Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton reached a plea deal to avoid a criminal trial
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton reached a plea deal to avoid a criminal trial

Nearly nine years after being indicted on criminal securities fraud charges, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton struck a deal with prosecutors Tuesday to avoid a criminal trial that was set to begin next month.

The deal, announced by prosecutors and Mr. Paxton’s lawyers at a hearing in Houston, did not involve an admission of guilt but required Mr. Paxton to pay nearly $300,000 in restitution, take legal ethics courses and complete 100 hours community service work.

At the hearing, the judge in the case, Andrea Bell, asked questions but noted that the agreement was made between the parties and the court could not block it.

“No judge can compel a prosecutor to present evidence or call witnesses,” Judge Bell said. “This court has no say in this contract,” she added, before asking Mr Paxton, who sat silently in the courtroom, if the signature on the document was his.

“Yes, it is,” replied Mr. Paxton.

For Mr. Paxton, a three-term Republican president, the settlement amounted to another victory over opponents who had long hoped his legal troubles would spell his political demise. Mr. Paxton last year survived impeachment by fellow Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives over separate allegations of corruption and abuse of power by his former top aides in the attorney general’s office.

Mr. Paxton’s lawyer, Dan Cogdell, said Tuesday that the attorney general was happy to drop the securities fraud case. He stressed that the settlement was not a “plea bargain” and did not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Mr. Paxton.

“He does not pray; there is no admission of guilt,” Mr. Cogdell said at a news conference after the hearing. “There will never be an admission of guilt because he is not guilty.”

The deal appeared to end a nearly decade-long legal saga in which the case was repeatedly postponed, moved between Texas counties and eventually set for trial in Houston – far from Mr. Paxton’s home turf in Collin County, north of Dallas, where a grand jury indicted him in 2015 and where Mr. Paxton has deep political connections.

The charges, which include two counts of securities fraud, stem from actions by Mr. Paxton when he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives before his election as attorney general.

Mr. Paxton was accused of misleading investors in 2011 into putting money into a Dallas-area technology company without disclosing to them that he was making a commission on their investments. Investors included friends of Mr. Paxton and a fellow state representative at the time. Mr. Paxton was also charged with failing to register with the State Securities Board.

Some of the allegations hung over Mr. Paxton’s first bid for attorney general in 2014. But he was not indicted until several months into his first term as the state’s attorney general.

Because of his political connections, the local district attorney in Collin County has stepped down and appointed two special prosecutors. The case was delayed for years as Mr. Paxton’s lawyers fought over the proper venue for the trial and the level of pay for special prosecutors.

One of the special prosecutors, Brian Weiss, said in an interview that the deal announced Tuesday was “the fair, right and just thing for both sides.”

“It wasn’t a question of whether anyone would win,” Mr Wice added. “The question was whether we kept our oath to seek justice, and that’s what we believe we did.”

Mr Paxton’s supporters, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, celebrated the deal on Tuesday. Mr. Patrick presided over the trial by the Republican-dominated Texas Senate that acquitted Mr. Paxton after his impeachment.

“It bears a striking resemblance to the failure of impeachment,” Mr. Patrick it said in a statement. “Texas House Political Strike Force Fails Again in Pursuit of Ken Paxton.”

Mr. Cogdell, Mr. Paxton’s lawyer, also represented the attorney general during the impeachment trial and said both proceedings were politically motivated.

“There were shots from different grassy knolls,” Mr. Cogdell said in an interview. “He wouldn’t have been charged if it wasn’t for the politics.”

Mr. Cogdell added that he believed Mr. Paxton would have been acquitted of the securities fraud charges but accepted the deal because of the uncertainty of a trial.

Mr. Paxton has 18 months to meet the terms of the deal. Failure to do so may lead to the reopening of the criminal case. If that happens, there will be no more delays, Judge Beale said, and she will order a “very speedy trial.”

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