A grand jury will soon decide whether Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton should be indicted for securities fraud, but the battle for public opinion is already kicking into high gear.
A Collin County grand jury is expected to begin hearing evidence against Paxton soon. It remains unclear when the grand jury will start meeting, but local media on Tuesday spotted special prosecutors assigned to the case entering a Collin County courthouse with the Texas Rangers, who have been looking into Paxton's self-admitted violation of the state securities law last year.
In recent days, Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm has sharpened his criticism of the process, arguing that meddling by an outside lawyer has rendered impartiality "impossible." Holm has also criticized the special prosecutors, Houston attorneys Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice, as loose-lipped publicity hounds who lack the experience to handle such a high-profile prosecution.
"Normally, seasoned prosecutors are appointed to aid investigations," Holm wrote in an op-ed for the Austin American-Statesman published Monday. "Instead, these two defense lawyers have built incredibly lucrative practices defending people charged with crimes, including drug and child sex crimes — the very type of criminal Attorney General Paxton tries to put in prison. One wonders about the impartiality of the appointed special prosecutors when their trade is defending those charged with the most heinous of crimes."
Schaffer and Wice issued their own statement Tuesday pushing back on Holm's op-ed.
"We knew when we were appointed by a Republican judge in one of the most conservative counties in Texas to investigate Mr. Paxton for securities fraud, that we would become the target of personal attacks on our character, reputation and experience," the prosecutors said in a statement. "With his non-stop salvos of half-truths, untruths, and borderline-comical sound bites castigating us — and by extension, the Texas Rangers, whose invaluable assistance has been essential to our investigation — for doing the job we were tasked with, Mr. Paxton’s PR proxy has not disappointed us."
"Mr. Paxton’s spinmeister can run, but can’t hide, from the unrelenting fact that the full, fair, and non-partisan grand jury investigation we have conducted is not about our character and reputation as defense attorneys or our experience as prosecutors," Schaffer and Wice added. "It is, instead, solely about whether there is probable cause to believe that Mr. Paxton has engaged in conduct constituting felony violations of the State Securities Act."
Wice, a commentator for a Houston TV station, specifically responded to Holm's suggestion that he was the "Geraldo Rivera of Houston," quipping that "apparently the 'Bill Cosby of Houston' was taken."
The back-and-forth is playing out as Paxton's legal troubles take a turn for the serious. Earlier this month, Schaffer said he and Wice would be "pursuing an indictment for first-degree felony securities fraud" against Paxton.
At the time — July 1 — Schaffer said the grand jury would begin meeting in less than a month. Wice declined to say Monday when exactly the grand jury would convene, and a spokesman for Paxton lawyer Joe Kendall did not have an immediate answer Tuesday.
WFAA reported that Schaffer and Wice "were seen entering the Collin County Courthouse Tuesday morning, along with the Texas Rangers." Schaffer would not comment to the Dallas-area TV station about whether they were there in connection with grand jury.
Little is known about what exactly the prosecutors plan to present to the grand jury. Their findings stem from investigators' probe of Paxton's admission last year that he solicited investment clients for a friend and business partner without properly registering with the state. He was reprimanded and fined $1,000 by the State Securities Board.
Holm has long maintained the legal drama is politically motivated and more recently suggested that a lawyer unrelated to the situation might have tainted the jury by circulating information about Paxton. The lawyer, Ty Clevenger, denied Monday that he did anything wrong, accusing Holm of looking to "preemptively smear the people who are trying to uphold the law."