By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune
“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton negotiates settlement with his former deputies over retaliation lawsuit” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal team is in settlement negotiation talks with three of the four former employees who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against him for firing them after they accused Paxton of criminal acts.
Paxton’s lawyers, in a joint filing last week with attorneys for Mark Penley, David Maxwell and Ryan Vassar — Paxton’s former deputies — asked the Texas Supreme Court to put the whistleblower case on hold to give the parties time to negotiate a settlement. The lawyers wrote they were “actively engaged in settlement discussions” with mediation set for Wednesday.
Lawyers for a fourth plaintiff, Blake Brickman, opposed the motion in their own filing and urged the court to move forward with its consideration. The news was first reported by The Dallas Morning News.
The high-profile case has been yet another black eye for Paxton, a Republican whose litany of legal troubles have followed him throughout much of his tenure as attorney general and at times alienated him from other GOP state officials. Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges in August 2015. That case is still pending and Paxton has denied wrongdoing. More recently, Paxton was sued last year by the Texas State Bar for professional misconduct for misrepresenting that he had uncovered new evidence to file a lawsuit to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential elections in four battleground states. Paxton has maintained the suit is politically motivated and denied wrongdoing.
The case stems from allegation in October 2020 by eight former top Paxton aides who reported to authorities that the attorney general had abused his office and accepted a bribe in exchange for helping a political donor with his business affairs. The whistleblowers also alleged that Paxton, who is married, helped the donor because the donor had given Paxton’s alleged girlfriend a job. Those reports led to an FBI investigation. No federal charges have been filed. All eight of the employees were either fired or resigned from the attorney general’s office after making the complaint.
In November 2020, four of those former employees filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Paxton saying they had been fired in retaliation. They sought reinstatement and compensation for lost wages, as well as pay for future lost earnings and damages for emotional pain and suffering.
Paxton has argued in state court that he is exempt from the Texas Whistleblower Act because he is an elected official, not a public employee and that he fired them not in retaliation for their complaint, but because of personnel disagreements. An appeals court has ruled against him and allowed the case to move forward. But last January, Paxton appealed his case to the Texas Supreme Court.
The joint filing by Paxton’s lawyers and the three plaintiffs says the court should defer its review of the case until Feb. 9 to give the parties an opportunity to resolve the issue outside of the courtroom.
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brickman’s lawyers, Thomas Nesbitt and William T. Palmer, said in their filing that Paxton’s team has been delaying the case for two years and “there is no reason for abating this case.” They argued that the other plaintiffs sought the pause only because they intended to settle the case, but since Brickman was not involved in those negotiations, his claims still needed a quick resolution.
“Brickman respectfully requests that this Court deny the request for abatement,” they wrote. “It imposes further needless delay of the adjudication of Brickman’s claim.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/01/31/texas-attorney-general-ken-paxton-settlement-whistleblowers/.
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