‘We want a public trial’: Dick DeGuerin, part-time Marfan, to lead prosecution in Paxton impeachment trial

AUSTIN — Legendary Texas defense attorney Dick DeGuerin was in Marfa, where he resides and practices law part time, when he received a call from the chair of the House Committee on General Investigating asking him to lead the prosecution in the Senate impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“You know what Marfa cell phone service is like,” laughed DeGuerin. “I’m just lucky that it went through.”

It was May 27, the day the Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton on the grounds of a wide range of accusations of misconduct, suspending the state’s top cop and setting in motion an impending trial wherein the state Senate will decide whether to permanently remove him from office. The 20 articles of impeachment adopted by the House include allegations of bribery, abuse of office and retaliation against whistleblowers. (Paxton’s office has claimed that the House’s impeachment was “based on totally false claims.”)

The House soon tapped both DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, top lawyers known for defending high-profile clients, to serve together as lead counsel. Shortly after receiving the initial call, DeGuerin was informed that Hardin would be his co-counsel, and the two got to work almost immediately. 

It is now their job to build a case strong enough to convince at least two-thirds of the Texas Senate that Paxton should be removed from office given the allegations laid out in the articles of impeachment. Of the 31 state Senators, 19 are Republicans — meaning if every Democrat in the chamber votes to remove Paxton, nine Republicans will have to join them in order to impeach. 

“We’ve got the evidence,” said DeGuerin. “The evidence, for any fair jury, would be compelling.”

As he saw it, the fickle variable that could potentially offset the strength of that evidence was partisan loyalty — a variable he noted the largely Republican House sidestepped when it voted 121-23 in favor of impeachment. He hoped the Senate would follow suit.

“What worries me about the Senate is that if they vote on a party line, Republican versus Democrat, then he will not be impeached,” said DeGuerin. “But this is not about party lines, and it’s not about politics. It’s about integrity. And so I’m hopeful that the senators will put aside any kind of party or liberal-conservative disagreement and vote to oust a crook.”

Then there was the matter of potential conflicts of interest. Paxton’s wife, Senator Angela Paxton of Collin County, is slated to be among the jurors to vote on her husband’s fate — and though her conspicuous presence on the ostensibly impartial body has been the subject of much discussion, she has yet to state publicly whether she plans to recuse herself.

“We haven’t made a decision yet on whether we’ll make an objection to that, but she ought to do the right thing and stand down,” said DeGuerin.

Much of the alleged misdeeds revolve around Paxton’s relationship to real estate developer Nate Paul. The articles of impeachment claim Paxton misused his office to benefit Paul, just as Paul at times benefited from the actions of the attorney general. One article claims that Paxton benefited from Paul’s employment of a woman with whom the AG was having an affair, and that Paul “received favorable legal assistance from, or specialized access to, the office of the attorney general.”

Another would-be juror is also enmeshed with the case in a way DeGuerin finds problematic — the articles of impeachment claim that Paxton concealed his actions benefiting Paul by “soliciting the chair of a senate committee to serve as a straw requestor.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has declined to publicly take a stance on the allegations and the trial. As far as prospective recusals go, Patrick reportedly told a Dallas TV station that he “will be presiding over that case and the senators — all 31 senators — will have a vote.”

Patrick’s office did not return a request for comment by press time.

Though DeGuerin and Hardin both began their legal careers with the Harris County District Attorney’s office, they have gone on to cultivate notoriety as defense attorneys. DeGuerin successfully defended former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison against misconduct charges; he also represented Robert Durst, the New York real estate mogul acquitted of murder in a 2003 trial, and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh. Hardin has a history of representing prominent clients, including star athletes — notably NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson and baseball player Wade Boggs. The draft into such a notable prosecutorial role, in a historic trial, represents a significant pivot for both attorneys.

DeGuerin and Hardin have both stated they believe in the importance of transparency throughout the proceedings — they intend to resist any efforts to “sweep it under the rug,” said DeGuerin.

“I think that all of the evidence ought to be public, and all the people of the state ought to know,” said DeGuerin.

“If you want a little sub-headline: We want a public trial,” he continued. “And it’s not about politics, it’s about integrity.”