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Second whistleblower who accused Texas AG Ken Paxton of corruption has been fired

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 10/22/2020 By Jay Root, Staff Writer
Ken Paxton wearing a suit and tie: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman/TNS) © NICK WAGNER, FILE / TNS

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

AUSTIN — A second whistleblower who accused Attorney General Ken Paxton of public corruption has been fired, potentially exposing the state to liability for illegal retaliation, the Houston Chronicle has learned.

Blake Brickman, hired in February to be Paxton’s deputy attorney general for policy and strategic initiatives, was fired on Tuesday, according to a former high-ranking state official and documents reviewed by the Chronicle.

Brickman, a Dallas native who had recently served as chief of staff to former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, declined comment. Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brickman is at least the second of seven Paxton accusers to be fired. The Texas Tribune reported this week that Lacey Mase, former deputy attorney general for administration, had been terminated. At least one of the whistleblowing aides has been placed on leave by Paxton’s office and another resigned to take another job.

Brickman, Mase and five other top Paxton aides made an official complaint to law enforcement on Sept. 30, then wrote him a letter accusing him of multiple violations of law, including “abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.”

Paxton has called them “rogue employees” who sought to impede a legitimate investigation and made false allegations against him.

The aides are accusing Paxton of using his office to benefit his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor whose home and offices were raided last year by the FBI.

The firings are raising eyebrows from employment attorneys. Under a unique provision of Texas law, a state agency is presumed to be retaliating against a whistleblower if a termination occurs 90 days or less after the whistleblower reports the violation to law enforcement.

Both Brickman and Mase were fired less than three weeks after they took their concerns about Paxton to the authorities.

“I’m really shocked that they terminated any of these people. Those folks obviously did everything they could to protect themselves against retaliatory discharge,” said Dave Feldman, a labor lawyer and former Houston city attorney. “That’s just an invitation for disaster at the courthouse.”

Feldman, who represented special prosecutors over legal fees stemming from their pursuit of unrelated criminal charges against Paxton, said the attorney general’s office could be hit with both actual and punitive damages.

Houston attorney and employment law expert Joe Ahmad said the firings are so “so extreme and so flagrant” that he doesn’t see “a lot of judges letting Paxton have a pass.”

“This seems like a pretty transparent attempt to intimidate potential witnesses against him and prevent the evidence from coming to light,” Ahmad said, “which is the whole reason we have a whistleblower statute in the first place.”

jay.root@chron.com

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