In the latest episode of our Reporter podcast, we interview Houston attorney Justin Nelson, a trial lawyer who spends most of his time in civil litigation, representing both plaintiffs and defendants. In his campaign for Texas attorney general, Nelson is focusing on a different type of law altogether — the criminal indictments against incumbent Republican Ken Paxton — and trying to prosecute his case in the court of public opinion.
For a quick refresher, it’s worth noting that Paxton is not under indictment for anything that occurred during his tenure as attorney general. The charges were brought because of his work as a private attorney when he was a member of the Legislature. He is accused of failing to register as a securities broker and of fraud, for allegedly enticing some fellow lawmakers and others to make investments that ultimately went bad.
Paxton claims that the indictments and the prosecution are politically motivated; these spurious claims, he says, were brought against him in retaliation for challenging the reelection of House Speaker Joe Straus in 2011, an effort Paxton lost. Nelson, of course, counters by arguing that if Paxton is innocent he should have gone to trial years ago to clear his name: “Unlike our current Attorney General, Ken Paxton,” Nelson says, “I’m not under indictment for defrauding my friends and clients, and I won’t swipe your $1,000 pen.”
A trial has been delayed and delayed, first by a change of venue obtained by prosecutors and then by the refusal of Paxton’s allies on the Collin County commissioners court to pay the special prosecutors in the case.
When he’s not blasting Paxton directly, Nelson is trying to fire up Democrats with a campaign to end gerrymandering, a convenient bogeyman in a state where Democrats have been shut out of power for decades. Way back when, during the eighties and nineties, selective drawing of legislative districts helped Texas Democrats stay in power. Since about 2003, the reverse has happened — gerrymandering has helped Republicans maintain near-absolute control of Texas. Nelson wants to eliminate gerrymandering — a task easier said than done.
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that it was the prosecutors, not Paxton’s attorneys, who sought the change of venue.
Listen to our interview with Nelson below: