SENATE SETS DATE, RULES FOR PAXTON IMPEACHMENT TRIAL
(AUSTIN) — The Senate gave unanimous support Wednesday to a resolution ordering the attorney general to appear before the body at 9 a.m. on September 5th to answer charges of impeachment. Attorney General Ken Paxton was impeached by the House in the waning days of the regular session for disregard of official duty, bribery, and obstruction of justice stemming from his relationship with an Austin real estate developer. The state constitution now requires the Senate to consider the evidence laid before them by the House and decide whether or not to remove Paxton from office. “The citizens of Texas can count on the Senate of Texas to have a fair and just trial,” said Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who will preside over the impeachment trial.
Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury led the seven-member committee that drafted the rules for the impeachment trial.
Upon impeachment by the House, Paxton was suspended from office pending the results of the trial. Governor Greg Abbott has appointed attorney John Scott, who served as deputy AG for 10 years during Abbott’s tenure in that office, as interim attorney general.
Impeachment is not a judicial procedure, though its protocols and conduct closely resemble those of a court of law. For example, the rules adopted by the Senate Wednesday place restrictions on the speech of senators similar to those placed upon a trial jury. Patrick reminded members of those limitations now that they are effectively empaneled as a jury in the Paxton impeachment case. “Now that the court of impeachment has been called, no members of the court, staff of members of the court, presiding officer of the court, legal counsel of the presiding officer shall discuss or comment on any matter relating to the merits of the proceedings before the court of impeachment,” Patrick read from Rule 10 Section B of the resolution. Members are also barred under the rules from discussing the merits of the case with one another or advocating for or against a position until deliberations officially begin.
The 29-page rules resolution sets out procedure for motions, evidence, testimony, and witnesses. Both the House managers and Paxton’s attorneys will be permitted to deliver opening and closing statements, cross-examine witnesses, and submit rebuttal evidence similarly to a judicial court. Like a judge, the presiding officer is given power to compel the appearance of witnesses and can hold individuals in contempt. One difference between an impeachment court and a criminal or civil court under the rules set down for the trial is that the members acting as the jury will vote on many motions, rather than a summary decision made by a judge. The sessions of the court will be open to the public, though senators can meet, but not take action, in closed session. Citizens can view the proceedings in person in the public gallery above the Senate chamber or via livestream on the Senate website.
The Senate also approved a streamlined schedule with strict limits on the length of proceedings. “The Senate will not tolerate unnecessary delays, outbursts, or side-bar remarks,” reads rule 17. “The decorum rules of the Senate Chamber will be respected at all times. Prolonged, repetitive, or unnecessary questioning or posturing will not be allowed.” Opening and closing statements are limited to 60 minutes and each side will have only 24 total hours for presentation of evidence. Conviction on any of the articles of impeachment must have support of two-thirds of the Senate. Should Paxton be removed from office, senators will also decide whether or not to bar Paxton from holding state office in the future. The rules require that McKinney Senator Angela Paxton recuse herself from the trial. Paxton is married to the attorney general and now sits in the Senate seat he held prior to assuming his statewide office.
These rules were developed by a seven member committee, including four members who are veteran attorneys and one who is a former state district judge. They were led by retired Lt. Colonel and Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell, who thanked his colleagues in both the Senate and on the committee for the depth of consideration they gave to these serious matters.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, June 23, at 9 a.m.