Texas attorney general Paxton pleads not guilty to securities fraud

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges alleging that he defrauded investors before he became the state’s top lawyer, and his high-powered attorney announced that he would no longer represent him.

Paxton appeared before District Judge George Gallagher in Fort Worth. He is charged with two counts of securities fraud over allegations he deceived investors in a tech startup that was compensating Paxton for bringing in business.

Paxton’s attorney, Joe Kendall, said Paxton had submitted written requests to plead not guilty to the charges. Paxton said nothing about his plea but briefly addressed the court moments later, after Kendall, a former federal judge, said he planned to withdraw from the case. Kendall didn’t go into detail about why he was leaving the case, telling the judge only that there were “issues” that would complicate his continued involvement.

The attorney general was asked about changing lawyers and started to answer from his seat, to which Gallagher responded: “You need to stand, please.”

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Asked if Kendall’s departure left him without a lawyer, Paxton sounded somewhat unsure but said he intended to hire a new attorney by next week. The judge gave him until Sept. 3.

The special prosecutors leading the case against Paxton said they didn’t object to Paxton switching attorneys, but they noted that he has gone through a series of lawyers and were wary of it becoming a stall tactic as the case proceeds.

Paxton, a Republican, was elected last November and took office in January. He is one of two sitting state attorneys general in the U.S. who are fighting criminal charges. Pennsylvania Democrat Kathleen Kane is accused of leaking grand jury information.

“I am innocent of these charges,” Paxton said in a statement released by his office after the court hearing. “It is a travesty that some would attempt to hijack our system of justice to achieve political ends they could not accomplish at the ballot box. Regardless, I will continue to serve the people of Texas as Attorney General and continue to fight for the freedoms guaranteed under our Constitution.”