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Paxton attorneys request 3 Senate Democrats be removed as impeachment trial jurors

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(The Center Square) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attorneys are requesting that three Democratic senators be removed as jurors from his impeachment trial because they’ve already publicly stated their belief that he’s guilty.

They filed a motion Friday with the state Senate, which posted it Monday.

The Democrats are Sens. Jose Menendez, Roland Gutierrez, and Nathan Johnson.

One of them, Johnson, also appears to have violated a gag order imposed by the Senate by publicly tweeting an opinion related to the trial. Whether he will be sanctioned has yet to be announced by the Senate.

When Paxton’s motion was filed with the Senate on Friday, a copy was also filed with House managers. Within minutes, the motion was leaked to the Texas Tribune, in violation of the gag order. It has yet to be determined who leaked it, but some critics have noted that Paxton’s attorneys likely wouldn’t have leaked it to what conservatives describe as a left-leaning media outlet that regularly criticizes Paxton. Any member of the Senate, House or their staffs could have leaked it.

The 30-page motion was not publicized on the Senate Court of Impeachment website until Monday, the same day House managers filed a brief reply.

Paxton’s attorneys filed the motion challenging the three jurors for cause. It states, “due process is that the accused is entitled to an unbiased jury. … the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has held for almost a century that potential jurors with a bias or prejudice against the accused are disqualified from serving on his jury as a matter of law.” All three senators “have such bias and have proclaimed it loudly, time and time again,” it states.

According to the motion, in March 2023, Menendez said Paxton “continues to be allowed to flaunt the laws/rules without any consequences.” It also cites accusations Menendez made against Paxton dating back to 2018, which “evidence clear bias and prejudice,” which will “prove centrally important in the upcoming trial.”

It cites a news interview in which Gutierrez said he’d “seen an abundance of misdeeds here” that “could not be refuted” after the May 27 impeachment vote.

Roughly a month after the gag order was issued, Johnson tweeted on July 18 “that a political contribution to the court’s presiding officer from a source that has opposed the Attorney General’s impeachment was ‘obscene. If they’re attempting to influence the carrying out of our solemn constitutional duty to act impartially, shame on them,’” the motion states. Johnson was referring to a $3 million donation made by Defend Texas Liberty PAC to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and the impeachment trial as a judge. Johnson commented on and tweeted an article written by a Tribune reporter who days later first reported on the leaked motion.

“Johnson’s inability to follow the court’s instruction compounds the issue and conclusively establishes that he is unfit to serve as a juror in this proceeding,” Paxton’s attorneys argue.

Johnson could not be reached for comment. Patrick’s office also could not be reached for comment and has yet to announce whether or not Johnson would be sanctioned for appearing to violate the gag order.

The “purpose of a defense,” Paxton’s attorneys wrote, is to attempt to refute the prosecution’s evidence – and the function of a trial – to determine whether that evidence has proved charges beyond a reasonable doubt. No one who has publicly declared the charges against a defendant irrefutable can even play at impartiality, let alone serve in an impartial manner.”

When the Senate announced its rules governing the trial, Rule 31 prohibited Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, from voting due to potential bias. Paxton’s attorneys argue the same rule should apply to everyone else; Menendez, Gutierrez and Johnson should also be prohibited from voting.

The evidence against the Democratic senators, Paxton’s attorneys argue, is “sufficient to require voir dire examination” of them, “consistent with his constitutional rights.”

On Monday, the House managers also filed a motion stating they oppose Paxton’s motion and will file a response by Aug. 15. They also claim “that despite the Senate’s Gag Order and stated expectation that Mr. Paxton and counsel will follow its dictates, Mr. Paxton’s Motion was shared with the press even though the Senate has not posted it to the website. The House Managers trust that the Senate will deal with any departure from its mandates as the Senate deems fit.”

The House managers, also under a gag order, are prohibited from responding to requests for comment about whether they or any of their staff members leaked the motion prior to the Senate making it public.

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