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Meet the Texas House impeachment managers who are taking aim at Ken Paxton

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Meet the Texas House impeachment managers who are taking aim at Ken Paxton

Meet the Texas House impeachment managers who are taking aim at Ken Paxton” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The 12-member team that will make the Texas House's case for impeaching suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is led by a Republican lawyer and rancher from West Texas and a Democrat who spent more than 20 years as a prosecutor and defense attorney in Harris County.

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Reps. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, and Ann Johnson, D-Houston, are chair and vice chair of the seven Republicans and five Democrats who will serve as impeachment managers during Paxton's trial before the Senate later this summer.

All but one of the impeachment managers has a law degree, and collectively, they have practiced in the state for about two centuries. Two are members of the ultraconservative Texas Freedom Caucus, and five — including Murr and Johnson — served on the House General Investigating Committee that drafted the articles of impeachment against Paxton.

A date has not yet been set for Paxton's trial, but the Senate has named a committee that will recommend rules and procedures to the full chamber on June 20.

The Senate will sit as a court of impeachment no later than Aug. 28. A two-thirds vote is required in the Senate to permanently remove Paxton from office.

Here are the House impeachment managers:

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Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction

As chair of the House General Investigating Committee, Murr has been the most visible player in the lead-up to Paxton's impeachment. A five-term lawmaker, Hill Country rancher and grandson of former Gov. Coke Stevenson, Murr led what was until recently a secretive inquiry into Paxton's alleged misconduct.

Longtime friends and colleagues have described Murr as a principles-first, consummate Texan, noting his frequent greetings of “Howdy!” and roots in the state that reach back eight generations. In early May, Murr also oversaw the investigation and eventual expulsion of Bryan Slaton, a Republican from Royse City who had sex with a 19-year-old aide after getting her drunk. As with the Paxton matter, he called on the House to fulfill its duty to hold elected officials accountable.

[House impeachment team taps 2 top Texas lawyers, Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, to lead Ken Paxton case]

“This Texas House is not going to hear from multiple complainants about serious and alarming facts and then turn the other cheek or simply slap a member on the wrist,” he said of Slaton. “My heart breaks. I suspect that yours does too.”

Murr has a law degree from Texas Tech University and, before joining the House, served as the Kimble County judge as well as the county attorney. He previously chaired the House's Corrections Committee, which oversees the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state's largest agency. Murr has also served on the boards of the Texas Judicial Council, which sets policy for state judges, and the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, which helps support defendants who cannot afford to hire defense attorneys.

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He is a partner at Moore, Ganske, Murr & Sessions, where he practices criminal, real estate and probate law, according to the State Bar of Texas directory.

Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston

Johnson is vice chair of the House General Investigating Committee, the five-person body that recommended Paxton's impeachment. As the House debated the matter on Saturday, she was tasked with summarizing eight years of alleged misconduct by Paxton.

“If millions of Texans can't trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now, then what are we here for?” she asked before the House voted 121-23 to impeach.

It was a characteristic moment for Johnson, who, since joining the House in 2021, has shown a knack for incisive, forceful speaking that frequently draws on her legal career.

Since 2001, Johnson has been an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law, teaching courses on jury selection, trial litigation and criminal defense. And she has worked two separate stints as a prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney's office, including as chief prosecutor of the office's human trafficking section.

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As a defense lawyer in 2010, she represented a 13-year-old sex trafficking victim, arguing that the teen should not have been charged with prostitution because of her age. The Texas Supreme Court agreed in a 6-3 ruling, and Johnson has continued to work with survivors of sexual violence. In 2021 and 2023, she filed bills to eliminate statutes of limitation for sex crimes. On May 9, she invoked her work with abuse survivors in a heartfelt call for lawmakers to expel Slaton for sexual misconduct.

Johnson has also championed LGBTQ causes and was one of the more vocal members of the House's LGBTQ Caucus as it fought bills directed at LGBTQ Texans, including bans on hormone therapy and puberty blockers for transgender minors. Johnson said this session — which included many rallies and protests by LGBTQ Texans — affirmed her decision to run for office.

“I have had many of those family members come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for asking me a question that recognizes our experience,'” Johnson said earlier this year. “That to me is really critical. It's really important that these families know that even though their interests are perceived to be in the minority, their presence is being represented within this legislative process.”

