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Whistleblower Lawsuit Seeks to Expose Texas AG’s Retaliation

— November 25, 2020

Terminated office aides file whistleblower lawsuit against Texas AG Ken Paxton.

Mark Penley, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s former deputy attorney general for the agency’s criminal justice, and David Maxwell, former director of law enforcement, have filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that they were subjected to hours of “irregularities, harassment and retaliation” in early November when they were asked to resign from their positions and refused to do so.  This came after the two former aides, along with six of other colleagues, reported Paxton to authorities, alleging he violated the law by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor and real estate investor, Nate Paul.  Blake Brickman, terminated in October, and Ryan Vassar, currently on paid leave, have also joined the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs wrote, “Over a period of months, the Attorney General became less rational in his decision making and more unwilling to listen to reasonable objections to his instructions, and placed increasing, unusual priority on matters involving Paul.”  Paul donated $25,000 to Paxton’s 2018 campaign and said, in a court deposition tied to the case, the two have “known each other for years and sometimes had lunch together.”  He added, “I consider the relationship, you know, positive.”

Whistleblower Lawsuit Seeks to Expose Texas AG's Retaliation
Photo by Gritte on Unsplash

The suit states further, “Penley and Maxwell were once leaders of the 4,000-person agency.  But when they arrived Nov. 2, staff was told that Maxwell, a law enforcement officer for some five decades, could not enter the building armed; Penley was escorted up the elevator by an armed guard.  For hours, Penley and Maxwell were interrogated by Paxton’s new deputy, Brent Webster, who refused to bring a witness into the room and engaged in a charade under the guise of an administrative investigation interview, but it was apparent that the whistleblowers’ complaints about Paxton’s misconduct were the driving force.”

Paxton reported he terminated aides because of “legitimate issues unrelated to me.”  Calling the whistleblowers “rogue employees” with “false allegations,” he added “he had not yet read” the lawsuit but indicated “everything I’ve seen is untrue.  It’s claims by people, and those things have to be proven in our American system.”

TJ Turner and Tom Nesbitt, attorneys for Brickman, responded, “Ken Paxton keeps doubling down on his lies.  Fortunately, we do not think anyone believes a word he says.  We will let our petition, the plaintiffs’ reputations, and Ken Paxton’s reputation speak for themselves.”  Eight aides made reports to law enforcement.  Three have since resigned and one other, Lacey Mase, was terminated in October.

“The most senior members of the [office of the attorney general] believed in good faith that Paxton was breaking the law and abusing his office to benefit himself as well as his close friend and campaign donor,” the plaintiffs wrote. “Paxton responded to the report immediately and with ferocity, as though he was trying consciously to show Texans exactly what retaliation against whistleblowers looks like.  It is hard to imagine more flagrant violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act.”

They are seeking reinstatement and “compensation for lost wages, future loss of earnings and damages for emotional pain and suffering,” according to the suit.


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