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AUSTIN (AP) — The criminal case against Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton moved closer to trial Friday after a judge refused to toss indictments that accuse the state’s top prosecutor of defrauding wealthy investors before taking office.

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The ruling clears the way for felony charges that dogged Paxton’s first year on the job to follow him into 2016. A trial date has not yet been set.

Paxton, a hardline conservative who was overwhelmingly elected last year behind strong tea party support, wanted the case dismissed over claims that secret grand jury proceedings in his hometown of McKinney this summer were compromised. He also argued that the statute of limitations had expired on a lesser charge of failing to register as an investment adviser.

He faces five to 99 years in prison if convicted on two more serious charges of encouraging investors — including a Texas state lawmaker — to put money in a high-tech startup called Servergy without disclosing he was being paid by the company.

Paxton has pleaded not guilty and says he won’t step down.

Paxton attorney Bill Mateja said the defense team was considering a possible appeal of Friday’s ruling.

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“With all due respect, we are disappointed with court’s rulings today, as we believed each of the motions was well founded,” Mateja said.

Those motions were forcefully — and sometimes theatrically — challenged by two special prosecutors. Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer are normally high-profile Houston defense attorneys whose celebrity clients have included former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and actress Farrah Fawcett, and they ridiculed Paxton’s arguments in court papers that quoted from the movie “Animal House” and the television series “Mad Men.”

The alleged wrongdoing happened in 2011 when Paxton, who has pleaded not guilty, was still a state legislator representing a Dallas suburb.

In the thick of an intense GOP primary race last year, Paxton agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for failing to register as an investment adviser with state financial regulators. His attorneys, however, now say that Paxton was protected under federal securities law.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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