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth

The only non-lawyer on the impeachment team, Geren has been a representative for 23 years, making him one of the most senior members of the Legislature, where he's developed a reputation as a budget hawk and conservative parliamentarian with a dry sense of humor.

Geren also serves on the House investigative committee, where he pushed back against Paxton's claim that the impeachment proceedings were politically motivated. The committee also entrusted him to outline one of the more personal complaints against Paxton — that the attorney general called several lawmakers while they were on the House floor to threaten political retaliation if they voted to approve the 20 articles of impeachment.

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Asked about the vote by local media, he responded with characteristic humor: “It's a big decision. But that's why I get paid $19.72 every day.”

It was not the first time Geren fought the far-right flank of his party. In 2019, when he was chair of the Committee on House Administration, Geren sparred with Paxton allies who sued after being denied House media credentials. In January, Geren also pushed back against leaders of the Texas GOP who were attacking House Speaker Dade Phelan over his decision to allow Democrats to chair a handful of committees. This session, Geren was also behind the high-profile but unsuccessful push to allow more casinos in Texas.

Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro

A lawyer for almost four decades, Spiller is among the most conservative members of the Texas House, having won recognitions and endorsements from groups such as the Young Conservatives of Texas and the Austin-based Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

Spiller graduated from St. Mary's University School of Law in 1986. He has served as a Jacksboro city attorney since 1987 and as general counsel for the Jack County Hospital District since 1990.

Spiller joined the House after winning a 2021 special election and filed bills this session to increase the penalty for illegal voting, to “prevent males from participating in female sports” and to improve broadband access in rural Texas. He also is a member of the House investigative committee and, with Johnson, played a key role in outlining the details of the impeachment allegations against Paxton.

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In a speech to House members, Spiller praised Paxton's “legal mind” and his accomplishments as attorney general but implored colleagues to impeach, saying Paxton violated his oath of office.

“No one person should be above the law, least not the top law enforcement officer of the state of Texas,” he said. “We should not be complicit in allowing that behavior. We should not ignore it.”

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso

Moody, a former prosecutor in the El Paso district attorney's office, served two terms as speaker pro tem of the Texas House, a position that Phelan took away in 2021 after Moody and 51 other Democrats left the state to protest GOP voting bills, shutting down House action for several weeks.

He first joined the House in 2009 and has been a reliable champion for bipartisan criminal justice reform, leading numerous pushes to increase public oversight of government and law enforcement agencies. In 2021, he and state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, formed a bipartisan criminal justice reform caucus in the House.

Moody has also been proactive on gun control bills, particularly after a gunman killed 23 people at a Walmart in his city in 2019 and after 21 students and teachers were shot to death last year at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. This session, he filed a bill, which did not pass, that would have required retailers to alert the Department of Public Safety when more than one firearm is sold or transferred to the same person within five consecutive business days. Moody was also appointed by Phelan to a House committee investigating the Uvalde shooting and law enforcement response to it.

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Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park

Cain, a lawyer since 2016, is one of the most hard-line conservatives in the House and has pursued legal action to further his goals, particularly his opposition to abortion.

In March, Cain helped a Texas man file a wrongful death lawsuit against three women who allegedly helped his ex-wife terminate her pregnancy, and in 2022 he sent cease-and-desist letters ordering eight nonprofits to stop helping women travel out of state for abortions “or face criminal prosecution.”

Shortly after the 2020 presidential election, Cain traveled to Pennsylvania to work with Donld Trump's campaign to link with other lawyers fighting “for a fair and honest election. Houston media reported at the time that Cain was interviewing election workers and poll watchers, finding “mistakes” but not malicious fraud.

Earlier this year, Cain was among the first lawmakers to call for the resignation of Slaton, at one point calling him a “sexual predator.”

Cain also broke with Paxton supporters in voting for impeachment.

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“The sole responsibility of the House is to assess whether sufficient cause has been presented to warrant a trial before the Senate,” Cain said in a statement following the vote. “My duty was not to pass judgment on the guilt or innocence of any individual, but rather to evaluate whether there is probable cause to establish that General Paxton violated any or all of the articles presented to the body.”

Cain is a 2012 graduate of South Texas College of Law and is a partner at Strahan Cain, a Houston firm “specializing in startups and small businesses,” according to his LinkedIn page.

