clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ken Paxton keeps running. Will his legal issues ever catch up?

Texas voters will get to render a verdict before the courts do.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on July 11, 2021, in Dallas, Texas. 
Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

On Monday, the top legal authority in the state of Texas reportedly fled his own home rather than allow an official to serve him a subpoena.

According to an account from the man who served the subpoena, reported in the Texas Tribune, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appeared to try and wait out a process server with the subpoena for an hour in his home, then later ran away as the server approached him, and finally rode away in a truck driven by his wife as the server laid the documents on the ground.

Paxton’s lawyers have argued that he was simply intimidated and didn’t realize he was being served with a subpoena. And it certainly seems like the least of Paxton’s worries when it comes to legal entanglements. He’s also the subject of an FBI criminal probe into allegations of bribery, and in 2015, he was indicted and arrested on felony securities fraud charges, for which he has yet to go to trial.

No one should be above the law, especially not a state’s top prosecutor, but there’s no law barring him from continuing to serve in his position despite the allegations against him. Texas voters will get to render a verdict before the courts do, as Paxton is up for reelection in the November midterms.

After twice winning reelection, then surviving a primary fight this year despite his legal baggage, it seemed as though Paxton was made of Teflon. He has continued to be an influential figure in the Republican Party, in Texas and nationally, often leading splashy, multi-state lawsuits against policies of the Obama and Biden administrations.

He might be more vulnerable this year, advancing from the Republican primary with only 43 percent of the vote (a tepid showing for an incumbent) despite securing former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. And he’s holding a thin lead over his Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza: 5 percentage points and 2 percentage points, according to recent polls by WFAA/Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, respectively. Both polls showed at least 8 percent of voters were undecided.

Should Paxton prevail, it would suggest that, in a red state like Texas, being a Democrat is still a greater transgression than the litany of charges against him.

Here, we recap Paxton’s recent run-ins with, and runs away from, the law.

The securities fraud charges

In 2015, Paxton was accused by Byron Cook, a former Republican state legislator, and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg of encouraging them to invest $100,000 or more in a technology company called Servergy Inc., without notifying them that he would earn a commission if they did so. This is alleged to have happened in 2011, while Paxton was a member of the Texas House.

The indictment alleges that he “intentionally fail[ed] to disclose” that he had been given compensation in the form of 100,000 shares of Servergy stock, charging him with two counts of securities fraud. He was also charged with a failure to register with the state securities board.

Paxton has denied the allegations in the case, which is still making its way through the courts. It’s not clear why it’s taken so long, but disputes over where the case should be tried, compensation for special prosecutors, and pandemic-related delays have all contributed. Paxton’s lawyers have denied that the delays can be attributed to any kind of “improper influence” that he has sought to exert. If convicted, he could face five to 99 years in prison for each of the securities fraud charges and two to 10 years for failing to register, and he would likely lose his law license.

In a separate but related case, an associate of Paxton’s, Charles “Chip” Loper III, accused Cook and Hochberg of a scheme to profit off the investment funds of a mineral assets company Paxton represented before he was elected attorney general. Loper claimed that the scheme hurt him and his father financially.

Cook and Hochberg have argued that the Loper lawsuit was brought in retaliation to their allegations and that Paxton should instead be held accountable for the alleged harm. They successfully sought to have him added to the case as a “responsible third party,” and that means he will have to sit for a deposition scheduled just weeks after the November election in which he can also be asked questions relating to the Servergy case.

After seven years, there might soon be more movement in the securities fraud case — but not soon enough for voters to have answers ahead of the election.

The FBI investigation

In 2020, several of Paxton’s then-top aides requested that federal law enforcement authorities investigate Paxton, claiming he violated federal and state law by intervening to aid one of his top donors, real estate investor Nate Paul. The FBI later opened a criminal investigation examining those claims.

The aides asserted that Paxton tried to get state employees to release government records to Paul that should have been kept confidential, and that he issued a legal opinion that helped Paul avoid foreclosure sales on several of his properties during the pandemic. He also allegedly intervened in a lawsuit between Paul and an Austin-based charity, and hired an outside attorney to review claims from Paul that he had been mistreated during an FBI raid on his property in 2019, complaints Paxton’s staff had already reviewed and dismissed. In return for all this, the aides claim, Paxton got Paul’s help with a home remodel and with finding Paxton’s alleged mistress a job.

Paxton has said that he’s done nothing wrong and has accused the FBI of infiltrating his office. No criminal charges have been filed.

Three of the aides have resigned, and the remaining five were fired. They have since filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming they were fired in retribution for reporting Paxton to federal authorities. Paxton has claimed that they were terminated for unrelated, legitimate reasons.

The skirted subpoena

Last month, after Texas’s near-total abortion ban went into effect, a group of abortion funds filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to bar Paxton and other Texas prosecutors from using that law or any other statutes to target them for helping Texans travel out of state to get abortions. They asked him to testify at a hearing in the case on Tuesday.

To ensure that he would show up, they tried to serve him with two subpoenas at his home, one requiring him to testify in his official capacity and another in his personal capacity. But Paxton and his wife fled nearly an hour after a process server showed up at their doorstep on Monday.

His attorneys have said that he didn’t know that he was being served and that the couple left out of concern for their personal safety, since they didn’t know the “strange man” who tried to serve him. But court records indicate that attorneys representing the abortion funds had notified Paxton’s office ahead of time that they would subpoena the attorney general and that the server was at his doorstep.

The judge in the case has since slapped down the subpoena, though the abortion funds have asked the court to reconsider. There is as yet no ruling in the case.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.