A judge has ordered Collin County to pay the special prosecutors involved in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s securities fraud case after years of legal disputes regarding their compensation.
Harris County Judge Andrea Beall issued an order that requires Collin County to pay special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer at a rate of $300 an hour, which was the original amount decided by the judge who originally appointed them, according to court filings from the case.
If the appellate court finds that the rate is not “compliant with a reasonable fee,” $225 could serve as an alternative rate, Beall wrote in the order. Her ruling, which had been sealed, was included in a new filing with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Collin County had previously put a $2,000 cap on all pretrial expenses, which Beall called “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.”
The cap imposed by Collin County commissioners stemmed from a state law that governs compensation for court-appointed attorneys, which Wice and Schaffer argued was unconstitutional.
Had Beall upheld the cap, Wice would have been paid roughly $6 an hour, and co-counsel Schaffer would have been making about $9 an hour, according to the Houston Chronicle. While Beall did not agree that the cap was unconstitutional, she did agree that the prosecutors deserved a “fair wage.”
Collin County Judge Chris Hill posted on social media to express his disagreement with the ruling.
“Nevermind that both the 5th COA and the Texas CCA ruled in our favor against these fees,” wrote Hill. “Good luck with that.”
Similarly, Paxton’s team criticized the ruling, stating that the attorney general “just wants his day in court” and “the Special Prosecutors seem content pushing that day further back with its dilatory sideshow of an appeal.”
“Once again, the Special Prosecutors are making clear that their prosecution of Ken Paxton is all about money and not justice,” said defense attorneys Philip Hilder and Dan Cogdell in a statement, per The Texas Tribune.
Wice and Schaffer said they were pleased with the ruling, claiming that “Beall’s well-reasoned decision clearly falls within the zone of her inherent and virtually unlimited judicial discretion.”
“We’re confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals will enforce her lawful order with all deliberate speed and finally put an end to Collin County’s incessant, transparent, and purely political ploy to derail Ken Paxton’s prosecution by defunding it,” they alleged in a statement, per The Texas Tribune.
This latest development comes just days after a start date for Paxton’s trial was set: April 15, 2024. Paxton allegedly defrauded investors by failing to disclose that he was paid to promote a startup company, according to prosecutors, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
Paxton was indicted by a Collin County grand jury in 2015, less than seven months after being elected attorney general.
He has since pled not guilty to two counts of first-degree securities fraud and a third-degree charge for failing to register with the state securities board, per The Dallas Express.
If convicted, Paxton could face up to 99 years in prison and would no longer be allowed to hold office in the state.