An outside law firm has found that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—who has been suspended from office pending the outcome of his impeachment trial in the Senate—didn’t break any laws or violate office procedure when he fired several individuals who accused him of wrongful dismissal and retaliation.
A report regarding retaliation claims by a number of former employees and political appointees of the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG), released by Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP (pdf), found that there was “significant evidence to show the actions of the OAG toward the Complainants were based on legitimate, non-retaliatory, business grounds.”
The law firm’s findings dovetail with the conclusions of an earlier OAG investigation (pdf) that similarly refuted each of the former employees’ and political appointees’ allegations and called for a deeper probe into the matter.
A half dozen or so former OAG employees had filed complaints against or sued Paxton for wrongful dismissal, claiming he ousted them in retaliation after they reported him to federal authorities for alleged crimes he committed in assisting Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
The allegations relating to Paul were a major part of the 20 Articles of impeachment filed recently against Paxton, including bribery and abuse of public trust.
The Republican-controlled Texas House last week voted to impeach Paxton, sending the articles of impeachment to the state Senate for a trial and leading to Paxton’s suspension as attorney general.
Paxton denounced the impeachment as “politically motivated” and that it was “never meant to be fair or just.”
“I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just,” he said in a statement.
In October 2020, a number of top deputies in Paxton’s agency told the FBI that they believed the attorney general had used his office to help Paul, who had donated $25,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign in 2018.
All of the whistleblowers were fired or resigned, but the allegations led to a federal investigation into Paxton.
The Department of Justice later took over the investigation, but no federal charges have been filed against Paxton or Paul.
Four of the whistleblowers filed a lawsuit against Paxton in 2020: James Blake Brickman, David Maxwell, Mark Penley, and Ryan Vassar. They claimed that Paxton ousted them as retaliation and then smeared them publicly.
At the time, Paxton broadly denied the claims.
“Facts matter. As time goes on people will see the truth of what we’re saying, that these people, some of them, had legitimate issues unrelated to me that ended up resulting in their termination,” Paxton said at the time.
After about a year of investigating the whistleblowers’ claims, Paxton’s office issued a report that refuted the former employees’ claims, with the outside law firm’s follow-on report building on these findings.
Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP wrote that the OAG had “valid, non-retaliatory reasons for dismissing” two of the employees while providing evidence in support of the view that the others were dismissed on legitimate grounds.
Attorneys for the complainants were not immediately available for comment.
Paxton’s office said in a statement that it was releasing the law firm’s report “in light of the irresponsible, unfounded, and illegal impeachment” of Paxton.
Paxton is only the third sitting official in Texas’s nearly 200-year history to have been impeached.
Articles of Impeachment
The whistleblowers accused Paxton of improperly issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul and had previously reached a tentative settlement agreement with Paxton for $3.3 million, which prompted the Texas House committee investigation.
“Specifically, Paxton benefited from Nate Paul’s employment of a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair. Paul received favorable legal assistance from, or specialized access to, the office of the attorney general,” the articles of impeachment state.
The articles also accuse Paxton of having benefited from Paul providing renovations to Paxton’s home in exchange for “favorable legal assistance” and “specialized access” to the office of the attorney general.
Other charges date back to Paxton’s pending 2015 felony securities fraud case, shortly after he won his first attorney general election, and include making false statements to state investigators.
“After Paxton was elected attorney general, Paxton was indicted by a Collin County grand jury for engaging in fraud or fraudulent practices in violation of The Securities Act (Title 12, Government Code),” the impeachment articles state.
“Paxton then concealed the facts underlying his criminal charges from voters by causing a protracted delay of the trial, which deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general.”
Paxton, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, was reelected to a third term as attorney general in November.
He has denied the charges and said the impeachment vote was based on “totally false claims.”
Trump, too, denounced Paxton’s impeachment.
“The RINO [Republican In Name Only] Speaker of the House of Texas, Dade Phelan, who is barely a Republican at all and failed the test on voter integrity, wants to impeach one of the most hard-working and effective Attorney Generals in the United States, Ken Paxton, who just won reelection with a large number of American Patriots strongly voting for him,” Trump stated on Truth Social on Saturday.
“You would think that any issue would have been fully adjudicated by the voters of Texas, especially when that vote was so conclusive,” the former president added.
Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.
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