Paxton indictment: Though the choice remains his, AG should resign

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edOn August 1, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on two felony charges  — two counts of securities fraud and one count of failed registration with the state securities board.

The two charges stemmed from Paxton’s business interests, in which Paxton encouraged investment in a company without disclosing his commission on any investments. Some of the elicited investments came from Paxton’s fellow state representatives, including Rep. Byron Cook (R-Coriscana). The lesser charge of failing to register was previously settled with a $1000 fine in civil court, but the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice called for further investigation, which led to the current criminal proceedings.

Paxton’s brief tenure as AG has so far been dominated by high-profile challenges of federal law — including publicly denouncing the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, his subsequent order to county clerks not to issue same-sex marriage licenses for personal religious beliefs and Paxton’s outspoken support of an upcoming December 2015 lawsuit challenging President Obama’s immigration policy — all of which were inappropriate for the highest servant of the law in the state. However, it would be naive to say that such behavior is directly related to the criminal activity that has seen him indicted on felony charges, or should in some way indicate a criminal impulse that explains or makes predictable his illegal business practices.

All of these things may have made Paxton a bad Attorney General before. Now, his indictment has stripped credibility not only from himself, but revealed the inner corruption of the highest law office in the state, that of the Attorney General, under his governance.

Though state law is void of any direct statement on whether or not Paxton is required by law to resign if he is convicted for the crimes for which he is accused, Paxton should not delay in making what we think is an inevitable decision. Out of respect for the office of Attorney General, Paxton should prevent further loss of credibility as his trial and potential appeals processes unfold. As Attorney General, Paxton surely knew the consequences before and after committing his offenses, but chose to offend anyway. His resignation may be an unpleasant consequence of those actions for Paxton, but it surely is the most reasonable option.

Paxton, like anyone else, deserves the full protection of this country's criminal justice system, including the presumption of innocence. The decision about whether or not to resign will remain Paxton's alone, and the pressure to resign should come from his own understanding of his crimes and not political adversaries. In the end, he must choose the course that will bode best for the state he represents and the constituents he serves. And we believe that course is resignation.

Invariably, we remain confident that Paxton will be convicted by a jury of his peers if the case goes to trial. At that point, with a felonious conviction, Paxton will be compelled by state law to abdicate his post. But the state would be better off if he does not remain in office until then.

Update: A previous version of this editorial stated that Paxton is not required to resign from office until he has been convicted of a felony and exhausted all appeals. This statement was based on federal law. Upon further examination, it was discovered that state law does not directly rule on whether state officials are required to resign after a felony conviction. The editorial has since been updated to reflect this change.