Watchdog Investigates: The problems with the Paxton prosecution

By

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Watchdog reporter Jon Cassidy isn’t afraid to go where no other journalist will go.

Watchdog reporter Jon Cassidy

Whether he’s exposing a far-reaching admissions scandal, uncovering wasteful spending by school districts, or shining a spotlight on union malfeasance, Watchdog.org readers have come to expect hard-hitting reporting that challenges the prevailing narrative.

That’s certainly what they are getting with his reporting on the prosecution of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for securities fraud. Over the course of nearly two years, Cassidy has exposed inconvenient truths about the prosecutors’ flimsy case — which is costing taxpayers dearly.

In the latest chapter of the case, the prosecutors are now seeking to move the trial to a new county, claiming that Cassidy’s factual reporting — which they refer to 18 times throughout their court filing — is biasing potential jurors in favor of Paxton’s innocence.

Check out excerpts from Cassidy’s reporting below for more on the problematic Paxton prosecution.

An admission of innocence?

In Cassidy’s latest story, he dissects the prosecution’s claim that his reporting is biasing prospective jurors:

The court-appointed attorneys trying to imprison Attorney General Ken Paxton effectively admitted last week that he is innocent.

In filing a motion to move his trial to another county, Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer, and Nicole DeBorde blamed Watchdog.org for ruining their chances to convict Paxton in Collin County.

It is a first principle of American criminal justice that the accused should be presumed innocent, that any fair and impartial trial begins with this presumption, and that it is the responsibility of the prosecution to overcome the presumption by assembling enough evidence to convince the jury of the guilt of the accused.

Wice, Shaffer and DeBorde do not have any evidence of Paxton’s guilt, so they have already started blaming the presumption of innocence. If jurors believe Paxton to be innocent, why then they must be “tainted,” according to these lawyers.

And what “tainted” prospective jurors? Cassidy’s exclusive reporting on the Texas Rangers’ investigation into Paxton might have something to do with it.

The Texas Ranger files

Watchdog exclusively reported on the Texas Rangers’ investigation into the charge against Paxton. The investigatory records showed that the criminal case against the Attorney General is based on an assumption. Here’s what Cassidy reported:

It’s an assumption that state Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) says he made about Paxton before investing $300,000 in a company called Servergy. Three of his friends say they made the same assumption, according to files obtained by Watchdog.org.

These four friends – Cook, Joel Hochberg, Bill Sandford, and Bob Griggs – have been investing together for decades. Cook and Sandford started going in on deals together 30 years ago; Hochberg joined them 20 years ago.

Those four had Cook’s attorney, Terry Jacobson, shop a complaint about Paxton to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Travis County District Attorney’s office, among others, before Paxton had even taken office as attorney general.

The first complaint, in early 2014, had been “submitted by someone who was associated with a political opponent of Paxton who was seeking office in the 2014 Republican primary election,” according to the Rangers’ reports.

Paxton’s opponent that year was Rep. Dan Branch (R-Highland Park), who was, like Cook, a member of the state House leadership team that Paxton had challenged two years prior in a failed run for speaker.

And then there’s this:

For more than a year, the complaints were tossed like a hot potato from one jurisdiction to another. The last toss was from Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, an old friend of Paxton’s who couldn’t afford the perception that he was doing special favors.

Willis asked the Texas Rangers, a division of the Department of Public Safety, to investigate on April 14, 2015. In July, two well-paid special prosecutors and a judge who later recused himself got Paxton indicted on state criminal charges. The SEC jumped on the dogpile in April 2016 with a lawsuit against Paxton.

The Rangers’ first interview, on April 17, 2015, was with Jacobson, who said he was representing the four investors.

Although deception is a key element in any fraud case, none of the four claimed Paxton misled them – about getting Servergy stock, about putting his own money into the company, or anything else.

Rather, “Jacobson said the four investors assumed Paxton was also investing in Servergy based on past investments with Paxton,” Ranger Stacy McNeal wrote.

However, it was Cook who turned Hochberg, Sandford, and Griggs onto the Servergy opportunity, according to the records. It was Servergy CEO Bill Mapp who gave the presentation on the investment, not Paxton.

Sandford and Griggs, by their own admission, never even talked to Paxton about Servergy.

Their discussions about whether to invest were with Cook, who “was committed to investing in Servergy,” according to Sandford. Nobody claims that what Paxton was doing with his money even entered into the discussion.

Taxpayers on the hook

A politically-motivated prosecution is bad enough. Even worse? This is costing taxpayers a hefty sum.

The special prosecutors appointed for this case have billed the taxpayers in excess of half a million dollars, potentially in violation of state law. Here’s what Cassidy reported in January:

The court-appointed prosecutors in the Ken Paxton case have submitted new invoices that bring their compensation to date to $575,105.99.

The new batch of invoices from Kent Schaffer, Brian Wice and Nicole DeBorde covers the last year, with a total of $205,191.24 in new billing. Collin County taxpayers have already paid them $369,914.75.

The Collin County Commissioners Court had not yet received the invoices as of Thursday afternoon, but the latest tab is sure to set off a debate. In October, the commissioners voted 5-0 in support of a resolution to challenge excessive court-ordered payments for attorneys.

State law says that a court-appointed prosecutor “shall receive compensation” in the “same amount and manner” under a county fee schedule as a court-appointed lawyer defending a homeless person.

That’s not much in this case: $1,000 for pretrial work, $1,000 a day for trial, with a possible $1,000 bump if a judge deems it appropriate.

Yet visiting judge George Gallagher has ordered a $300-an-hour rate for the three attorneys prosecuting Paxton, without ever explaining what unusual circumstances might justify the extravagance.

Jon Cassidy has extensively reported on the Paxton prosecution, and he’ll continue to doggedly follow this story as it continues to develop. To access all of Jon’s stories on the subject, click here.

Leave a Reply