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United States

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton gets temporary reprieve from testifying in lawsuit against him

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to temporarily halt state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s scheduled testimony in a whistleblower lawsuit that was at the heart of the impeachment charges brought against him in 2023, delaying what could have been the Republican’s first sworn statements on corruption allegations.

Paxton had urged the all-Republican court to block his deposition scheduled for Thursday morning, and the court agreed to stop the meeting while it considers the merits of his request. The court gave attorneys for a group of former aides suing Paxton until Feb. 29 to present arguments on why the deposition should proceed at a later date.

An attorney for the former aides declined to comment.

The former aides allege they were improperly fired for bringing to the FBI allegations that Paxton was misusing his office to protect a friend and campaign donor, who in turn, they said, was helping the attorney general to conceal an extramarital affair. The accusations were included in the impeachment charges brought against Paxton last year. He was ultimately acquitted after a Senate trial.

That trial was essentially a political affair, however, not a criminal case or civil lawsuit, and the former deputies have pressed on with their case. In response, a state district judge ordered Paxton to sit for a deposition.

The court’s decision came hours after former President Donald Trump posted on social media that the court should side with Paxton. “The great Supreme Court of Texas now has a big choice to make. Enough time and money has been wasted forcing Texas Attorney Ken Paxton, to defend himself,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. “He has already been fully acquitted in the Impeachment Hoax.”

Tuesday’s delay is at least a short-term victory for Paxton, who has yet to be put under to oath to respond to myriad legal claims against him. He also faces an upcoming trial on state felony security fraud charges in April, and a federal criminal investigation into corruption allegations. Paxton did not testify at his impeachment trial.

Paxton has denied wrongdoing, but has vigorously worked to avoid being deposed. Earlier this month, he announced that he would no longer contest the facts of the whistleblower lawsuit and would accept any judgment. Attorneys for the former Paxton aides called it a blatant attempt to avoid testifying.

Paxton insisted that the move was not an admission of guilt, but rather an attempt to end what he said was a costly and politically motivated lawsuit. He also filed multiple appeals to try to stop the deposition but was denied several times.

It was Paxton’s initial attempt to settle the case for $3.3 million, and ask the state to pay for it, that prompted House lawmakers to conduct their own investigation and vote to impeach him. As a term of that preliminary deal, the attorney general agreed to apologize for calling his accusers “rogue” employees.

At least one Republican state senator who voted to acquit Paxton in the impeachment trial has questioned whether the Senate should reconsider the case.

“Failure to at least consider this possibility runs the risk of AG Paxton making a mockery of the Texas Senate,” Sen. Drew Springer wrote in a letter to Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. The Senate does not meet again in regular session until January 2025.

Jim Vertuno, The Associated Press