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Defense attorneys for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — whose indictment for felony securities fraud is now more than five years old — are again asking for a different judge to oversee the case. It’s the latest turn in a long-delayed prosecution that has bounced all the way from a trial court in North Texas to the state Supreme Court in Austin, and now sits in legal purgatory in Houston.
Paxton’s attorneys wrote Thursday that Judge Jason Luong should recuse himself from the case because the Attorney General’s Office is representing him — among a group of about 20 Harris County district court judges — in an unrelated lawsuit over bail practices. Robert Johnson, who oversaw the case until recently, voluntarily recused himself from the case for that reason earlier this summer. A Houston appeals court reassigned the case to Luong late last month.
“Judge Luong’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned” because Paxton is defending him, Paxton’s attorneys argued in a filing this week.
Luong is the fourth judge to preside over Paxton’s case in five years, according to the Dallas Morning News, which first reported the recusal news Friday. This latest battle portends further delays in a case that has dragged on for years amid arguments over venue and prosecutor pay.
Before recusing himself from the case, Johnson had handed Paxton’s team a long-awaited victory: He ruled that the case should return to Collin County, where Paxton is from and where a judge years ago decided he should not be tried because he is so well-known and well-connected.
The prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial shot back on Friday, arguing Luong should remain on the case.
“Because Paxton’s palpable fear that Judge Luong will follow the law and keep these felony cases in Harris County does not come within a time zone of meeting the Draconian burden required for recusal, his motion is without merit and should be denied,” prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer wrote.
And they noted that last month, Paxton’s attorney Philip Hilder told the Houston Chronicle Johnson “did not need to recuse himself on the matter since…. The allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity.”
Paxton was indicted in late July 2015, but has yet to go to trial as attorneys duke out side battles over issues like venue and prosecutor pay. He is accused of persuading investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing that he would be compensated for it. Paxton has maintained his innocence.