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Paxton prosecutors want to delay May 1 trial until they can get paid

The special prosecutors handling the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking to put off his trial until they can get paid.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from Attorney General Ken Paxton's attorney.

The special prosecutors handling the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking to put off his trial until they can get paid. 

On Thursday, the prosecutors proposed moving the trial, currently set for May 1, to 60 days after a Dallas appeals court settles the payment dispute, which stems from a lawsuit by a Paxton supporter. Earlier this year, the 5th Court of Appeals temporarily blocked Collin County from paying the outside prosecutors assigned to the case, casting uncertainty over whether they would get paid as they prepare for trial in the high-profile case. 

Collin County officials appointed special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice in 2015 after Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, a Paxton friend and business partner, stepped aside. Nicole Deborde, a Houston attorney, later joined the prosecution. 

"Everyone in the courtroom is being paid to be there except us," the prosecutors said in a statement Thursday. "No one expected us to work for free when we accepted our appointment as special prosecutors. It’s only fair to compensate us for the hours we’ve already spent and will continue to spend to adequately prepare to try this case on behalf of the citizens of the State of Texas."

Paxton is accused of misleading investors in a company from before his time as attorney general, a legal saga that began more than a year ago. He recently beat a federal, civil case involving similar allegations, but the state charges remain — and they are more serious, carrying a potential prison sentence of up to 99 years. 

Paxton's team made clear it opposes the motion filed Thursday, questioning why the prosecutors "suddenly claim hardship proceeding to completion."

"The truth is that the Special Prosecutors know their case is crumbling," Paxton lawyer Bill Mateja said in a statement. "A federal judge has now twice dismissed nearly identical securities fraud charges."

"After many months spent publicly touting Ken's supposed fraud, the Special Prosecutors see the writing on the wall and have essentially abandoned any trial of those fraud charges in favor of the most ticky-tack of charges — failure to register as an investment adviser representative," Mateja added, apparently referring to the prosecutors' intention to hold two trials, starting with one on the registration charge.

The motion filed Thursday appears to mark a boiling point in tensions over the prosecutors’ pay. Paxton supporter Jeff Blackard has long sought to limit payments to the prosecutors, arguing excessive taxpayer money is going toward the case.

Blackard’s victory in January at the 5th Court of Appeals meant that the prosecutors would not get paid, at least for the time being, for all their work in 2016. They argued Thursday that Blackard is trying to "ultimately derail this prosecution by defunding it."

If granted, the motion would likely push the trial deeper into the year as prosecutors wait for a favorable ruling from the appeals court. In their filing Thursday, however, the prosecutors expressed confidence the trial would still proceed on a relatively prompt timeline.

"If the past is prologue, this case could be tried sooner rather than later, certainly no later than September 1, 2017,” the prosecutors wrote.

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