A Burnet County district judge ruled Tuesday that the Ken Paxton whistleblowers’ case can proceed in Travis County, while Paxton’s recently launched legal challenge to the revived lawsuit remains pending.
The ruling by Judge Evan Stubbs could allow the whistleblowers’ attorneys to subpoena Paxton and his top aides.
The ruling came a week after Stubbs temporarily halted the whistleblower lawsuit at the request of Paxton’s office. The office argued the whistleblowers were violating a tentative settlement they reached earlier this year by restarting work on it after Paxton’s acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial.
Neither Paxton nor the whistleblowers attended the hearing, which featured extensive debate over whether the terms of the settlement had been met even though the Legislature still has not approved its $3.3 million payout. Stubbs expressed skepticism as Paxton’s side argued the whistleblowers were effectively trying to unwind a final agreement.
“If it were truly, actually and finally settled,” the judge said, “then I don’t think we’d be here.”
The two sides faced off for over four hours in a courtroom here Tuesday, arguing over whether Stubbs should grant Paxton’s request for a temporary injunction that would further derail the Travis County case. At the end, Stubbs denied the request for a temporary injunction and scheduled a Dec. 14 hearing on a separate motion, filed by the whistleblowers, to change the venue of the Burnet County case to Travis County.
Stubbs also dissolved the temporary restraining order that he issued last week, paving the way for the Travis County case to come back to life.
“I’m not saying you can’t go forward with your case in Travis County,” Stubbs told the whistleblowers’ lawyers, adding the caveat that another judge may disagree.
After the hearing, a lawyer for one of the whistleblowers, Tom Nesbitt, said there was “no restriction” on the case moving forward in Travis County. The lawyers declined to comment on their next steps, but they had given notice they planned to subpoena impeachment records and take depositions shortly before Paxton sued them in Burnet County.
A lawyer for Paxton’s office, Bill Helfand, said after Stubbs’ ruling that the office may appeal his denial of the temporary injunction. Stubbs advised him to move swiftly with any appeal.
See here for the background. I take back what I said about the judge in this case. I’m still not sure he needed to pause the lawsuit and hold this hearing, but he handled it expeditiously and fairly, and so I have no further complaints. As we have seen in other cases, Paxton is a king of getting delays so I tend to think he’ll appeal, but we’ll see. Get those subpoenas ready, fellas.