AUSTIN, Texas — Tony Buzbee, the prominent and boisterous Houston attorney representing suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, went on the offensive on Wednesday, alleging his client was the victim of a “kangaroo court” and promising a long and vigorous fight against impeachment.
“Ken Paxton will never be convicted by the Senate,” Buzbee said at a Wednesday press conference, one day after he was officially announced as the leader of Paxton’s defense team. “Not on this evidence. Not with this record. The fact is, these allegations are completely untrue.”
Speaking at the headquarters of the Republican Party of Texas, Buzbee called Paxton a “fearless leader of our constitutional rights” and said the 20 articles of impeachment filed against Paxton were “bologna” put forward by “so-called” investigators and members of the House Committee on General Investigating.
And echoing claims made by other prominent conservatives, Buzbee accused House Speaker Dade Phelan and his “followers” of trying to overturn the will of voters by voting to temporarily remove Paxton from office over Memorial Day weekend. The vote came just days after the General Investigating Committee revealed it had been looking into years of alleged misdeeds by Paxton. Buzbee said Paxton was not given any opportunity to defend himself from the allegations, some of which have been public since 2015.
“[The Texas House] rejected every ethical, moral and legal concept that exists in law,” Buzbee said. “The speaker’s followers and himself thought that they could pull off what could only be described as a drive-by shooting on a holiday weekend.”
Buzbee is the latest big-name attorney to join the fray in Paxton’s impeachment trial. Texas legal giants Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, who have been described as “lions of the Texas trial bar,” will serve as the lead prosecutors for the House impeachment managers. The state will pay their firms $500 an hour for their work, according to service agreements obtained by The Texas Tribune.
In a Wednesday statement, Hardin pushed back against Buzbee's claims that Paxton was denied due process, and noted that the House's inquiry into Paxton began only after he asked the Legislature — and, thus, taxpayers — to cover the $3.3 million lawsuit settlement he reached with whistleblowers from his office who said they were improperly fired after reporting Paxton to authorities. Hardin also compared the House impeachment vote to a grand jury decision, and said its proceedings were "designed simply to decide whether these serious allegations merited being presented to the Senate in a full-blown trial."
"That is all the House has decided so far," Hardin wrote. "All of the due process, transparency, and the presentation of evidence that his lawyers are concerned about will be observed in a trial before the Senate."
Dan Cogdell, another prominent Houston-based attorney who specializes in criminal defense, was also announced as a member of Paxton’s legal team on Wednesday. Asked who is paying for Paxton’s defense, Buzbee declined to specify but added that it was neither taxpayers nor the Republican Party of Texas.
Buzbee also went on the attack against opposing counsel, contrasting himself with DeGuerin and Hardin, two “known, great lawyers” who, Buzbee added in an apparent dig, he’d heard argue cases since he was a child.
“These lawyers made their bones by successfully representing some of the most notorious and famous alleged wrongdoers in Texas,” Buzbee said before referring to DeGuerin’s famous defense of New York real estate mogul Robert Durst against 2003 murder charges in Southeast Texas. “I’ve never been called upon to represent somebody who allegedly killed someone, cut up their body and threw it in the Galveston Bay. But I have spent my career representing victims, representing states and, in some cases, federal governments on serious matters.”
At a press conference last week, Hardin said he was “shocked” by the allegations against Paxton that were detailed in the 20 articles of impeachment, including bribery, retaliation and obstruction of justice. Much of the purported misconduct revolved around Paxton’s longtime friendship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, as well as Paxton’s decision to fire whistleblowers in his office who told authorities that Paxton had misused his office to benefit Paul. Other allegations date back to 2015, when Paxton was first indicted on securities fraud.
Hardin said the evidence against Paxton is “10 times worse than what has been public.”
Like DeGuerin and Hardin, Buzbee is a prominent fixture in Texas legal and political circles, and is well known — and detested by some — for his bombast and antics both in and out of the courtroom.
Buzbee’s most high-profile legal case came in 2015, when he represented former Gov. Rick Perry against abuse-of-office charges in Travis County. The case, which was later thrown out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, stemmed from Perry’s threat to veto funding for the public integrity unit within the Travis County district attorney’s office if then-District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, did not resign after a drunk driving charge. Perry also appointed Buzbee to the Texas A&M University System’s board of regents in 2013.
His list of former clients includes a number of prominent people and businesses. Buzbee previously filed lawsuits on behalf of 20 women who claimed they were sexually assaulted by former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was represented by Hardin. He won a $41 million jury verdict for the family of a man who died from a spider bite while aboard a ship and a $100 million judgment against oil giant BP after a 2007 chemical release that hospitalized numerous workers, though that judgment was later overturned. In 2021, Buzbee filed a $750 million lawsuit against rapper Travis Scott on behalf of 120 victims who died or were injured during a crowd crush at the Astroworld music festival.
In Houston, he’s long been a magnet for media attention. Buzbee, who served in the U.S. Marines, once battled his irate neighbors over his decision to park a World War II-era Sherman tank outside his home on the main stretch of the city’s high-priced River Oaks neighborhood. And, in 2017, his former home — one of the most expensive in the city’s history — made headlines after a woman destroyed two original Andy Warhol pieces there after a date with Buzbee.
Buzbee has identified as a Democrat and ran a losing race for state representative as a member of the party in 2002. From 2003-05, he was chair of the Galveston County Democratic Party. However, his political affiliations have proven malleable: Buzbee hosted a June 2016 fundraiser for then-candidate Donald Trump. After the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tapes, Buzbee — citing his college-age daughter — condemned Trump and said he’d revoke his support, though he reportedly gave $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee a few months later.
In 2019, Buzbee also ran an insurgent campaign against Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former Democratic state representative, during which he sought support of local conservatives and evangelicals — including prominent anti-LGBTQ activist and political financier Steven Hotze, who called Buzbee a “charlatan” and “liar” after Buzbee denied that they knew one another. Turner won the race in a runoff by 14 percentage points.
Buzbee is reportedly mulling another mayoral run in Houston. His firm is also hosting a fundraiser this week for the Harris County Democratic Party.
On the other side of the impeachment fight, DeGuerin defended former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican, against charges that he illegally funneled corporate donations to members of the Texas Legislature in 2002. He also defended former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, from misconduct charges and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh during the 1993 Waco standoff.
Hardin has represented a long list of celebrities, star athletes and businesses, including Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm at the heart of the Enron bankruptcy scandal that was found guilty of obstruction of justice before the conviction was overturned in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Other Hardin clients included legendary baseball player Wade Boggs and the estate of Texas millionaire J. Howard Marshall in a dispute with former “Playboy” model Anna Nicole Smith.
The Texas House voted 121-23 last month to adopt articles of impeachment accusing Paxton of accepting bribes and other misconduct.
Paxton, suspended from office after the vote to impeach, faces a trial before the Senate. Removal from office requires support from two-thirds of senators.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Buzbee pushed back against the “silliness” of focusing on the larger-than-life legal personalities that will be front and center in the trial, which has not been scheduled but must occur before Aug. 28.
“This isn’t a basketball game,” he said. “This isn’t sport. This is serious.”
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.
This story comes from The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.