Ken Paxton legal team works to invalidate every article of impeachment before trial

Tony Buzbee, the lead impeachment lawyer for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, speaks about the case during a news conference in Austin on June 7, 2023. (Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune, Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune)

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Attorneys for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a flurry of motions over the weekend that seek to dismiss additional articles of impeachment, arguing that the allegations are baseless or fall under the legitimate duties of the attorney general’s office.

In the documents, filed before Saturday’s deadline for pretrial motions and made public Monday, Paxton’s attorneys routinely accused House impeachment managers of using “any means necessary” to “overturn the will of voters” who elected Paxton last year.

Paxton’s team also downplayed the severity of the accusations against him — including those surrounding his firing of whistleblowers from his office who reported him to law enforcement for alleged bribery — and argued that many of the claims are without merit or do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.

In addition to challenging individual articles, Paxton’s lawyers filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing all 20 articles of impeachment that were approved 121-23 by the House in May, arguing that the accusations are unsupported by evidence.

The House impeachment managers have until Aug. 15 to respond in writing to all pretrial motions. Paxton’s impeachment trial, with 30 Texas senators acting as jurors, is set to begin Sept. 5.

Combined with earlier filings, the latest pretrial motions set up a dramatic confrontation in the early moments of Paxton’s trial — a series of votes by senators on whether to eliminate some or all of the articles of impeachment before evidence can be presented. A majority of senators — 16 — can approve dismissal of an article, placing an early test on the determination of the chamber’s 19 Republicans to allow a trial on the allegations.

If all articles were to be dismissed, the impeachment trial would be over before it began. If any article survives, the trial would move to opening statements by lawyers for the House impeachment managers. Paxton’s lawyers could deliver their opening statements immediately afterward or defer until later in the trial.

The new filings are the latest in which Paxton’s team, led by Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, has sought to have articles tossed.

Last week, Paxton’s team filed two motions to dismiss 19 of the 20 articles of impeachment, arguing that all but one — Article 8 — ran afoul of the “prior-term doctrine,” which they said bars officials from being impeached for conduct that predates their most recent election. They argued that almost all of the allegations outlined by House investigators were known to voters when they reelected him to his third six-year term in 2022.

But while those filings attacked the impeachment articles on procedural grounds, the new flurry of motions individually addressed the merits of the allegations against Paxton. The lawyers also sought to dismiss Article 8, which deals with Paxton’s request that the Legislature finance his $3.3 million lawsuit settlement with the whistleblowers — a request that prompted the initial House investigation into him earlier this year.

In its filing, Paxton’s team framed the lawsuit settlement as a “money-saving agreement” of “ordinary employment litigation.” It also accused the House of having “done violence to our democracy” by attempting to impeach Paxton over what it described as a “routine” function of his job.

The new filings also hint at Paxton’s potential defense strategy for allegations involving Nate Paul, a political donor and Austin real estate investor who was arrested in June on federal felony charges of lying to financial institutions to secure business loans. House investigators accused Paxton of misusing his office to help Paul’s business and to interfere with criminal investigations into Paul’s activities. In return, investigators alleged, Paul paid to remodel Paxton’s Austin home and hired a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair.

In the filing, Paxton’s team downplayed the relationship with Paul and argued that there was no evidence that Paxton formed “an illegal agreement” to help Paul in exchange for a benefit — a “quid pro quo” required under state bribery laws.

“As they stand, the Articles allege nothing more than that the Attorney General had a personal relationship with a constituent and that the constituent found something the Attorney General did to be agreeable in some way,” Paxton’s attorneys wrote. “If that is enough to amount to a bribe, scarcely any elected official is innocent of the House’s notion of bribery.“

On the other side of the legal fight, House impeachment managers filed a motion Saturday requesting clarity on several Senate-approved trial rules. They asked that cross-examination not count toward the 24 hours allotted to each side to present evidence; that both sides exchange “all documents, photographs or other materials expected to be used at trial” by Aug. 22; and that House managers be allowed to use their wireless mobile devices while on the Senate floor during the trial.

Disclosure: Tony Buzbee has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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