Updated throughout at 6:11 p.m.
AUSTIN — Yet another one of the top employees who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of serious crimes is leaving the agency.
Darren McCarty, deputy attorney general of civil litigation, confirmed he resigned on Monday.
Paxton, a Republican in his second term, is accused by senior staff members of serious crimes related to his relationship with real estate developer and campaign donor Nate Paul. Seven of the agency’s most senior employees recently reported Paxton to law enforcement after they said he used the office in attempts to help Paul several times in the last year.
With McCarty’s departure, all but one of the seven staff members who raised concerns about Paxton’s behavior have left state employment or been sidelined. Two resigned, two were put on leave and according to The Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle, two were fired. The departure further depletes leadership at the agency, which is charged with acting as the state’s law firm.
McCarty’s resignation takes effect in one week. He declined to comment further.
Paxton denies wrongdoing and has instead pointed the finger at the employees, who he called “rogue.” Top GOP officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have said the allegations against Paxton are concerning.
Paxton said he will not step down amid the uprising and plans to run for re-election in 2022.
Michael Maslanka, an expert on the Texas whistleblower law, said the employees who raised concerns about Paxton’s behavior have strength in numbers if they decide to sue the state for retaliation.
“They will probably join together and file one lawsuit,” said Maslanka, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law. “That’s not good for the attorney general’s office.”
In addition to McCarty, Paxton’s second in command, Jeff Mateer, also resigned from the agency. The two employees who were fired are Lacey Mase, former deputy attorney general for administration, and James “Blake” Brickman, who was deputy attorney general for policy and strategic initiatives. Two other deputy attorneys general, Ryan Vassar and Mark Penley, are on forced leave.
Ryan Bangert, Mateer’s deputy, is the only one of the seven employees who is believed to be currently working at the agency.
Maslanka said Vassar and Penley may not yet have the ability to sue under the state’s whistleblower law, unless they can show Paxton lowered their pay, reduced their responsibilities or otherwise retaliated against them. McCarty and Mateer, even though they weren’t fired, could sue if they argue that they resigned because Paxton created a hostile work environment due to their allegations, Maslanka said.
Given what’s been reported, he believes the employees have a good case against Paxton.
They checked all the boxes necessary to sue the state, he said, including reporting their concerns to law enforcement. Some were also promoted or received merit raises before their sudden resignation or firing, he added, which could bolster their arguments.
Finally, Maslanka said it is important that Brickman and Mase were fired within weeks of accusing Paxton. If they choose to sue, the close timing could help their argument that they suffered retaliation because of their actions.
“You can pick them off. But everybody at once?” Maslanka said. “The optics don’t look good — and they don’t look good for the attorney general.”
If they choose to sue and prevail, the employees could seek back pay and compensation for other expenses incurred after leaving state employment.