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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in settlement talks with 3 of 4 whistleblowers

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 1/31/2023 Katie Hall, Austin American-Statesman

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is in settlement talks over a lawsuit that some of his office's former executives filed against him after they were fired, claiming they faced retaliation for alleging to the FBI that Paxton had misused the powers of his office to help a political donor.

The executives, all appointed to their former positions by Paxton, are among eight who resigned or were fired after telling federal investigators in 2020 of their concerns that Paxton was misusing the powers of his office to help Austin investor Nate Paul, whose home and businesses were searched by federal agents in 2019.

The FBI launched an investigation into their allegations, but it has not publicly acknowledged or discussed the case. Paxton has said the executives were fired because of policy disagreements over decisions he made while leading the influential state agency, not in retaliation for reporting alleged crimes.

The lawsuit is currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court, but the state solicitor general last week asked the court to defer its review pending the outcome of ongoing settlement negotiations.

Three of the four former executives "are actively engaged in settlement discussions, with mediation tentatively planned for Feb. 1," Solicitor General Judd E. Stone II wrote to the court.

However, one person — James "Blake" Brickman, former deputy attorney general for policy and strategic initiatives — opposes the other executives' request. While the other parties "intend to mediate this case," Brickman is not engaged in any settlement negotiations, his attorney wrote in a filing last week.

Even if the other parties reach a settlement, Brickman’s claim will still be pending, and any postponement would needlessly delay his claim, Brickman's attorney wrote.

The people discussing a settlement are J. Mark Penley, David Maxwell and Ryan Vassar, according to court filings.

Should negotiations prove unsuccessful, the parties will ask the Texas Supreme Court to recommence its review, Stone wrote.

After the whistleblowers' allegations came to light, Paxton still easily won reelection over Land Commissioner George P. Bush during the May GOP runoff election, then defeated Democratic rival Rochelle Garza in the November general election.

Paxton deputies complain of retaliation

The former executives in 2020 alleged that Paxton illegally used his office to help Paul in exchange for benefits that included remodeling Paxton's Austin home, employing Paxton's mistress and giving a $25,000 political donation.

Paxton, overriding a decision by his agency's Charitable Trust Division, directed his office to intervene in a Mitte Foundation lawsuit against Paul, the whistleblowers' lawsuit says.

"It was odd, considering that (Paxton) had never done so before or even shown any interest in a charity case," they wrote.

They also accused Paxton of orchestrating an attorney general's office investigation into Paul's claims that agents improperly searched his businesses in 2019.

When Maxwell and Penley found Paul's claims to be without merit, "Paxton took over" and ensured that an outside counsel would be hired to resume the investigation, they alleged in court filings.

Paxton went outside normal procedures to hire as outside counsel "someone he could direct and control — Brandon Cammack, a five-year lawyer with no law-enforcement or investigative experience," the filing said.

Paxton has denied wrongdoing, arguing that his actions were appropriate because Paul had raised serious questions about potential improprieties that deserved to be investigated. He also described the whistleblowers as "rogue employees" who sought to stymie that investigation.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in settlement talks with 3 of 4 whistleblowers


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