November 18, 2015

Tanya Eiserer, WFAA

COLLIN COUNTY — The ground is shaking under Republican Party circles in Collin County.

First, Republican District Clerk Andrea Stroh Thompson announced on Facebook that she had resigned and plans to run in the March Republican primary for the seat currently held by Republican State District Judge Chris Oldner.

Oldner is the judge who oversaw the grand jury that indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton over allegations that he violated the state’s securities laws.

Then came word that Oldner has decided to run for the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court. The position he’s running for is currently held by a Democratic judge.

Oldner issued the official announcement this afternoon that he’s running for the statewide job and will not pursue reelection to his current post. The release called him a “conservative district judge.”

“It’s important that we have honest and ethical Judges who correctly and fairly apply the law,” Oldner said in the release. “During my 15 years as a judge, I have always stood by these principles to protect the integrity of our judicial system. To maintain law and order in Texas, I will always strictly apply the law, protect the constitution and push back against special interest groups who seek to corrupt our courts for personal and political gain.”

Before Oldner’s official announcement, sources had said that Oldner left a message for his potential primary opponent, Collin County state District Judge Ray Wheless, saying he planned to run for the court.

Oldner was first elected to a county court at law post in 2000. He was appointed to the bench by then-Governor Rick Perry in 2003. He was reelected without an opponent in 2012.

But this year, Oldner was expected to face stiff opposition.

Observers believe the reason Oldner has apparently decided to run for a seat on the higher court is so he would face a statewide electorate rather than only Collin County voters. He was expected to face an uphill election race for his current job because many Paxton supporters were infuriated by his handling of the case. Oldner’s supporters have said the narrative is simply not true.

Paxton has longstanding ties to Collin County, having presented the area as a state representative and state senator.

Earlier this month, in a 22-page court filing, Paxton’s legal team accused Oldner of judicial misconduct. They asked a Tarrant County judge to throw out the case over Oldner’s alleged misconduct.

The motion alleges — among other things — that Oldner violated the rules for how grand juries are to be selected, improperly entered the grand jury room while the grand jury was in session and violated grand jury secrecy when he told his wife that Paxton had been indicted while the indictments were sealed and not yet public.

Republican Collin County Commissioner Susan Fletcher provided Paxton’s team with an affidavit outlining her conversations with Oldner’s wife, Cissy. She also provided text messages from Cissy Oldner that indicated she was gleeful about Paxton’s legal troubles.

Texts, calls from judge’s wife prompt Paxton legal maneuver

In her affidavit, Fletcher says Oldner’s wife called on July 28 and said Paxton had been indicted and that the case had been assigned to her husband’s court. She says she soon received another call from Oldner’s wife, asking that she not tell anybody because the indictments were sealed.

It was too late, however, because Fletcher had already told other Collin County officials. Word also soon reached Paxton’s wife.

The next day, Oldner recused himself from the case and Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher was appointed to preside over it.

In court filings, special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian have defended Oldner, calling him a “well-respected and veteran jurist.” He is a former chief felony prosecutor for the Collin County District Attorney’s Office.

They contend that there is nothing wrong with the way the grand jury was selected. They deny that he violated grand jury secrecy.

“First, at the time Judge Oldner told his wife that Paxton had been indicted, the indictments had not been sealed,” they wrote. “Second, once his wife learned the indictments were sealed, she did what she could to unring the bell by immediately telling Collin County Commissioner Susan Fletcher not to relate what she had been told. There was simply nothing more Ms. Oldner could do.”

They said that for 90 minutes that day, the indictments were unsealed and that it was during that period that he told his wife. A decision was made to reseal the indictments, they wrote, because indictments typically aren’t made public until a defendant has been taken into custody.

The Oldner motion was part of a flurry of motions filed earlier this month in the Paxton case. Some of them attacked the factual underpinnings of the indictments themselves. The special prosecutors have argued in their own filings that Paxton’s legal arguments are without merit.

A hearing on the motions is scheduled for early next month in Collin County

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