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Burnet County Judge: Whistleblower Lawsuit Against Texas Attorney General Could Move to Austin

— November 14, 2023

While Paxton’s attorneys argued that the lawsuit had been settled, counsel for the plaintiffs noted that their clients had yet to receive a single “nickel” in compensation.

A Burnet County district judge has ruled that a whistleblower’s lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton may proceed in a Travis County court.

According to The Texas Tribune, the ruling by Judge Evan Stubbs could let the whistleblower’s attorney subpoena Paxton and his top aides.

Stubbs’ decision came roughly a week after the court paused the claim at request of Paxton’s office. In its petition, Paxton argued that the whistleblower—or whistleblowers—were violating provisions of a tentative settlement reached earlier this year, announced after the state Senate acquitted Paxton in an impeachment trial.

However, neither Paxton nor any of the whistleblowers attended the settlement hearing, which the Tribune notes “featured extensive debate over whether the terms of the settlement had been met even through the Legislature still has not approved its $3.3 million payout.”

Stubbs, then, appeared somewhat skeptical of Paxton’s argument that the plaintiffs were trying to “unwind” a potential agreement.

“If it were truly, actually, and finally settled,” Stubbs wrote, “then I don’t think we’d be here.”

The Texas Tribune reports that the lawsuit was initially filed by a coalition of some Paxton’s top aides, most of whom were fired in 2020. In their complaint, the aides say that they were punished for reporting Paxton to the F.B.I. after uncovering information suggesting that Paxton had received bribes and other incentives.

Earlier this year, the whistleblowers came close to settling their claim for about $3.3 million.

A 2013 image of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Alice Linahan Voices Empower. (CCA-BY-2.0).

However, the Texas House of Representatives—concerned about using taxpayer dollars for an agreement—recommended that Paxton instead be impeached.

While Paxton was eventually acquitted by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature, the A.G.’s former aides have continued fighting for compensation.

In his latest ruling, Stubbs dissolved a temporary restraining order preventing the lawsuit from moving forward, and approved a hearing to discuss changing the venue of the Burnet County claim to Travis County.

Before Stubbs’ ruling was handed down, though, both sides shared heated arguments as to whether the terms of the settlement had actually been fulfilled.

Bill Helfand, an attorney for Paxton’s office, said that his client was complying with the terms of the settlement—and that the whistleblowers, unhappy with the results of the impeachment trial, were trying weaponize their lawsuit as a type of “second impeachment proceeding.”

“Now that’s abuse of a lawsuit,” Helfand said, adding that it any violation of the tentative settlement could also constitute a breach of contract.

Nevertheless, attorney Joe Knight—representing whistleblower Ryan Vassar—said that it was “almost comical” for Paxton’s office to suggest that the situation had been resolved when none of the plaintiffs had received a “nickel” of the promised $3.3 million in compensation.

Another whistleblower attorney, Don Tittle, said that his clients’ agreement to the settlement is “contingent” upon approval of funding.

“The agreement is contingent, and the thing it is contingent has not happened,” Tittle said.

The hearing on the change of venue is tentatively scheduled for December 14th.


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