Here's how impeachment trial for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton will operate

ByYuriko Schumacher and James Barragan, The Texas Tribune
Monday, September 4, 2023
Here's how Ken Paxton's impeachment trial will operate
The trial will feature crucial votes on dismissing articles of impeachment as well as testimony under oath, private deliberations by senator-jurors and votes conducted without debate or discussion.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The impeachment trial for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is set to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Senate chamber of the Texas Capitol.

The Senate gallery will be open to the public daily, beginning at 8 a.m., with tickets distributed for the morning session on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 7:30 a.m. on the Capitol's third floor. Tickets for the afternoon session will be distributed 45 minutes before the gallery reopens.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will act as judge. Senators, serving as jurors, will consider 16 of 20 articles of impeachment. The Senate previously voted to delay consideration of the other four. Paxton's wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, will sit as a member of the court but will not vote on any decisions or participate in private deliberations.

The trial will begin with the court clerk reading aloud the 16 articles. Paxton, who was ordered to appear in person, or his lawyer will plead guilty or not guilty to each article. On the first day of the trial, some witnesses are also ordered to appear outside the front door of the Senate chamber at 11 a.m.

Rulings on pretrial motions

The court will begin its work by ruling on pretrial motions. Any motion to dismiss an article of impeachment must be approved by a majority of senators, at least 16 members. Patrick can rule on any other motion, or he can ask senators to vote on a motion without debate or discussion.

Patrick can also defer a ruling on motions, including dismissal of an article, until after evidence is presented at trial if that evidence would help answer the question.

Opening statements and presentation of evidence

The House managers will be first to offer an opening statement. Paxton's lawyers can choose to make a statement afterward or wait until they begin presenting evidence. Each side has up to one hour.

The House managers' lawyers will present their case first. Each side has a total of 24 hours to present witnesses and evidence and cross-examine the opposition's witnesses. After both sides present their evidence, each side will have one hour to present rebuttal evidence.

Witnesses will testify under oath.

Final arguments, deliberations and the Senate vote

Each side has up to one hour to make final arguments. Following that, Senators will meet in private to deliberate.

The 30 eligible senators will return to open court to vote separately on each article without debate or discussion, though they will have three days to submit a written explanation of their votes for publication in the Senate Journal.

Senators will submit a written vote on the question: "Shall this article of impeachment be sustained?" For each article, the court clerk will read, in random order, how each senator voted.

Paxton would be immediately removed from office if two-thirds of senators, or 21, vote to sustain an article of impeachment. A finding of acquittal would be entered for any article not sustained.

If an article is sustained, the House impeachment managers can ask senators to prohibit Paxton from holding future public office in Texas. Each side would have 15 minutes to argue their position. Approval requires support from 21 senators.

After the articles of impeachment votes

If Paxton is acquitted on all articles, he would be cleared to return to office.

If there is a conviction on any article of impeachment, Paxton would be removed from office, and the House board of managers could ask senators for a follow-up vote to disqualify Paxton from holding future office. Before that vote, which also requires two-thirds support, each side would have 15 minutes to present arguments.

What has happened so far

The move to impeach Paxton started in late May when the House General Investigating Committee revealed its investigation. Within days, the House voted overwhelmingly to impeach the attorney general.

May 23-25: House committee makes its investigation of Paxton public

The House General Investigating Committee revealed it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct, including bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice.

Four investigators for the committee testified that they believed Paxton broke numerous state laws, misspent office funds and misused his power to benefit a friend and political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.

On May 25, the committee filed its impeachment resolution, which included 20 articles, against Paxton.

May 27: House impeachment vote

The House voted 121-23 to approve the articles of impeachment, with 60 Republicans and 61 Democrats voting in favor. All votes against were by Republicans.

May 29: The House names 12 impeachment managers

The House announced a Republican-majority board of managers to handle the prosecution. Led by Republican Rep. Andrew Murr, a West Texas rancher and lawyer, and Democratic Rep. Ann Johnson, a former prosecutor, the team includes 11 people with law degrees. They delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate later that day.

June 8: Nate Paul arrested

Paul is charged with eight counts of making false statements to financial institutions, including Amplify Credit Union. Amplify was among 39 businesses and individuals subpoenaed by an outside lawyer hired by Paxton to investigate Paul's claims that his civil rights were violated during 2019 searches of his home and businesses.

June 21: Senate adopts trial rules

The Senate set the impeachment trial for Sept. 5 and adopted other rules including not allowing Angela Paxton to vote in the trial.

Senators also elected to hear evidence on 16 articles, holding four in abeyance that were largely related to 2015 criminal charges against Paxton for private business deals in 2011 and 2012. At the end of the trial, a majority of senators can vote to dismiss the four remaining articles, but if the motion to dismiss is rejected, the presiding officer will set a trial date on the four accusations.

July 17: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issues sweeping gag order

The order prohibits parties from both sides, including members of the Senate and House and their staffs, witnesses and attorneys, from making "out-of-court statements" that would prejudice the trial.

Aug. 5: Paxton seeks dismissal of case

Paxton's lawyers filed a flurry of motions asking senators to dismiss all 20 articles of impeachment, arguing that impeachment managers lacked evidence to convict and were attempting to thwart the will of voters who reelected Paxton in 2022 despite knowing about the accusations against him.

Aug. 15: Impeachment managers fire back

In a series of court filings, including thousands of pages of exhibits, House impeachment managers opposed Paxton's motions to dismiss the articles. They accused Paxton of going to great lengths to misuse his authority to help Nate Paul, then engaging in a complex cover-up to hide his relationship with the Austin businessman.

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