The special prosecutors in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking the state’s highest criminal court to help them get paid.
On Tuesday, the prosecutors asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse a ruling from a lower court last month that voided a six-figure invoice for work that goes back to January 2016. The prosecutors said the decision by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals was a “clear abuse of discretion.”
The ruling “will have a chilling effect on the ability of trial judges to appoint qualified lawyers — defense attorneys and special prosecutors alike — willing to take on the most complicated and serious cases,” the prosecutors wrote.
The Court of Criminal Appeals must now decide whether it will hear the prosecutors' case. Prosecutor Brian Wice asked for oral arguments.
It is a high-stakes moment for the trio of Paxton prosecutors, made up of Houston attorneys Nicole DeBorde, Kent Schaffer and Wice. If the Court of Criminal Appeals turns them down, they will likely have to make a decision about whether to continue working for free.
In its Aug. 21 decision, the appeals court invalidated the $205,000 invoice, siding with critics who claimed the prosecutors were being paid too much. The legal challenge to the invoice was initiated by the Collin County Commissioners Court, which is responsible for approving such payments.
The prosecutors' pay has been under fire for a long time. Paxton supporter Jeff Blackard has repeatedly sought to limit payments to the prosecutors through a series of lawsuits, arguing excessive taxpayer money is going toward the case. The prosecutors have contended that Paxton's side is trying to ultimately defund their efforts.
For more than two years, Paxton has been fighting allegations that he misled investors in a company from before his time as attorney general. Paxton, who has pleaded not guilty, could face up to 99 years in prison if convicted.
Paxton has been cleared in a similar, civil case on the federal level.
In the state's criminal case, Paxton is set to stand trial in December on the less serious of three charges he faces.