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Why Ken Paxton Got a Deal

How does one of the most high-profile criminal cases in Texas, which had gone on for nine years, suddenly end in a plea bargain? Why exactly did Ken Paxton avoid facing a jury? The answer is complicated, so Reform Austin has put together a small FAQ.

What was he indicted for again?

You can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten all the details of a crime allegedly committed a decade ago. When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was a state senator, he convinced two friends to invest in a Dallas-area tech firm, Servergy, without disclosing that he would get a cut of the money. This is a third-degree felony.

Why did this take so long?

Because it’s very easy to slow walk a trial when you’re the attorney general. The trial was repeatedly delayed by requests to change venues and disputes over the pay of special prosecutors. The vast majority of these delays were because of Paxton, though he also tried for a mistrial based on failure of the state to provide a speedy trial. Then in October, Harris County Judge Andrea Beall said that come hell or high water, the trial was happening April 15.

Was the state ready?

No. The years of battling procedural matters had left little time to actually prepare for the trial. Lead prosecutor Brian Wice approached Beall about delaying the trial to September, but they were denied.

Wasn’t there some drama with the attorneys?

Remember, Wice and his team were not getting paid regularly. Paxton’s allies sued over the pay issue, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to intervene. That left Wice and team working one of the biggest cases in Texas history on a pro bono basis.

This didn’t sit well with Wice’s co-counsel, Kent Schaffer, who had enough earlier this year. He approached Wice with the idea to offer Paxton a plea bargain. Notably, at the time this did not include compensation for Paxton’s victims. Wice refused to pursue a deal without compensation, and Schaffer left.

Isn’t Wice a hotshot lawyer on his own?

He is indeed, but Wice has not tried a case by himself since before Paxton was indicted and has a specialty in appellate law. He needed help if he was going to try the case right. So, he reached out to local district attorneys.

How did that go?

It went extremely badly. No one answered Wice’s call to arms. The reason is political. Despite his legal troubles, Paxton remains very popular with the Texas conservative base. He sailed to easy re-election twice while under indictment. There is talk of him attempting to primary Sen. John Cornyn in 2026.

Plus, Paxton made an example of his political enemies this past primary season. He went to war against three Republican federal judges that ruled against him in a 2021 voter fraud case, and all three lost their seats to opponents Paxton endorsed. Any district attorney that worked with Wice to convict Paxton faced dire consequences if the attorney general walked.

And the deal?

Wice, faced with little help and a looming date, cut a deal. He secured $275,000 in victim compensation from Paxton and barred him from using campaign contributions to pay it off. It’s a testimony to Paxton’s guilt that he took the deal even with Wice in a weakened position. In the end, the state just didn’t have enough resources to fight Paxton at trial, largely due to Paxton using his position to mess with the pay of his prosecutors.  

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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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