- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Five Republican lawmakers supportive of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is charged with two felony counts of securities fraud, discussed through text messages ways to stop court-ordered payments to prosecutors in the criminal case, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The messages obtained by The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/2dRYls4) show the lawmakers strategizing about whether a county judge could be persuaded to stop paying three special prosecutors, who have made $300-an-hour over the past year while trying to bring Paxton to trial.

Paxton has pleaded not guilty to charges of duping investors in a high-tech startup. He was indicted in July 2015 by a grand jury in Collin County, which is near Dallas, and could go to trial as early as next year.

Conservatives have criticized prosecutors’ fees but a judge has said the payments must be made. In a series of text messages exchanged last week, the five lawmakers discussed whether Collin County Judge Keith Self could still stop the payments despite the court order.

“I’ll ask Keith if they lowered the fees and discuss options to stop payment,” Rep. Matt Shaheen wrote in one text.

“Perfect,” Republican Jeff Leach sent in reply. “Let him know we are here to help - not hurt. If Keith got sent to jail for this - I’d be the first to bail him out.”

The newspaper obtained the messages under open record laws. Leach told the newspaper he won’t apologize “for fighting for justice and for the taxpayers.”

Self said the pressure he’s received from members of his own party surprised him.

“I’m happy to work with my delegation, but it is very unusual for the delegation to send us letters on fees to be paid by the county,” Self said “The special prosecutors are basically our surrogate district attorneys, and our constitutional duty as a commissioners court is to provide adequate resources to our elected offices. That’s what we do.”

Other lawmakers in the text message group were state Reps. Jodie Laubenberg and Scott Sanford and state Sen. Van Taylor.

Paxton this month lost his third attempt to have the felony indictments dismissed before trial. A federal judge, however, recently dismissed a nearly identical civil lawsuit brought against him by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, saying that regulators did not have evidence of Paxton intentionally misleading investors.

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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