In a lawsuit, four former Paxton aides allege they were wrongly dismissed for reporting suspected criminal behavior on his part.
This story originally appeared in the Texas Tribune.
The Texas Attorney General is trying to stave off efforts by four former aides to testify in their lawsuit and issue subpoenas alleging they were illegally dismissed after telling authorities they believed Attorney General Ken Paxton had break the law.
The agency argues that Paxton is “not a public employee” and so the office cannot be sued under the Texas Whistleblower Act, which aims to protect government employees from retaliation for reporting violations to their superiors.
Four former Paxton advisors allege they were fired in retaliation for telling authorities they believed Paxton was doing illegal favors to a political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul. The whistleblower’s allegations have reportedly sparked an FBI investigation.
In searching for reinstatement and other financial damage, the whistleblowers plan to question Paxton himself under oath, as well as Brent Webster, his senior assistant in the attorney general, and Brandon Cammack, a Houston attorney whom Paxton hired to investigate complaints from Paul aides, say , was a favor for the donor. They also issued subpoenas to Paul’s company and a woman who was alleged to be Paxton’s mistress.
The relationship between Paul and Paxton is friendly but remains murky. Paul revealed in a statement last year that he had hired a woman on Paxton’s recommendation, but not as a favor for him. The woman had a romantic relationship with Paxton, according to two people who said Paxton told them about the 2018 affair.
Now the agency is asking a Travis County judge to overturn summonses sent to the woman and the World Class Capital Group, which Paul leads, and to ward off the statements the whistleblowers were looking for.
Paxton spokesmen have not responded to questions about the woman, claiming the aides were not released from retaliation.
“OAG is doing everything possible to keep the public in the dark and to prevent Ken Paxton from testifying under oath,” said TJ Turner and Tom Nesbitt, attorneys for one of the whistleblowers. “But it’s worse than that. Not only are you asking the court to ban discovery by the office and Ken Paxton. The OAG is also calling on the court to ban the discovery of world-class and other third parties, despite the fact that the attorney representing both has agreed to work together on the discovery process. “
To defend the agency, taxpayers will pay attorney William Helfand $ 540 an hour and $ 350 and $ 215 an hour, respectively, to a junior attorney and a paralegal as per their contract.
The whistleblowers tried to question Paxton, Webster and Cammack under oath as early as next week. Michael Wynne, an attorney for Paul, accepted the subpoenas for both the world class and the woman, as evidenced by court documents. She could not be reached for comment and Wynne did not return a request for comment.
In a filing last week, the attorney general’s office asked the judge to overturn the statements and subpoenas and prevent the whistleblowers from making any discoveries.
“The OAG is doing everything possible to avoid Ken Paxton taking oath to answer basic questions about the facts,” said Carlos Soltero, attorney for one of the whistleblowers.
Instead, the agency said the Travis County judge should dismiss the case outright on procedural grounds.
The Texas Whistleblower Act – the basis for the lawsuit – is designed to provide protection for public employees who make good faith reports to authorities that they believe their superiors are breaking the law. However, the attorney general claims that the agency cannot be sued under the law as Paxton is an elected official.
“The attorney general is neither a government agency nor a public employee, and so the whistleblower law does not extend protection to reports of illegal behavior against the attorney general personally,” the agency argued. “The law does not apply … to reports of action taken personally by the elected attorney general.”
The agency compared Paxton’s authority to that of the President of the United States, claiming that the attorney general had the right to fire the employees despite their allegations of retaliation.
Under this theory, “he says elected officials are not responsible for violating the Whistleblower Act,” said Jason Smith, a labor law attorney in north Texas who has handled whistleblower cases.
“It appears that General Paxton is trying to get involved in a technique that doesn’t exist,” he added.
Turner and Nesbitt, attorneys for one of the whistleblowers, also criticized the agency for trying to dismiss the case, saying, “They are not content with just breaking the law, now Attorney General Ken Paxton argues he is Furthermore.”
“The Attorney General claims that Paxton is so above the law that he has the constitutional right to require that his senior employees support his illegal conduct and that he can fire and defam any employee who does not do so with impunity. It’s embarrassing, ”they added. The motion was “frivolous” and only intended to delay the case, they claimed.
Attorney General spokesmen and attorneys did not return requests for comments.
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