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Paxton to pay restitution, do community service, take legal ethics classes to avoid criminal trial, have charges dropped

Paxton to pay restitution, do community service, take ethics classes to avoid trial and have charges
Paxton to pay restitution, do community service, take ethics classes to avoid trial and have charges 02:29

HOUSTON —Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton walked into a Houston courtroom Tuesday morning without saying anything about the deal he struck with the special state prosecutors that will allow him to avoid a criminal trial and eventually have the felony charges against him dropped.

To make that happen, Paxton agreed to the terms of the deal, called a pre-trial diversion, over the next 18 months.  

He'll have to pay more than $270,000 in restitution to the victims related to the state securities fraud charges.

Paxton will also have to perform 100 hours of community service, which Special Prosecutor Brian Wice said may involve spending time at a food pantry or soup kitchen.

The Attorney General will have also to check in with prosecutors virtually every 60 days.

At a news conference after the court hearing, Wice revealed he's been inundated with sharp criticism from members of the public who heard about the potential deal late last week. "I have been called everything but a child of God by these people and to them I say, I appreciate your concern, and with all due respect, your truth is not the truth. You know one-half of one percent of what Mr. Silverman and I know about the facts of these cases."

Paxton released a statement saying, "I look forward to putting this behind me, I want to thank my family, team, and supporters for sticking by my side. Dealing with a 10-year case looming over our heads was no easy task. I am glad to move on and will provide further comment in the weeks ahead."

His attorney, Dan Cogdell, said the Attorney General has not pleaded to anything in this case. 

"There is no admission of guilt, there will never be an admission of guilt because he's not guilty," said Cogdell.

Cogdell was asked why Paxton agreed to pay restitution if he did nothing wrong. 

"One of the answers to that is it's cheaper than what he'd have to pay me if he went to trial," he said. "Second, answer is look, there's no guarantee when you go before a trial."

The charges stem from the time before Paxton was first elected Attorney General in 2014.

As part of the state securities fraud charges, Paxton was accused of not disclosing he was receiving a commission when his clients made their investments, and he also faced a charge for failing to register to sell securities, a third-degree felony.

 Wice said Paxton received a deal that's very common for people with no criminal history. "I think that message it sends is this defendant was treated fairly with dignity and respect."

 But Cogdell disagreed, "Ken Paxton would never have been prosecuted in this case but for his being the Attorney General. On the failure to register the case, he's the only person in history that was prosecuted criminally."

Judge Andrea Beall said she was not part of this deal and that it was only between the prosecutors and Paxton's legal team. 

She warned that if Paxton violates any terms of the agreement, he will face a very speedy trial. 

Did Paxton get a special deal?

Some social media users following the case raised questions about whether Paxton got a special deal no one else would have.

After Tuesday's hearing, reporters asked both the prosecutors and Paxton's attorneys. 

The prosecutors said Paxton got what most people would receive, but the attorney general's lawyers said he was prosecuted for something most people wouldn't have been. 

"I think history will teach us; history will show us that Ken Paxton would never have been prosecuted in this case but for his being the attorney general, on the failure to register case," said Dan Cogdell, Paxton's lead attorney. "He's the only person in history that was prosecuted criminally after he paid a $200 administrative fine to the state securities board."

Brian Wice, one of the state's special prosecutors said, "This sends a message you're not going to be treated any differently than any other defendant. If any other defendant, assuming no prior criminal history, no other aggravating factors, was able to make restitution, do community service, I can't think of a single defendant that Jed and I ever represented that had to do legal ethics training or be supervised by the prosecutors"

A former special state prosecutor in the case, Kent Schaffer, told CBS News Texas that deals like this are common, especially in large counties, and that the public should not be surprised.

"When we indicted this case, we understood this very realistic possibility that even if Paxton was convicted, a jury probably wouldn't put him in prison. He'd be a convicted felon, but we always presumed he would get probation. It's a high-profile case but if a lawyer, stockbroker, bus driver, a schoolteacher, pre-trial diversion would probably be the first thing a district attorney would offer," Schaffer said.

Paxton was also initially charged with two first-degree felonies of securities fraud, but Schaffer said one of those charges has been dropped because one of the victims died.

According to Schaffer, Paxton is accused of failing to disclose to investors that he was making a commission on certain investments they made and that, unlike previous occasions, he was not contributing his own money to those same investments.

Why did the case take so long?

The criminal charges were first filed in 2015, and Wice blamed prior judges in this case for not doing their jobs, and for not making the proper decisions, which allowed it to drag on.

Wice said additional delays were due to the courthouse flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, as well as the courts shutting down at the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

Paxton's attorneys also tried to get the charges dropped and fought to have the case moved back to Collin County from Harris County.

Those decisions were appealed.

The special prosecutors have also been part of a pay dispute with Collin County, and say they haven't gotten paid; Wice told CBS News Texas he is owed about $250,000 and Schaffer said he is owed more than $200,000.

That issue remains under appeal.

Paxton reportedly remains under federal investigation. 

He also faces a whistleblower lawsuit filed against him by his former top lieutenants who were fired after they went to the FBI more than three years ago to report potential bribery allegations against him. The case led to his impeachment last year by the Texas House, followed by an acquittal in the Senate. He has also denied any wrongdoing in that case.

Watch Jack on Eye On Politics at 7:30 Sunday morning on CBS News Texas on air and streaming

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