State of Texas: Attorney General Ken Paxton strikes deal, avoids criminal trial

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appeared in court last week to mark the beginning of the end of his security fraud charges.

Prosecutors reached a deal during Tuesday’s hearing in Houston. Paxton is ordered to pay almost $300,000 in restitution, complete 100 hours of community service and take 15 hours of legal ethics classes.

The AG will avoid a trial, but the case won’t be dismissed for at least 18 months, pending Paxton’s completion of the requirements.

“For over a decade, my family and I have been dealing with the ongoing stress of these accusations and are relieved to finally have a resolution in this matter,” said Paxton in a statement Tuesday morning. “There will never be a conviction in this case nor am I guilty.”

PREVIOUS: Paxton, prosecutors strike deal

Paxton will not be able to use campaign funds to pay “personal debts.” Additionally, prosecutors will have regular Zoom calls to check-in and ensure that he is fulfilling his obligations.

“Our primary duty is to do justice and not to convict. So the question isn’t whether or not who won, but was justice served?” said prosecutor Brian Wice, “and I think the answer to that is unmistakable. Yes.”

The accusations date back to 2015, before Paxton’s election to become Texas Attorney General.

A Collin County grand jury indicted Paxton, alleging he deceived investors by promoting stocks in a McKinney technology company without disclosing that he was being compensated for doing so. Paxton is also charged with failing to register with the state securities board.

The case has avoided a trial for nine years, primarily because of disputes over where it would be held.

Defense attorney Dan Cogdell said Paxton is happy with the agreement, but emphasized that he did not admit wrongdoing.

“There is no admission of guilt. There will never be an admission of guilt, because he’s not guilty,” Cogdell told reporters outside the courtroom. “We’re glad to have this matter behind us. This case has been pending longer than the Beatles were together.”

“We hope he’s successful. We hope he pays the restitution and complies with the terms of this agreement,” Wice said.

According to the prosecutor, Paxton’s 100 hours of community service will probably be served at a food pantry or soup kitchen in Collin County.

Judge pauses Paxton’s investigation of LGBTQ+ advocacy group

A Travis County judge decided to uphold a decision to block Paxton’s investigation of an LGBTQ+ nonprofit that provides support to families with transgender children.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum issued a temporary injunction Monday, saying PFLAG Inc. would suffer “immediate and irreparable injury” if the organization were to hand over information with potentially sensitive information that identified its members to Paxton’s office.

She also set a trial date for the case on June 10, signaling that PFLAG “would likely prevail” at that time.

“These egregious attacks by the Attorney General’s Office is a boldface attempt to invade the privacy of the loving families and scare and bully people who want nothing more than to love their children,” said Lynley Egyes, legal director for the Transgender Law Center.

MORE: Court blocks Paxton’s investigation LGBTQ+ advocacy group

PFLAG received two civil investigative demands from the Attorney General’s Office on February 9, ordering the nonprofit to turn over documents, communications and information related to its work helping Texas families with transgender children.

The lawyers representing PFLAG argued in court that they believe these demands were “retaliation” for the organization being involved in two other lawsuits over Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s memo to investigate families with transgender kids for child abuse. Both of those two other lawsuits are currently on hold.

Attorneys with the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said these civil demands are “not end-runs” to get information for the two other lawsuits. They added they’re modifying the requests to better specify that the office does not want any membership lists from PFLAG.

The OAG claims it requested the information as part of an insurance fraud investigation that is looking into how doctors might attempt to circumvent a statewide ban on transition-related medical care for minors. Doctors caught avoiding the ban could lose their medical licenses.

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“PFLAG is not a medical organization. PFLAG doesn’t prescribe medication, they don’t have doctors on staff,” Egyes said.

Lawyers representing PFLAG said in court Monday that these requests have a “chilling effect” on how it operates in Texas. PFLAG has 18 chapters in Texas, with more than 1,600 members.

Aaron Ridings, an executive vice president for PFLAG, testified that the nonprofit already suffered a loss in volunteers and experienced a decrease in in-person meetings for its support groups throughout the state.

“They are concerned about being on the attorney general’s radar,” Ridings told Paxton’s lawyers during cross-examination.

“This fear is having a real impact on people’s lives,” Egyes said. “People are scared to sign in and have their name in front of the Attorney General’s office, but luckily today we don’t have to worry about that, thankfully, with the temporary injunction that was granted.”

On Friday, a Texas Appeals Court upheld the ruling against the OAG’s office, again delaying Paxton’s investigation.

KXAN reached out to Paxton’s office seeking further comment about the decision, and so far no response has been shared.

Lawmaker warns colleges slow to partake in Texas’ DEI ban

Texas colleges and universities have been working to adapt to the state’s ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, since it went into effect on Jan. 1.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton said he is “deeply concerned with the possibility that many institutions may choose to merely rename their offices or employee titles,” in a letter to university system chancellors this week. He then requested university leaders explain their efforts to comply with law in a May hearing of the Senate Committee on Education.

“We have feedback from campuses all over the state on either progress with implementing the laws as intended or continuing efforts to, in some cases, subvert the intentions and the spirit of the law,” said Creighton in an interview Thursday.

Creighton warned universities that noncompliance may result in freezing of state funding or legal action.

Penalties loom for colleges ‘subverting’ DEI ban, lawmaker warns

Senate Bill 17 bans universities from maintaining diversity offices or officers, prohibits mandatory diversity training, and eliminates any consideration of race from hiring decisions. Creighton did not specify examples of universities currently out of compliance with the law, nor is Nexstar aware of specific examples at this time.

