Several former high-ranking staffers to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) are suing their onetime boss, claiming that they were unlawfully terminated after they became “whistleblowers” and reported Paxton to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for alleged bribery and abuse of office.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Travis County District Court by four of the seven employees who signed the Oct. 1 letter reporting Paxton’s alleged conduct. The plaintiffs include: former Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Mark Penley, former Deputy Attorney General for Policy and Strategy Initiatives Blake Brickman, former Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar, and David Maxwell, the former director of the office’s enforcement division.
The four were not joined in the lawsuit by former First Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Mateer, former Deputy Attorney General for Civil Litigation Darren McCarty, and Lacey Mase, the former deputy attorney general for administration—all of whom also joined in reporting Paxton and subsequently lost their jobs.
In an Oct. 1 letter, the Office of Attorney General (OAG) employees said that they had a “good faith belief” that Paxton was “violating federal and/or state law, including prohibitions relating to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery, and other potential criminal offenses.” The employees accused Paxton of improper influence in the case of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor who donated to Paxton’s 2018 re-election campaign.
“Paxton’s abuse of the OAG to benefit Paul began in or around November 2019. But as 2020 progressed, Paxton’s efforts on Paul’s behalf became increasingly reckless, bold, and apparent to Plaintiffs,” the whistleblowers wrote in the 37-page complaint. “During the Spring and Summer of 2020, Paxton began taking more interest in legal matters involving Nate Paul and applying more pressure on the Plaintiffs and the other Whistleblowers to use the personnel, legal authority and other resources of the OAG to advance the legal and personal interests of Nate Paul and his business activities.”
The complaint specifically cited instances of Paxton intervening in an open records request and civil litigation directed at Paul, as well as Paxton’s alleged use of OAG resources to damage Paul’s perceived adversaries.
In response to the whistleblowers’ report, Paxton issued an indignant statement. He said that “rogue employees” had promulgated “false allegations” against him. The plaintiffs said the Lone Star State’s top law enforcement officer was the one promulgating false smears.
“Paxton falsely smeared the whistleblowers publicly in the manner calculated to harm them most, threatened them, tried to intimidate them, and engaged in all manner of retaliation ranging from serious to petty and pathetic,” the complaint stated. “Then, within about a month of learning of their whistleblowing, Paxton and his OAG fired several of the Plaintiffs. Less than six weeks after they reported Paxton’s wrongdoing, only one of the Whistleblowers remains employed at the OAG, and even he has been stripped of all responsibility, placed on leave, and constructively discharged. It is hard to imagine more flagrant violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act.”
Per the Texas Attorney General’s office, the Texas Whistleblower Act “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority.” The TWA also states that “an employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”
Adding an additional twist to the narrative, the Associated Press reported over a week ago that Paxton had an extramarital affair with a woman whom he later “recommended for a job” with Paul. The woman, who previously worked for a Republican Texas State Senator, was then given a job with Paul.
Paxton’s wife Angela Paxton was elected to the Texas Senate in 2018.
Paxton, who’s currently serving his second-term as attorney general, was previously indicted for felony securities fraud within a year of being sworn in for his first term in office. He denied the charges and said the prosecution was politically motivated.
Read the full lawsuit below:
[image via CBS News screengrab]
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