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Ken Paxton Is Not Vindicated

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton may finally be out from under indictment for securities fraud, but his plea deal is hardly proof he did no wrong.

Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 for failing to register as an agent, a third-degree felony. Agents are supposed to register so that the parties they are negotiating with know whether or not their agent is getting a cut of commissions. The attorney general, who was a state senator at the time, has long said he did nothing wrong, but a grand jury felt otherwise.

Since becoming the state’s top cop, Paxton has deftly maneuvered around the case, keeping his day in court at bay through two election cycles. Once it became clear that he was out of room to retreat, Paxton cut a deal with state prosecutors.

The deal states that Paxton must pay $271,000 in fines, perform 100 hours of community service, and take 15 hours worth of legal ethics courses. It is a far cry from the potential jail time that Paxton faced if convicted, but it’s not a slap on the wrist either.

Paxton’s fine is nearly double his yearly salary as attorney general, though a fraction of his estimated $3 million net worth. As his former opponent, Justin Nelson, points out, Paxton has some very rich friends that are willing to loan him money, but the odds are that Paxton doesn’t have a liquid quarter million just lying around. It’s possible he will be forced to sell off some of his investment properties to pay the fine. He is barred from using campaign contributions for payment.

Nor are his community service and ethics obligations get-out-of-jail free cards. Paxton is likely to spend months working at a soup kitchen or other venue to pay off the former. The latter is stark evidence that Paxton simply does not know the appropriate levels of right and wrong as a lawyer (or doesn’t care), despite the settlement’s lack of admitting fault. There is no positive way to spin the fact that the state’s head of legal action has to go to remedial ethics as part of his deal to not go to jail for crimes.

Will this harm Paxton politically? His opponents seem to think so. Democratic operative Matt Angle has called Paxton a “national villain.”

However, Paxton sailed to re-election while under the indictment, and remained popular with the Republican base while impeached. His culture wars, pushing of election fraud conspiracy theories, and anti-immigrant statements continue to play well in the redder parts of Texas. It’s unlikely that the settlement, for all its damning particulars, will affect his political future.

On the other hand, the plea deal is only one stone from around Paxton’s neck. Four whistleblowers are still suing him for allegedly improperly firing them when they reported him for abuse of office, and he remains under investigation from the FBI for his association with now-indicted real estate developer Nate Paul. The latter investigation has been going on since October 2020, with no charges filed yet, but still looms over Paxton’s tenuously won freedom. 

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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