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Breakdown: Rules For Paxton’s Trial

The Texas Senate adopted 31 rules late Wednesday night that lays out the proceedings for Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial. 

Paxton was impeached by the House late May and was immediately suspended from his duties as the Attorney General. Paxton is accused of bribery, abuse of office and obstruction of justice. He denies any misconduct. 

The trial is due to start on Sept. 5, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. or at the discretion of the presiding officer. Senators approved the rules on a 25-3 vote. 

The opposition to the rules came from Sens. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), whose relationship to the accused is a conflict of interest, Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin), who argued it favored Paxton too much, and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), who provided no statement on his vote

As the president of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will serve as the presiding officer during the trial. However, he may appoint any jurist not running for election in 2024 as the presiding officer of the court. 

Conflict of interest, pleas and votes 

The rules set by the Senate bars Angela Paxton from voting on the political fate of her husband. She must be present for the trial as required by Texas Constitution. 

Due to the conflict of interests, she is “not eligible to vote on any matter, motion, or ​​question, or participate in closed sessions or deliberations.” However, her percent will be counted to determine the final verdict, making her a de facto abstention.

Three-fourths of votes are necessary to convict Paxton. Because Angela Paxton will be counted in the final vote, the vote to convict Paxton would need to be 21 out of 30, instead of 20. 

Paxton shall in-person or through his counsel appear before the court to plead guilty or not guilty to the articles of impeachment against him. However, if Paxton or his counsel fail to appear or plead in the articles read against him, the “trial shall proceed as on a plea of not guilty.”

Out of the 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton, the trial will commence with only 16 of them. Articles “XI, XII, XIII, and XIV shall be held in abeyance.”

These articles have to do with Paxton’s securities fraud cases that have been pending for almost a decade. 

However, after the final judgment on the 16 articles of impeachment, a majority of the Senate can vote to dismiss the four “held in abeyance.” Only a simple majority vote is needed for any motion to dismiss any article of impeachment. 

Witnesses and Testimonies 

A list of witnesses needs to be submitted to the clerk by Aug. 22 or a date set by Patrick. 

Paxton’s team had specifically wanted witnesses by depositions only. However, “witness depositions shall not be taken by either party of any potential witness.”

The trial will rely on live testimony and the rules allow for the questioning and cross-examination of the witnesses by both parties. 

Just like district courts in Texas, the presiding officer will have the power to compel witnesses’ attendance and “punish for contempt.” 

Senators can be called as witnesses, but it is not preferred. If a Senator is called as a witness and Patrick deems it “frivolous” then the requestor can be held for contempt of court. 

Additional Articles of Impeachment, pretrial motions and access to the hearing 

If the House chooses to bring any additional articles of impeachment against Paxton, they must do so 30 days before the start of the trial. 

All pretrial motions are due by Aug.5. A special Senate committee will be in charge of reviewing all motions and making recommendations by Aug. 28. However, if a pretrial motion could result in the dismissal of any article(s), it would need to be submitted for a full body vote. 

For other pretrial motions, the presiding officer can either rule on their own or submit to Senators for a vote. A majority vote is required in both scenarios. 

The members of the court, Senators, Patrick, staff and legal counsel cannot comment on the “matters relating to the merits of the proceedings.” 

Media access will be restricted to the Senate gallery and only two pool cameras will be allowed in the chamber.  

The hearing will be live-streamed for the public. 

Atirikta Kumar
Atirikta Kumar
Atirikta Kumar (@AtiriktaKumar) is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Political Science at the University of Houston. Atirikta is passionate about writing about the criminal justice system and issues in order to inform the public about their communities and politics. She also writes for her college newspaper, The Cougar.

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