Attorney General Ken Paxton and four of his former top deputies who said he improperly fired them after they accused him of crimes have reached a tentative agreement to end a whistleblower lawsuit that would pay those employees $3.3 million dollars.
In a filing on Friday, attorneys for Paxton and the whistleblowers asked the Texas Supreme Court to further defer consideration of the whistleblower case until the two sides can finalize the tentative agreement. Once the deal is finalized and payment by the attorney general’s office is approved, the two sides will move to end the case, the filing said.
“The whistleblowers sacrificed their jobs and have spent more than two years fighting for what is right,” said TJ Turner, an attorney for David Maxwell, a whistleblower and former director of law enforcement for the attorney general’s office. “We believe the terms of the settlement speak for themselves.”
Paxton, a Republican who won a third four-year term in November, said in a statement that he agreed to the settlement to save taxpayer money and start his new term unencumbered by the accusations.
“After over two years of litigating with four ex-staffers who accused me in October 2020 of ‘potential’ wrongdoing, I have reached a settlement agreement to put this issue to rest,” Paxton said. “I have chosen this path to save taxpayer dollars and ensure my third term as Attorney General is unburdened by unnecessary distractions. This settlement achieves these goals. I look forward to serving the People of Texas for the next four years free from this unfortunate sideshow.”
The tentative agreement would pay $3.3 million to the four whistleblowers and keep in place an appeals court ruling that allowed the case to move forward. Paxton had asked the Supreme Court to void that ruling. The settlement, once finalized, also will include a statement from Paxton saying he “accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologizes for referring to them as ‘rogue employees.’”
The attorney general’s office also agreed to delete a news release from its website that called the whistleblowers “rogue employees.” The news release had been deleted as of Friday morning.
Two weeks ago, three of the four plaintiffs in that lawsuit – Penley, Maxwell and Vassar – asked the Texas Supreme Court to put their case on hold while they negotiated a settlement with Paxton. Brickman initially sought to oppose the motion but signed onto the settlement agreement filed with the court Friday.
See here for the previous entry. Good for the fired guys getting paid – Paxton did them wrong, and they made him pay for it, which is as it should be. And as this stands, the ridiculous argument that Paxton as an elected official is exempt from the Texas Whistleblower Act remains a crackpot theory and not an official opinion of the Supreme Court. Someone may try that again some day, but maybe this demonstrated the weakness of that claim. We can only hope.
On the other hand, all of the details of what happened here are going to be forever swept under the rug. Did Paxton do any of the things that he was alleged to have done – as a reminder, the list includes “bribery, tampering with government records, obstruction of justice, harassment and abuse of office”, as well as blatantly lying about the charges on the campaign trail? We’ll never know for sure, unless the FBI gets off its rear end and files criminal charges against him. And, um, not to put too fine a point on it, but where is that three million bucks to settle this going to come from? If the answer to that is “your tax dollars and mine”, well, I’m not so sure Paxton will be incentivized to actually learn a lesson from all this, you know? It’s true that a verdict and judgment against Paxton would have run into a lot more dough, also your taxes and mine, but I have this nagging feeling that Paxton was basically playing with house money. The asshole got away with it again.
Okay, maybe not:
The payment for the settlement would come out of state funds and has to be approved by the Legislature. After the tentative agreement was made public, state representative Jeff Leach, the Republican from Plano who oversees the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, said he was “troubled that hardworking taxpayers might be on the hook for this settlement between the Attorney General and former employees of his office.”
“I’ve spoken with the Attorney General directly this morning and communicated in no uncertain terms that, on behalf of our constituents, legislators will have questions and legislators will expect answers,” Leach said in a statement to the Texas Tribune.