A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton must testify in an abortion lawsuit just a week after a court filing said he fled his home to avoid a subpoena seeking his appearance at a hearing in the case.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ordered Paxton, a Republican, to testify in a suit that seeks to block state prosecutors from going after abortion providers for offering financial and other aid to Texans seeking abortion services out of state.
Pitman's order was a reversal of his previous ruling, which had granted Paxton's request to quash a subpoena in the lawsuit several nonprofit Texas abortion funds and an OB-GYN brought against Paxton and local district attorneys in August.
A process server said last week that Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, to dodge being served a subpoena to appear at a hearing in the case. In a series of tweets, Paxton said he was avoiding a “stranger lingering outside my home” out of concern for his family’s safety.
According to the judge's order, Paxton had initially challenged the subpoena on the basis that as a high-ranking government official, he could not be compelled to testify in a hearing, especially at the "eleventh-hour."
But Pitman said he was compelled to change his mind when abortion-rights groups filed a new motion last week citing the various attempts they had made to serve him, including repeated emails that went unanswered ahead of the scheduled hearing.
“Because the Court was forced to decide Paxton’s motion to quash on a very limited timeframe, without the benefit of Plaintiffs’ response, and because the Court relied on Defendant’s representations as accurate depictions of when Paxton had been served and notified of his expected testimony, the Court issued its ruling on incomplete facts,” Pitman wrote Tuesday.
Abortion-rights groups in the case have accused Paxton and others in court filings of efforts to “chill their First Amendment rights to speak about and fund abortion care,” arguing that statements made by Paxton have constrained their ability to facilitate out-of-state abortions.
The groups called on Paxton to testify after they argued that his efforts to dismiss their lawsuit led him to contradict some of his earlier statements in news releases, tweets and media interviews about his desire to pursue civil penalties and assist in criminal prosecutions against those involved in performing or attempting abortions.
Pitman ordered the parties to agree on the details of Paxton's testimony by next Tuesday.
Paxton, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, has been under indictment on securities fraud charges for seven years and has also faced an FBI probe of allegations by former top aides that he abused his office. In both instances, he has denied any wrongdoing.