Editor’s Note: The above video explains the rules for the Ken Paxton impeachment trial.
AUSTIN (KXAN) – Texas House members in charge of the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton hired two of the most high-profile defense attorneys in Texas, at $500 per hour, to prosecute the case. Those attorneys’ payments could easily hit six figures and potentially go higher, according to records obtained by KXAN and a legal expert.
Contracts with attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin show they, and each of their attorneys working on the case, will earn $500 an hour. The contracts do not note a maximum value or tiered payment structure for different types of attorneys and employees. The attorneys’ teams will also be eligible for expense reimbursements, according to the contracts, which expire Oct. 31 unless canceled sooner.
David Coale, a Dallas appellate attorney and legal expert, said the payments to Hardin, DeGuerin and their teams will escalate into the hundreds of thousands, and could potentially exceed $1 million. However, that amount of money – for top-flight legal representation in such a unique and high-pressure case – is still an “extraordinary discount,” he said.
“They are going to recover their expenses with that and get a lot of great publicity, but they’re clearly not out to make a fortune by representation here,” Coale said. “My expectation is that these lawyers are able to command $1,500 an hour, easily, for a similar engagement outside this setting.”
House members voted to impeach Paxton on May 27, by a margin of 121 to 23. With that vote, they approved 20 articles of impeachment alleging Paxton disregarded official duties, abused the open records process, misapplied public resources, engaged in constitutional bribery and obstruction of justice, abused the judicial process, made false statements in official records, misappropriated public resources and more.
The Senate approved rules for a trial in their chamber in early September. Paxton is currently suspended from his office.
Many of the allegations against Paxton center on assistance he provided to Nate Paul, a prominent real estate investor, and a friend and campaign donor of Paxton’s. Paul was separately indicted on eight felony counts in early June. Paul’s federal charges related to alleged false statements and reports made to lenders, not his dealings with Paxton, according to federal court records. Through an attorney, Paul denied all the allegations.
Paxton has denied wrongdoing and retained his own high-powered attorneys, Dan Cogdell and Tony Buzbee of Houston, who have denounced the impeachment and called it a sham. Buzbee has told reporters he is not being paid with public funds.
Attorneys working on behalf of the House, on the other hand, are being paid by the state, and those records are public. In addition to paying Hardin and DeGuerin, the House Investigating Committee used several other attorneys during its initial investigation into Paxton.
What really drives up the price in civil litigation is the discovery process before trial, where people’s testimony is taken and exhibits are exchanged, Coale said. In Paxton’s impeachment process, that process was largely done by other attorneys before Hardin and DeGuerin were hired.
The House Investigating Committee relied on several attorneys it hired to investigate the allegations against Paxton. The committee said it began investigating the allegations against Paxton after he asked the Legislature for $3.3 million to settle a wrongful termination and retaliation lawsuit filed by several former high-ranking lawyers in Paxton’s office. Before losing their jobs, those attorneys had complained about Paxton’s assistance to Paul.
Through the Texas Legislative Council, the House Investigating Committee contracted with three outside attorneys – Donna Cameron, Mark Donnelly with law firm Parker & Sanchez PLLC, and Terese Buess with TMB Legal Consulting PLLC – to work on the Paxton investigation. Each was paid between $4,000 and $5,000 for work from about March 20 through the end of April, according to contracts and receipts obtained by KXAN.
TLC also brought in three other attorneys – Dan McAnulty, Brian Benken and Erin Epley – to investigate the case for the General Investigating Committee. TLC paperwork shows Epley was hired as the chief counsel for the General Investigating Committee on March 16, with a $10,000 monthly salary. McAnulty and Benken were hired in March as part-time investigators working for the committee for $3,600 per month.
At those rates, for all six attorneys’ work in April, the total cost was roughly $27,000, according to records provided to KXAN by TLC in response to a request for payments related to the impeachment investigation.
Coale said the House was able to control costs by using those attorneys to do the initial legal legwork.
“They saved a lot of money. The kind of work that it would have taken to present the kind of report I saw the House using, I mean, to hire a big private law firm to do that, that’s a lot of money. That’s, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.