Two senior staff members who worked for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office have been fired, according to a November 2 article from The Texas Tribune.
The agency’s director of law enforcement David Maxwell and the deputy attorney general for criminal justice Mark Penley have both been fired. The article states that both individuals “had been on paid investigative leave for weeks in the wake of their roles vetting a complaint made by Nate Paul, a real estate investor and political donor to Paxton.” Ian Prior, Paxton’s political spokesman, confirmed Maxwell and Penley’s firings last week.
Prior said that “Maxwell was fired for violating agency policies” and Penley “omitted or misrepresented to a court materials facts, as well as other policy violations,” according to the article. Maxwell had worked at the attorney general’s office since 2014 and Penley since 2019.
Maxwell and Penley’s firings arrive on the heels of two other whistleblowers’ dismissals and one whistleblower’s resignation from Paxton’s office this month: Lacey Mase, Paxton’s former top aide and Blake Brickman, the former deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives, were both fired the week of October 19. Ryan Bangert, the agency’s former deputy first assistant attorney general, announced his resignation from the department on October 28. All three former employees were part of a group of seven whistleblowers who reported Paxton to law enforcement in early October, stating that “they had a ‘good faith’ belief that their boss had committed bribery and abuse of office by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul,” according to an October 28 The Texas Tribune article.
The controversy surrounding Paxton and Paul began when Paul “accused federal and state authorities of wrongdoing related to a raid on his home and office in 2019,” the November 2 Texas Tribune article states. The Texas Tribune obtained emails showing that Paul’s complaints had been reviewed by senior aides but found “meritless.” Paxton, however, said that “he was concerned that his staff had not sufficiently vetted Paul’s allegations” and “ultimately hired an outside attorney” to investigate the situation, according to the article. Paxton’s hiring of a lawyer sparked the seven employees’ reporting of Paxton to law enforcement. Paxton has since “denied the allegations and called the whistleblowers ‘rogue employees,’” the article states.
Further Allegations of Whistleblower Retaliation
On November 5, The Texas Tribune reported on allegations of whistleblower retaliation in the workplace by Paxton’s former aides, including Brickman, Mase, and Bangert. Brickman filed a formal complaint to the agency’s human resources department a week before he was terminated, alleging that “he was being blocked from meetings and prevented from seeing critical documents; that he believed his computer was being monitored; and that a superior had brought an armed ‘sergeant’ to a staff meeting,” according to the article. Brickman’s “allegations echo formal complaints filed by five other whistleblowers.”
New documents show that Maxwell filed a separate whistleblower report on October 1 telling the agency that they should “entitle him to legal protections under state law,” according to the article. The agency has also released records that show “six of the whistleblowers filed complaints with the agency’s human resources department” later in October. These complaints alleged that Paxton and the First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster “created a ‘hostile environment’ after [the whistleblowers] reported Paxton to law enforcement,” according to the article.
Additionally, The Texas Tribune found that personnel files from the agency and interviews with former senior officials “show that before the whistleblowers were fired — and publicly criticized — they were recognized by their supervisors as top performers.”
The four whistleblowers who were dismissed from Paxton’s office have yet to respond to requests for comments or responses to the allegations leveled against them by Paxton’s office. They have also yet to announce whether they will be pursuing legal action against the office.
“At first blush, with what I can see as an outsider, it looks like a pretty good case — a pretty open and shut case of whistleblower retaliation,” said Dustin Paschal, an employment attorney in Dallas, according to the article.