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano

Leach is a lawyer specializing in commercial and civil litigation, construction law and real estate who chairs the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

Leach has served in the House since 2013 and has backed bipartisan criminal justice reforms. This session, he pushed legislation that would permit regulated sports betting in Texas, as well as a bill to tweak Texas' anti-SLAPP laws that deeply concerned journalists who feared it could lead to frivolous and expensive lawsuits aimed at stifling free speech.

Leach was also an early critic of Paxton's request that the Legislature approve a $3.3 million settlement with whistleblowers who claim they were improperly fired from the attorney general's office after reporting Paxton's actions to law enforcement. Leach said in a statement that he was “extremely troubled and concerned that hardworking taxpayers might be on the hook for this settlement between the Attorney General and former employees of his office.”

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As the House debated Paxton's impeachment on Saturday, Leach pushed back against claims that Paxton had been denied due process in a politically motivated investigation, noting that Paxton had declined several invitations to speak to the judiciary committee.

He then joined five other House representatives from Collin County — home to McKinney, where Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, have lived for years — in voting for impeachment. In a statement after the vote, the Collin County delegation said it was a decision they “wish we didn't have to make” but that there was enough probable cause to advance the allegations against Paxton to the Senate.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg

Like Murr, Canales comes from a family deeply rooted in Texas politics. Six relatives were elected to public office, including his father, a former state district judge, and a great uncle who served five terms in the Texas House.

A House member since 2013, Canales has practiced law in the state since 2006 and runs a small private practice that specializes in personal injury, criminal defense and family law.

Canales, the first Latino to chair the House Transportation Committee, is a prominent advocate for criminal justice reform, transparent government and public schools. In 2019, after Paxton's office published an opinion saying the city of McAllen did not have to disclose the amount of money it paid for an Enrique Iglesias concert, Canales wrote legislation requiring governments to disclose spending for taxpayer-funded events.

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Frustrated by what he felt was disrespect from the Senate, Canales threatened last month to stall Senate bills in the transportation committee. He has stood up for Phelan amid attacks from leaders of the Republican Party of Texas. During the House impeachment debate, he criticized Paxton supporters who claimed that the process was unfair to Paxton, arguing that they were being asked to forward the matter to the Senate, not prosecute the attorney general or prove the allegations against him.

Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission

Longoria, a member of the General Investigating Committee, received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin and focuses on criminal defense, personal injury and storm damage claims.

First elected in 2012, Longoria previously served as a trustee for South Texas College and on the board of directors for the Agua Special Utility District.

He sits on the Appropriations Committee and chaired one of its subcommittees in the regular session.

Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-University Park

Meyer, first elected in 2014, has been a commercial litigator for more than 20 years.

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A partner in the Dallas office of the Wick Phillips law firm, Meyer represents businesses in complex commercial litigation and appeals in telecommunications, banking, insurance, energy and other matters.

He practices in federal and state courts and has volunteered for the South Dallas Legal Clinic, the Housing Legal Clinic and the VA Hospital Clinic. He is also a member of a program that provides free legal representation to veterans who suffered combat-related injuries.

Meyer has served two terms as chair of the Ways and Means Committee and previously was chair of the General Investigating Committee.

Rep. Cody Thane Vasut, R-Angleton

Vasut, a House member since 2021, is among the most conservative members of the House as part of the Texas Freedom Caucus but voted to impeach Paxton.

“The question put before the House today was whether there was sufficient evidence to proceed forward with a trial in the Senate: Nothing more,” Vasut said in a statement after the vote. “No political consideration is relevant. My conscience compels me in this matter to vote yes.”

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Vasut, a former member of the Angleton City Council, has been a lawyer for more than a decade. He represented clients in civil matters involving the energy industry for the BakerHostetler law firm but left in August, when he opened his own law firm, secretary of state records show.

Rep. Erin Elizabeth Gámez, D-Brownsville

A newcomer to the Legislature, Gámez is a Brownsville lawyer who won a special election to the House last year.

Gamez has worked at her father's law firm since she graduated from law school in 2014, according to a Texas Signal story in April 2022.

“I grew up working in his law office, that's all I ever wanted to do is come home and litigate here and start trying cases,” Gamez told the publication. “I never looked back, I feel like I've been able to do some things here in the Valley that I might never have gotten the opportunity to do in other larger forums because as a baby attorney they'll only let you do so much.”

She also worked as a defense attorney in Cameron County's mental diversion court, a program aimed at helping defendants get health insurance and medical consultation.

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Disclosure: State Bar of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Tech University and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/06/01/ken-paxton-impeachment-house-managers/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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