Doesn’t that speak volumes when a state representative trial is not news.
        What you aren’t saying is Paxton is a republican so it is news and the democrat not so much.

  • Beerman

    Lots of conversation around Austin today about the timing of a resignation by Paxton. It appears that the evidence against him regarding securities fraud is overwhelming and a plea bargain will eventually happen to keep him out of prison. Part of the negotiations supposedly centers around establishing a timetable regarding his potential lucrative State pension plan if he could finish his term as AG. He will probably lose his license to practice law and needs to secure an income flow to support his family. This problem may be the real “cost-benefit analyst” over the next several months.

    Of course, he could become a Lobbyist and get counseling from MQS about how to do that………

  • WUSRPH

    I assume you saw the statements by the governor and lt. governor on Paxton’s indictment. Both represent a sterling definition of the word TEPID.

  • John Johnson

    And it goes on, and on, and on, and….

  • WUSRPH

    As you may remember, I have mentioned several times that Paxton might rely on the
    “forgiveness doctrine” as part of his defense…..Now that possibility has been mentioned in a story in the Houston Chronicle….The relevant portion is:

    “But impeachment – an official, if seldom-used, route for housecleaning – might not even be available. The reason, officials said Monday, is a 1993 state law that says “an officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.”

    “Exactly what prompted that change in 1993, at a time when ethics reform was an issue after a legislative influence-peddling scandal, remained unclear Monday. Legislative reference files show only that it was part of an update in state government code, including many housekeeping revisions, that was billed as “non-substantive” at the time. Legislative aides said they did not remember any details about the bill that was passed into law.”

    CLARIFICATION: I am now informed that the forgiveness doctrine is a common law doctrine that was first codified in Texas in the 1870s. It was cited by the Texas Supreme Court in the Carrillo case (where I became aware of it) but substantially predates that holding.

    The doctrine was cited by the Texas Supreme Court in ruling on an appeal by Judge O P Carrillo of his removal by the Legislature in 1975. In its ruling the court held that he could not be removed on one of the charges citing the “forgiveness doctrine” that says that, if the voters knew of the offense at the time of the election, it is not grounds for removal. However, his removal was upheld on other grounds. I can see where Paxton might be covered by this doctrine on the first indictment—that he was not registered–but I question whether it would apply to the other two fraud charges since the voters did not know about them.

    http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/collections/impeachment.cfm

    • Indiana Pearl

      The “forgiveness doctrine” sounds like mental masturbation. A crook is a crook is a crook.

      • WUSRPH

        True….but there is no penalty for being one if the voters knew you were a crook and elected you anyway. This does not block a conviction for illegal activities. It just blocks a removal action when the crime was known in advance by the electorate. Future crimes are not covered.
        P.S. If you think this one is weird, you should look up the Enrolled Bill Doctrine sometime…..or the idea of Sovereign Immunity under which you have to have the State’s permission in order to sue it.

        • Indiana Pearl

          Employees and students of Indiana University are not allowed to sue the institution even if they injured by institutional neglect (see: sidewalks, icy).

          • WUSRPH

            That is pure unadulterated Sovereign Immunity. We are not that strict in Texas as the State has passed laws that grant a right to sue in cases of negligence, civil rights and a few other specified areas. However, for example, you can enter a contract wit the State, have a dispute with the State over the terms of the contract, have right and justice on your sign and still not be allowed to sue unless the Legislature passes a resolution waving its immunity. If it fails to do so, you are just stuck. Sounds fair? Not to a lot of people.

  • Tucker

    “Although he’s not legally obligated to do so, Paxton will step down as attorney general—not right away, but within the next year or so.” You must not know Ken Paxton very well. This prediction seems about as informed as Ten Best/Worst.

  • Reagan Republican

    I thought tea party office holders and candidates with high conservative scorecards, regardless of their public record or personal behavior, were excempt from scrutiny or prosecution.

  • Indiana Pearl

    Mr. W, please address Texans for Public Justice as an “agent provacateur” in these charges.

    Just got back from CA and Paxton’s grin is everywhere in the news. Texas can do better.

    • WUSRPH

      Of course, TPJ has played a pivotal role in pushing both the Perry and Paxton prosecutions….The group has picked the role of playing public conscience for itself….and it has skillfully used legal means to achieve it. However, it could not have succeeded without the special prosecutors who, despite being Republicans and being appointed by Republican judges, were willing to fully press cases when it would have been so easy to simply say: “We see no grounds” and let the matters die. Their actions represent the best of the tradition of lawyers not letting their personal political or other beliefs stand in the way of what they see as the cause of justice.

  • Should lawyers be calling and lobbying the Paxton grand jurors before the indictment? Oh it will get worse as dems are angry about losing their drunk DA’s lynching office in Travis County.

  • A lawyer calling the grand jurors to lobby them before an indictment?