Some universities are unsure of exactly what the ban prohibits, however, and some students have expressed confusion and frustration that their university’s compliance efforts improperly harmed their cultural organizations.

For example, multiple organizations for Black students at the University of Texas at Austin have reported experiencing drops or delays in funding.

UT’s National Association of Black Journalists didn’t receive anticipated funding last October, as college leaders advised they could not guarantee the funds would comply with SB 17 once it took hold. The Black Student Alliance also reported the need to cut more than half of attendees to the Big 12 Conference, citing a lack of funding.

Creighton said the core intention of SB 17 is to regulate faculty hiring, but some universities have been “very cautious.”

“Certain affinity groups within the legislation, they’re protected under the bill. The bill certainly is, from a much broader sense, about faculty hiring,” he said. “When you go into requesting university funding, then there’s going to be some strict guidance from the General Counsel of those universities on how and what ways university funding — public taxpayer dollars — can be used. That’s going to be up to the general counsel for those institutions.”

Creighton did not directly clarify whether funding for cultural student groups falls within the purview of SB 17. The law makes clear that the ban does not limit “creative work” by students or faculty or “an activity of a student organization” recognized by the university.

“What I am concerned about is hiring based on anything but merit,” he said. “We’re going to continue to pursue diverse outcomes with student body applications and with professors that apply. But those were not being delivered as outcomes under DEI units. DEI units had absolutely failed in that regard.”

View the full interview with Sen. Creighton here.

Special committee to hold field hearings on Panhandle wildfires

About a month following the Panhandle wildfires, a special house committee tasked with investigating the cause of the wildfires will hold a three-day hearing in Pampa, near Amarillo.

PHOTOS: Wildfire grows into one of largest in Texas history as flames menace multiple small towns

State Rep. Ken King (R – Canadian) spoke to KXAN on why it was important for the hearing to be held in Pampa.

“Let’s just start with why we’re doing it in Pampa versus doing it in Austin. This didn’t happen in Austin. This happened here. And it’s happened over and over and over.”

Lawmakers are taking a closer look at prevention and preparedness in the aftermath of the loss of over one million acres of land. Rep. King, chairman of the special committee, also lost property in the fire.

“Watching my friends and neighbors all come together and work for total recovery for everyone has been something that has will never leave my my mind or my heart,” said King.

King’s committee will hear from first responders, landowners and other stakeholders with topics surrounding fire mitigation and firebreaks. King says a big part of their focus will remain on making sure there are resources to control and respond fast enough in future fire situations.

King emphasizes the importance of getting information for lawmakers now. “If we don’t start now we’re not going to get anything done in the next legislative session. This problem is too complex to fix in a 140 day session.”

The committee will hold three days of hearings in Pampa. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee will hear invited testimony only. On Thursday, they’ll open it up for public testimony. Members of the public can attend all three days of the hearing.

Texas House facing federal pause on LNG exports

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan appointed a select committee of state lawmakers to address the Biden Administration’s temporary pause on approving new exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

“President Biden’s abrupt decision earlier this year to pause pending approvals of LNG export projects will likely have significant economic implications for Texas, and it is important we fully understand what a prolonged pause would mean for our state’s thriving energy sector,” Speaker Phelan wrote on X Monday. “I’ve created the House Select Committee on Protecting Texas LNG Exports to examine the potential impacts to the state a prolong pause would create and ways to mitigate any negative consequences on the LNG industry, the state’s energy sector and our Texas economy.”

Texas House tackles Biden Administration’s pause on LNG export permits

The committee, chaired by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, is intended to analyze the anticipated economic and environmental impacts of the pause and determine how the state can and should respond.

The White House announced in January that it will pause pending decisions on LNG exports in January to give the U.S. Department of Energy time to review its standards. The White House explained the Department’s current analyses “no longer adequately account for” potential increases in energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

“We also must adequately guard against risks to the health of our communities, especially frontline communities in the United States who disproportionately shoulder the burden of pollution from new export facilities,” the White House said. “The pause, which is subject to exception for unanticipated and immediate national security emergencies, will provide the time to integrate these critical considerations.”

The decision drew criticism from some of Texas’ top business groups, who argue that the pause will hurt the Texas economy, allies’ energy security, and the environment by promoting dirtier energy sources like coal.

Texas Association of Business President Glenn Hamer called the pause “a direct hit on the economy of Texas.”

“It was among the very worst decisions of the administration,” he said. “The pause makes no sense environmentally, it makes no sense economically, and for a state like Texas, which leads the country by far in LNG production, it’s particularly damaging.”

“This lawsuit is misguided and lacks understanding of what the pause actually is,Sierra Club Senior Attorney Nathan Matthews said. “The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of LNG, and this pause does nothing to disrupt the already massive amount of US-sourced methane gas being sent all over the world.”

“Users around the world are relying on the United States and we need to make certain they know we’re a solid partner that can be trusted,” said President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association Todd Staples.

Last week, Paxton filed a lawsuit with 15 other states to block the administration’s pause.

“Biden’s unilateral decree disregards statutory mandates, flouts the legal process, upends the oil and gas industry, disrupts the Texas economy, and subverts our constitutional structure,” said Paxton.

That lawsuit drew criticism from environmental groups, who argue the pause will result in a more thorough permitting process and protect local communities from pollution.

Phelan directed the select committee to submit an initial report by May 13. The 89th legislature may act on recommendations with legislative proposals during the 2025 legislative session.

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