- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - If any criminal charges are brought against Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is under investigation over an admitted securities violation, the case won’t be in the hands of his longtime friend.

A state district judge has picked two Houston attorneys to take over the case against Paxton, whose first months as chief lawyer in Texas has been shadowed by allegations that he broke the law. His spokesman has denounced the accusations as outrageous.

The replacement prosecutors were appointed after Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, a friend and former business partner of Paxton, recused himself earlier this week amid pressure that he had a conflict of interest.

Paxton, a former state senator, was fined $1,000 by state regulators last year for investment advising without registering.

“Both of us have been special prosecutors on high-profile matters, and are keenly aware of our oaths ‘not to convict, but to see that justice is done,” said Brian Wice, one of the appointed prosecutors, in a statement Wednesday. He said their investigation would be full and fair and “without regard to partisan politics.”

Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the Paxton case before stepping down, and has shot back at criticism that he had slow-played the matter.

One of the attorneys replacing Willis is Brian Wice, who represented former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay during his criminal appeal on money laundering charges. He will be joined by fellow Houston attorney Ken Schaffer.

Others could be appointed later “if deemed necessary,” State District Judge Scott Becker said.

The Texas State Securities Board, which issued the fine against Paxton, did not refer the case for prosecution. The current investigation is instead the result of a complaint filed by the same left-leaning watchdog group, Texans For Public Justice, which also filed the complaint that led to an indictment against former Gov. Rick Perry last year.

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