The state’s top law enforcement officer — Attorney General Ken Paxton — now faces three felony charges related to possible securities fraud in business dealings before he took office.
As allegations that Paxton improperly steered people into investments while failing to disclose his own financial involvement take the spotlight, so have a series of legal heavyweights on both sides of the case.
Here’s a guide to sorting out who’s who in the legal drama playing out around the attorney general.
State District Judge George Gallagher of Fort Worth has been tapped to oversee the case. His appointment comes after a Collin County judge, Chris Oldner, recused himself.
Former colleagues and lawyers who’ve appeared in his court described Gallagher — who has been on the bench since 2000 — as a fair jurist, well-liked by both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Before he was a judge, Gallagher was a lawyer in private practice and spent four years working as an assistant prosecutor in the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.
Tom Hill, a Fort Worth family law attorney who used to work with Gallagher in private practice, had nothing but praise for him.
“I’m kind of biased because I think he’s the best,” Hill said. “He’s very grounded, very down to earth, very practical. He sees the big picture on every sophisticated case he’s handled.”
Hill said Gallagher’s not one to get “caught up in the drama” of a high-profile case.
Mark Edwards, executive director of the Special Prosecution Unit in Huntsville — an agency that prosecutes crimes within Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Juvenile Justice Department — has known Gallagher since the two were undergraduates at Texas A&M University.
Edwards, who was also Gallagher’s roommate at St. Mary’s University School of Law, said he had not spoken to Gallagher since news surfaced over the weekend that his friend was appointed the judge in the Paxton case.
But he said he did send Gallagher a message asking: “Are you sure you want to be doing this?”
Gallagher answered, Edwards said, saying that “he didn’t have any qualms because the attorneys [on both sides] were good.”
Jack Strickland, a Fort Worth criminal defense attorney, said Gallagher is a solid pick to preside over the case.
Gallagher is “not a mean guy and that’s important in a case like this,” said Strickland, who is a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney.
But he added that Gallagher is no pushover.
“I will tell you I have managed to annoy George on a couple of occasions,” Strickland said. “He’s got a little bit of a hair trigger. When he gets annoyed, he lets you know it in no uncertain terms. But he doesn’t hold a grudge.”
The Special Prosecutors
Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice, both well-known defense attorneys and University of Houston Law Center graduates, were tapped by a state district court judge in Collin County after District Attorney Greg Willis recused himself. Willis is a longtime Paxton friend.
Wice is well-known to television viewers in Houston, where he offers regular commentary for KPRC-TV and has appeared on Court TV. The Houston Press has dubbed him the “Sound-Bite King.”
But the appellate lawyer has also made a name away from the camera. His clients have included former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and NFL star Adrian Peterson.
Schaffer worked first as an investigator for storied lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes before working as a criminal defense attorney. He is a partner in the Bires Schaffer & DeBorde law firm in Houston and has represented several high-profile clients including Houston financier R. Allen Stanford, former U.S. Rep. Craig Washington, D-Houston, and Farrah Fawcett.
Gregg Cox, head of the public integrity unit, had referred the case to Dallas and Collin counties because he said the state anti-corruption unit lacked jurisdiction.
Powerhouse Dallas defense lawyer Joe Kendall, a former federal and state district judge who worked his way through college as a police officer, is representing Paxton.
The Baylor law school grad became one of the nation’s youngest federal judges when President George H.W. Bush appointed him in 1992. Before stepping down in 2002, Kendall presided over some of the region’s highest-profile cases, including the corruption and bribery trial of former Dallas City Council member Al Lipscomb and the 1999 American Airlines pilot sickout.
During his time on the bench, Kendall earned a reputation for his tough-guy candor and command of the courtroom, where he did not shy from sparring with attorneys and witnesses. A 2002 Dallas Morning News profile characterized Kendall’s style as “unorthodox, unyielding, and opinionated but fair-minded.”
Since his time as a judge, Kendall has taken on a variety of cases in private practice, including lawsuits on both sides of securities fraud violations.
He has a reputation as a “street-smart, savvy” advocate, said Dallas lawyer Tom Melsheimer.
Kendall’s judicial experience gives him insight into what it’s like to be a federal judge hearing a criminal case, said Melsheimer, who appeared before Kendall when he was on the bench and since then has worked with him on both sides of cases in private practice.
–>–> “He’s certainly going to be able to navigate the media effectively; he’s going to be able to navigate court system effectively,” he said. “Whatever mistakes the attorney general has made leading up to this indictment, I don’t think that he’s made a mistake in the lawyer that he’s hired.”
Disclosure: St. Mary’s University and Texas A&M University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune, and the University of Houston has been a corporate sponsor of the Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/08/03/guide-legal-players-paxton-case/.