AUSTIN — The judge in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s securities fraud case has ruled that Collin County must pay the special prosecutors it has fought compensating for years for their work to put the AG behind bars.
Judge Andrea Beall of Harris County’s 185th District Court ruled the special prosecutors must be paid their $300-an-hour rate. The cost has been estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The ruling came to light after the special prosecutors filed a motion Wednesday with Texas’ highest criminal court asking the court to order Collin County to pay them. The court has yet to respond.
The special prosecutors’ pay has lingered as Paxton’s eight-year-old case stalled out of numerous legal fights. But this year, the pace of the case has picked up after the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the trial would take place in Harris County.
There, Beall ruled earlier this week that the trial will begin on April 15. The following day, she issued an order that the special prosecutors be paid their agreed upon $300-an-hour rate, calling Collin County’s insistence that they only be paid $2,000 total for work “wholly unreasonable” and “arbitrary and capricious,” according to legal filings.
The special prosecutors have not been paid since 2016.
Collin County Judge Chris Hill posted on X, formerly Twitter, referencing previous rulings that sided with the county on the pay issue.
“Good luck with that,” Hill wrote.
Paxton, who has a home in McKinney and represented parts of Collin County before in the Texas Legislature before being elected attorney general, could face up to 99 years in prison if convicted of the most serious securities fraud charges against him. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
His defense team called the special prosecutors’ latest attempt to be paid confirmation that their prosecution is “all about money and not justice.”
“All the meanwhile, Ken Paxton just wants his day in court,” a statement from defense attorneys Dan Cogdell and Philip Hilder said. “Yet, the Special Prosecutors seem content pushing that day further back with its dilatory sideshow of an appeal.”
In 2015, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis recused himself from the case and a judge appointed attorneys Kent Schaffer, Brian Wice and a third attorney no longer on the case to investigate allegations that Paxton had illegally steered investors toward a McKinney company without disclosing financial benefits he received.
The allegations date back to 2011, when Paxton was a Texas House member representing parts of Collin County. He allegedly recruited friends, including a former state lawmaker, to invest roughly $840,000 in a McKinney tech company without revealing he had received 100,000 shares of stock from the company.
Paxton also is accused of funneling clients to an investment firm without registering with the state as an investment adviser. The Texas Ethics Commission fined him $1,000 for failing to register.
Six months into Paxton’s first term as attorney general in 2015, a Collin County grand jury indicted him on felony charges of securities fraud.
The special prosecutors agreed to work at a $300-an-hour rate, which racked up a near $250,000 bill paid out by Collin County taxpayers in 2016. However, when a judge ordered a second payment of nearly $200,000 in 2017, Collin County commissioners challenged the bill and won after a protracted legal battle.
That ruling had been based on a Collin County provision that capped prosecutor expenses at $2,000 for pre-trial work. Beall, the judge in Paxton’s criminal case, ruled that the rate was unconstitutional, and in court documents, the special prosecutors said it amounted to an hourly pay rate below the federal minimum wage.
Last month, counsel for the Collin County Commissioners Court notified the special prosecutors that the county would not pay them any additional money.
The special prosecutors “have already received more compensation than should have been paid to them under the applicable plan,” attorney Bryan Burg wrote, according to court filings. “It is Collin County’s position that no additional compensation is due.”
CORRECTION, 6:20 p.m., Nov. 2, 2023: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Collin County district attorney appointed the special prosecutors. The district attorney recused himself, and a judge appointed the attorneys.
This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.