Four whistleblowers filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to a November 13 article from The Texas Tribune.
Mark Penley, formerly the deputy attorney general for criminal justice, and David Maxwell, the agency’s former director of law enforcement, filed the lawsuit on November 12, according to the article. Two fellow whistleblowers have signed onto the lawsuit: Blake Brickman, who was the deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives and fired on October 20, and Ryan Vassar, who “has been on paid leave for weeks,” the article states.
The lawsuit, “filed in the Travis County District Court under the Texas Whistleblower Act,” alleges specific instances of retaliation against senior aides Penley and Maxwell and four other whistleblowers, according to the article. Penley, Maxwell, and a group of six other whistleblowers reported Paxton to law enforcement in early October, alleging that “their boss had broken the law by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor and friend, Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor,” according to the November 13 article.
The whistleblower lawsuit claims that after Penley and Maxwell were involved in blowing the whistle, they endured whistleblower retaliation. On November 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,” according to the lawsuit. Penley and Maxwell also claim that “for hours…they 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 administrative investigation interview, but it was apparent that the Whistleblowers’ complaints about Paxton’s misconduct were the driving force,’” according to the article. Other whistleblowers said “they were excluded from meetings, kept from seeing critical documents, prevented from completing their job responsibilities and believed they were being electronically surveilled,” the article states. Penley and Maxwell were fired in early November.
The lawsuit also expands on the alleged favors that Paxton’s office carried out for Paul on which the senior aides blew the whistle, like Paxton intervening in a case involving Paul that the agency had previously decided not to take on.
“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 whistleblowers wrote in the lawsuit, according to the article. “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.”
In filing the lawsuit, the whistleblowers “are asking for reinstatement, as well as compensation for lost wages, future loss of earnings and damages for emotional pain and suffering,” according to the article.
According to The Texas Tribune, “spokespeople for Paxton and for the attorney general’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on the lawsuit.” However, Paxton has been outspoken in the past about the whistleblower’s actions: he has previously called the whistleblowers “rogue employees” and claimed that the allegations are false, according to an October 29 Whistleblower Network News article. Paxton gave an interview with NBC-affiliate KXAN on November 13 and stated, “Everything I’ve seen is untrue.”
“Some of those people left on their own and some had other issues that we’ll end up getting into letter once this litigation pans out,” Paxton said in the interview. “I’m not concerned about how that’s going to go because there are issues that we haven’t been able to talk about that are individual to each person that is part of that complaint.” He stated that he does not plan on resigning.
Read the full Texas Tribune article for more details about the whistleblower lawsuit.