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Legendary Texas lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin will serve as lead prosecutors for the state House in the Senate impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The two Houston-based defense attorneys, introduced at a Capitol news conference Thursday, are legal icons in their own right, having separately represented a litany of high-profile athletes, celebrities and politicians in criminal and civil investigations.
“They are outstanding lawyers and lions of the Texas trial bar,” said David Coale, a Dallas-based appellate lawyer and legal commentator. “This is the legislature saying, ‘This isn’t just some case, this is an unusual, historic case.’ And if you want to make some history, you get some history book-level lawyers.”
DeGuerin defended former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican, against charges that he illegally funneled corporate donations to members of the Texas Legislature in 2002. DeLay was found guilty, but his conviction was overturned on appeal.
He also successfully defended former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, from misconduct charges. Other high-profile clients have included New York real estate mogul Robert Durst during his 2003 murder trial and acquittal; and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh during the 1993 Waco standoff.
Hardin has represented a long list of celebrities, star athletes and businesses, including Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm at the heart of the Enron scandal that was found guilty of obstruction of justice before the conviction was overturned in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Other Hardin clients included star NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson amid a litany of sexual assault lawsuits in Harris County; legendary baseball player Wade Boggs; and the estate of Texas millionaire J. Howard Marshall in a dispute with former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith.
Hardin is on a short list of attorneys named “Texas Legal Legends” by the State Bar of Texas’ litigation section and, before opening a private practice two decades ago, served 15 years as a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
At a brief news conference on Thursday, Hardin and DeGuerin noted that together they have more than 100 years of legal experience and said it was an honor to represent the House in Paxton’s trial, which has not been scheduled but will occur before Aug. 28, according to a resolution recently adopted by the Senate.
The two said their job was to be transparent as they lay out all of the allegations against Paxton so senators, who will sit as a jury, as well as members of the public can decide for themselves if Paxton deserves to be permanently removed from office.
“The people of the state of Texas are entitled to know whether their top cop is a crook,” DeGuerin said. “We know the importance of transparency in these proceedings because the people have a right to know.”
Hardin said he was “shocked” by the allegations against Paxton that were detailed in the 20 articles of impeachment, including bribery, retaliation and obstruction of justice. Much of the purported misconduct revolved around Paxton's longtime friendship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, and Paxton's decision to fire whistleblowers in his office who told authorities that Paxton had misused his office to benefit Paul. Other allegations date back to 2015, when Paxton was first indicted on securities fraud.
“This is not about a one-time misuse of office,” he said. “This is not about a two-time misuse of office. It’s about a pattern of misconduct.”
He added: "I promise you it is 10 times worse than what has been public.”
They also said they were not driven to take the case by ideology or political affiliation. Campaign finance records show that, since 2000, they have each given thousands of dollars to a mix of candidates from both sides of the political aisle, including Republican judicial candidates and Democratic causes.
As news of their hiring broke, longtime legal observers reacted with shock, saying it only raises the stakes of the looming trial. Coale, the Dallas appellate lawyer, said it will also now be much more difficult for Paxton's team to kill the prosecution's momentum by focusing on dry, procedural issues, which he said could be one viable defense strategy.
"They are showmen," he said of Hardin and DeGuerin. "They have a great sense of how to put on a show and keep people's interest."
The Thursday announcement is the latest development in a fast-moving and high-stakes drama that has gripped the state since last Tuesday, when Paxton accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of presiding over his chamber while intoxicated and demanded he resign. Hours later, a House committee revealed that it had been investigating Paxton for months. Phelan’s office accused the attorney general of trying to distract from the investigative committee's looming hearing.
Last Wednesday, members of the House Committee on General Investigating detailed roughly eight years of alleged misconduct by the attorney general. The bipartisan committee said their inquiry began earlier this year, when Paxton requested that the Legislature — and, thus, taxpayers — cover the cost of a $3.3 million lawsuit settlement with whistleblowers from his office who said they were improperly fired after reporting some of Paxton’s alleged misconduct to authorities.
A day later, the investigative committee unanimously recommended that Paxton be impeached, and filed 20 articles of impeachment with the House that included bribery, retaliating against whistleblowers and obstruction of justice. Two days later — and after a four-hour debate that included detailed breakdowns of Paxton’s alleged crimes — the GOP-controlled House voted 121-23 to impeach, temporarily suspending Paxton until his trial by the Senate.
Since then, House investigators have unveiled the 12 House members who, as impeachment managers, will assist Hardin and DeGuerin in their prosecution. All but one have law degrees.
Meanwhile, Paxton and his allies have continued to say the impeachment was politically motivated and denied him due process. And he has begun to assemble his defense team, which includes at least six top OAG officials and employees who have taken leaves of absence to work on his behalf. At least two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote in favor of impeachment to remove the attorney general from office. Paxton’s wife, state. Sen. Angela Paxton, has also yet to say whether she’ll recuse herself from the proceedings.
Speaking Thursday, Hardin acknowledged the weight and history of the moment, but said there is much more to come.
The allegations, Hardin said, “will blow your mind.”
Carla Astudillo contributed reporting.
Disclosure: Dick DeGuerin, Rusty Hardin and the State Bar of Texas have been financial supporters 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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