Paxton whistleblowers call on Texas Supreme Court to revive lawsuit over stalled payment

The attorney general – who was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial earlier this month – settled with the four former employees in February for $3.3 million, but the Texas Legislature has so far declined to approve the funds.

By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, The Texas NewsroomSeptember 25, 2023 2:51 pm,

From The Texas Newsroom:

Four ex-employees of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have asked the Texas Supreme Court’s permission to move forward with a wrongful termination suit against their former boss because they still haven’t received their settlement money.

Their renewed motion to the state’s highest civil court comes a little more than a week after the Texas Senate acquitted Paxton of all impeachment charges — most of them dealing with accusations made by the former deputies.

James Blake Brickman, J. Mark Penley, David Maxwell, and Ryan Vassar are part of a group of whistleblowers who, in 2020, reported Paxton to the FBI. They accused the embattled Republican of engaging in bribery while using his office to shield a political donor from a federal investigation.

“The political trial is over, and it’s time for the case to return to a real court,” Brickman told reporters at a press conference Monday.

A Paxton spokesperson declined to comment on the suit, but said the AG’s office would file its own response with the high court.

“The Office of the Attorney General will respond to the so-called whistleblower plaintiffs’ comments in a written response to be filed with the Texas Supreme Court—consistent with that Court’s procedures—as opposed to staging a press event in the state Capitol,” communications director Paige Willey wrote in an email to the Texas Newsroom.

The four men were fired shortly after making the report, and they filed a lawsuit in 2020 under the Texas Whistleblower Act.

Paxton and the fired workers reached a settlement agreement in February. It included $3.3 million for all four men, and a sentence on the document where Paxton had to apologize for referring to whistleblowers as “rogue employees.”

But the settlement agreement was contingent on the Texas Legislature approving the funds – something that has not happened. The Republican-led House and Senate chambers adjourned the regular session in May without appropriating the money.

Now, the whistleblowers want the Supreme Court of Texas to lift the abatement and allow the lawsuit to move forward in a Travis County district courtroom.

“After seven months and after the positions taken at the impeachment trial, there is no reason to believe a final settlement agreement is achievable at this point,” Monday’s filing with the Court reads.

Penley, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said it should be up to a jury to decide whether Paxton violated the law or not.

“I’m ready and I believe my colleagues are ready to go back to state district court here in Travis County and continue with our litigation,” Penley said, “to take depositions, to do discovery, to try the case to 12 citizens of Travis County and show that the Office of the Attorney General broke the Whistleblower Act.”

The whistleblowers also rejected claims made by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in an interview with WFAA last week, during which he said it was the whistleblowers who reached out to the Office of the Attorney General to settle the lawsuit.

In a letter to state senators on Monday, Joseph Knight, an attorney representing one of the whistleblowers, speculated Patrick made the claim in response to testimony from Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Grant Dorfman.

Asked during the impeachment trial who initiated the settlement, Dorfman said his “recollection” was that it was the whistleblowers. But Knight said that was incorrect — it was Paxton’s team who initiated settlement discussions.

“Mr. Dorfman was not involved in the initial discussion regarding settlement, and his ‘recollection’ is off by exactly 180 degrees,” the letter reads.

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