AG Paxton attacks Garza over legal defense work


“Busted for human trafficking?” read new billboard ads by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton attacking his Democratic opponent. “Rochelle Garza will defend you!”

A Paxton spokeswoman did not respond Monday to questions, but a member of the campaign told the Washington Examiner that Paxton paid for the ads, which were placed in Dallas, Galveston, Houston and San Antonio.

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“My opponent, Rochelle Garza, may have firsthand experience dealing with human traffickers, but the catch is that she was working to enable these criminals by defending them in court,” Paxton tweeted. “TX voters must reject Rochelle Garza & her radical, open-borders agenda.”

The Paxton ads went up as a few of the state’s top Republican officials, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, unveil attack ads against Democrats who trail them by single digits in recent public polling. New campaign finance reports are due Tuesday.

Marcy Miranda, a Garza campaign spokeswoman, said the Paxton billboards are false and misleading, calculated to draw attention away from Paxton’s 2015 felony indictment, which is pending, and accusations of corruption leveled at him by his top aides in late 2020.

“Every person deserves legal representation in their criminal matters, including Ken Paxton, who knows more than most Texans about criminal representation that has allowed him to avoid trial for 7 years for his securities fraud indictments,” Miranda said.

“Garza withdrew herself as legal counsel within days from the cases to which the billboards are referring. In one case, she never even served as attorney of record. In the other, her representation was withdrawn within a matter of days.”

Garza, a former ACLU attorney who grew up in the border town of Brownsville, has made Paxton’s legal issues central to her campaign.

On top of the securities fraud indictment, Paxton is also under investigation by the FBI, which received a criminal complaint from seven former aides in Paxton’s office. Paxton also faces a professional misconduct suit from the State Bar over his legal effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He has denied all wrongdoing.

READ MORE: Why Ken Paxton vs. Rochelle Garza for attorney general may be Texas’ most interesting statewide race

Also this week, Garza launched her first TV advertisement, a six-figure ad buy running across the state, that targets Paxton for his work on banning abortion in Texas. The ad will start airing Tuesday, the campaign said, adding that it expects to spend a total of more than $1 million by election day.

“Sometimes criminals carry guns to rob you on the streets. Sometimes they carry briefcases to rob you of your personal freedoms,” says the narrator in the 30-second ad says, as Paxton’s photo paired with a headline on the state’s abortion ban flashes across the screen. “Texas needs an attorney general who’ll protect us from both.”

Garza has trumpeted a case she won against the Trump Administration in 2018 in which a 17-year-old in detention was denied the right to an abortion. Under an agreement with the government, teens in custody are now given the “Garza Notice,” which notifies them of their right to the procedure without obstruction or retaliation.

The campaign thus far, which has not drawn the same national interest or dollars as the governor’s race, has largely been waged via the internet. Paxton does not appear to have put out TV advertisements, though he did launch his first online attack ad earlier this month framing her as a “radical” liberal.

Paxton’s latest advertisements appear to refer to two defendants that Garza briefly represented in 2017 and 2018 — but neither were charged with human trafficking or human smuggling. According to the attorney general’s office’s own definition on its website, human trafficking is the “exploitation of men, women, and children for forced labor or sex by a third-party for profit or gain.”

The federal definition of smuggling is knowingly bringing or attempting to bring a noncitizen into the U.S. illegally.

The first defendant was Mexican citizen Alma Delia Marin-Fuentes who in June 2017 was indicted on charges of conspiracy, domestic transporting and harboring of immigrants who entered the country illegally, for the purpose of financial gain. Marin-Fuentes, who had been deported about a year earlier, was also charged with re-entering the U.S. illegally.

The defendant had originally asked for Garza to replace her government-appointed public defender. But the first time Garza appeared in court on her behalf, court documents show that Garza requested “additional time to speak to the family in reference to being retained in this case.” That same day, the defense moved to have Garza withdrawn as counsel, and the court granted the motion.

The second case was that of U.S. citizen Christian Ivan Hernandez who in March 2018 was indicted on charges of conspiracy and of transporting within the U.S. immigrants who entered the country illegally for the purpose of financial gain. Four days after Hernandez had asked to switch from his public defender to Garza, he informed the court he wanted to retain the public defender, court filings show. The reason for the change is not documented.

Both defendants were later convicted.

ALSO READ: AG Ken Paxton launches first attack ad against Democrat Rochelle Garza

The Paxton spokeswoman did not answer questions about why Paxton incorrectly referred to the cases as trafficking or about Garza’s limited representation of both defendants. But she said “Garza’s work in defense of criminals bringing illegal immigrants into the U.S. and her advocacy on behalf of those who have broken our immigration laws speaks for itself.”

Paxton created a human trafficking unit within the attorney general’s office in his first year in office, and he’s designated it as one of his top priority areas, but it’s attracted increasing scrutiny in the last year.

Hearst Newspapers reported in February that despite the unit’s annual funding more than quadrupling to $3 million, prosecutors closed zero cases in 2020 and four in 2021.

An AP investigation in late September found that the office had quietly dismissed a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases. The report found the unit had a job vacancy rate of 40 percent as of this August.

Recent polls have shown border security is a top priority issue for Texas voters. Paxton has defended in court Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, which deploys state troopers and National Guard members to arrest migrants on various state charges, mostly misdemeanor trespassing.

Meanwhile, Garza, echoing the cries of immigration attorneys and other advocates, has said the program, which has so far cost the state $4 billion, is unconstitutional. She also wants to put an end to Abbott’s state-funded border wall.

“Rochelle will take on drug, gun and human trafficking at the border and across Texas, unlike Ken Paxton, whose incompetence has led to losing victims of sex trafficking — allowing dangerous criminals to walk away without punishment,” Miranda said.



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