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AG Ken Paxton’s impeachment inquiry has cost Texas over $4.2 million

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, sits between defense attorneys Tony Buzbee, left, and Mitch Little, right, before starting the ninth day of his impeachment trial in the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in Austin, Texas. 

Sam Owens
/
Pool via San Antonio Express-News
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, sits between defense attorneys Tony Buzbee, left, and Mitch Little, right, before starting the ninth day of his impeachment trial in the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in Austin, Texas.

More than $4.2 million.

That’s how much Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment inquiry has cost Texas. Most of that money will pay outside attorneys hired by the Texas House to prosecute the case.

Invoices obtained by The Texas Newsroom through an open records request show that the prosecution, led by notable attorneys Rusty Hardi

and Dick DeGuerin, billed the state about $3.7 million for their legal teams.

The overall costs are higher than a whistleblower lawsuit that spurred the historic inquiry. A group of former Paxton deputies accused him of corruption in late 2020, and then sued his office under state whistleblower laws for wrongful termination after they were fired.

The Office of the Attorney General tried to settle the lawsuit for $3.3 million. But House lawmakers refused to fund it, instead choosing to investigate Paxton for the same corruption allegations.

Paxton was ultimately impeached by the Texas House in May, accused of abusing his office to protect a political donor. The Texas Senate acquitted the Republican of all 16 impeachment charges in September, and Paxton resumed his official duties.

The total costs of the impeachment inquiry are likely to continue to grow. For example, the documents released so far do not appear to include salaries for at least two lawyers who worked on the impeachment investigation.

The preliminary price tag is not necessarily a surprise. Prosecutors had said they were planning to bill the state over $3 million for their services.

Paxton, who won re-election to a third term last year, is a staunch conservative known for his hardline policies on abortion, immigration and LGBTQ rights.

The impeachment process, as well as its cost, sowed divisions between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, both Republicans. Patrick, who presided over the impeachment trial as judge, accused the House of rushing the process and of wasting “millions of taxpayer dollars” on the impeachment.

On Thursday, Paxton issued a statement in response to the updated cost information accusing House leadership of being “liberal” and “ineffective.” He doubled down on Republican voters to oust them in next year’s elections.

“Voters need to send Dade and any Representative supporting Dade home in the upcoming primaries. We need effective leadership in the House that quits embarrassing Texas and is focused on making Texas a beacon of freedom, enterprise, and opportunity,” Paxton said.

Breakdown of the costs

More than $4 million of the $4.2 million costs were billed by investigators, lawyers and others working on the team seeking Paxton’s impeachment and removal from office. Most of the money went to Hardin’s team. He billed more than $3 million for at least two dozen lawyers who worked on the case, including $274,000 for himself.

The impeachment team also spent $32,000 on a PR firm, and about $4,700 on supplies and electronics.

Costs for the DeGuerin team, which had far fewer lawyers, were $471,000. Their invoices included hotel and travel costs, trial prep and hourly billing for the proceedings.

It’s unclear whether all of the invoices have been paid.

In a statement to The Texas Newsroom, DeGuerin said criticism from Paxton and Patrick over the amount the legal team charged the state “ignores the long hours and hard work we put into this, and it ignores the importance of bringing out the evidence of Paxton’s wrongdoings and of his abuse of the office of the Texas Attorney General.”

DeGuerin confirmed he has been paid.

Meanwhile, The Texas Senate has to pay nearly $200,000 in impeachment costs, including nearly $100,000 to Lana Myers, a former justice of the Texas Supreme Court who aided Patrick in proceeding over the impeachment trial, according to records obtained by The Texas Newsroom.

In a statement Thursday, Patrick said the latest invoices show that "the Senate protected taxpayer money while Dade Phelan and the House spent like drunken sailors on shore leave."

The Texas State Auditor’s Office told The Texas Newsroom earlier this month that it’s conducting a special audit, requested by Patrick, into the expenses incurred by the Texas House, Senate, Office of the Attorney General, and other agencies. Patrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the costs.

The lawsuit that spurred the impeachment inquiry is still making its way through the courts. The whistleblowers have not received any settlement money.

In an interview with The Texas Newsroom, Hardin responded to Patrick's comments saying the lieutenant governor should have recused himself from presiding the impeachment trial after accepting $3 million from a pro-Paxton PAC.

"I will let the public judge whose conduct was a waste of time," Hardin said.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued Thursday, Phelan didn’t address the impeachment inquiry’s price tag. Instead, he defended his chamber’s decision to hire outside counsel to prosecute the impeachment case.

“The investigation, impeachment, and trial of Ken Paxton shed a clear, unflinching light on who Paxton is and the lengths to which he will go to stay in power,” Phelan, R-Beaumont, said. “The Texas House will continue to faithfully fulfil its obligation to protect the integrity of our institutions and safeguard the public’s trust.”

In a statement Thursday, Rep. Andrew Murr, the chairman of the General Investigating Committee, echoed the speaker’s thoughts.

“The future of Texas's governance, rooted in trust and transparency, justifies this expenditure, reinforcing the belief that the foundations of our democracy are worth every penny,” Murr said.

Copyright 2023 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Lauren McGaughy
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.