Image: The Whistleblower Act lawsuit four former Assistant Attorneys General filed in Travis County on Thursday, November 12, 2020, contains much innuendo but little genuine substance, other than clear indications of unhappy former employees.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Austin, November 19 – Last Thursday, November 12, 2020, four former Assistant Attorneys General filed a Whistleblower Act lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the 250th District Court of Travis County (Austin). The plaintiffs clearly attempted to make stinging allegations against the popular and very effective sitting Attorney General, but their allegations fall short of the wrongdoing they wish to pin on him.
In the introductory paragraph of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs tried to make themselves appear as the Davids against Ken Paxton the Goliath:
“It is sadly ironic, then, that Attorney General Warren Kenneth Paxton — the Chief Law Enforcement Officer for the State of Texas — has flagrantly violated and apparently believes he is above the very law he promotes on his own website. Plaintiffs are dedicated, respected, public servants, officers of the court, and—until the events that are the basis of this Whistleblower Suit transpired—honorably served in the most senior levels of the Office of the Texas Attorney General (‘OAG’).”
While making vague allegations of bribery, adultery, and abuse of office against Paxton, the plaintiffs seem unable to connect the dots of actual wrongdoing against him. Texas citizens should take the allegations seriously and give the plaintiffs a chance to make their case, but, at the same time, Paxton most certainly deserves a reasonable opportunity to defend himself against what actually comes down to the rather mundane charge of taking an interest in what a political and personal friend seems genuinely to believe that he suffered wrongdoing at the hands of certain state and federal officials.
Is Paxton really guilty of bribery and abuse of office, which are crimes? It’s unclear but seems to be a bit of a stretch. Is Paxton really guilty of adultery? That’s also unclear but would appear only relevant if any such adulterous relationship formed the motive behind wrongdoing which constituted crimes, and the lawsuit plaintiffs have failed to make any such connection in their written averments.
All citizens, even those who happen to be the elected Attorney General of Texas, deserve due process. It is far from the point in time at which Paxton deserves a political or actual hanging.
The gravamen of the allegations
The four plaintiffs are James Brickman, who was Deputy Attorney General for Policy & Strategy Initiatives from February, 2020, until the Attorney General terminated him on October 20. David Maxwell was the Director of the Law Enforcement Division when the Attorney General terminated him on November 2. Mark Penley was the Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice when he was terminated on November 2. Ryan Vassar was the Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel when he was placed on indefinite leave around November 3.
All four of the plaintiffs had notified the Director of Human Resources of the Attorney General’s Office on October 1, 2020, that “they had reported to an appropriate law enforcement authority a good faith believe of suspected violations of law committed by Paxton and OAG.” They contend that Paxton and his deputies began to take adverse employment actions thereafter.
The problem with the allegations, however, as they make somewhat clear, is that the four plaintiffs and three other former OAG employees had begun to object to Paxton’s decisions with respect to Austin real estate developer Nate Paul well before they took formal actions against Paxton. Certainly, the plaintiffs didn’t like Paxton’s approach to the legal matters within OAG involving Paul. Nevertheless, Paxton, not his deputies, is the official whom the citizens of Texas chose to make those policies.
Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul
Nate Paul is a well-known businessman and real estate developer with a larger-than-life personality. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at Paul’s Austin home on August 14, 2019, as well as at two office locations of his real estate business, World Class Holdings. Paul is in civil litigation with an Austin charity as well.
Paul contributed $25,000 to Paxton on October 29, 2018, according to the lawsuit allegations, which this newspaper has confirmed through Texas Ethics Commission filings. Paul and Paxton appear to be personal friends and spend a fair amount of social time together, according to the lawsuit plaintiffs.
The lawsuit contains the following allegation about Paxton’s relationship with Paul:
“According to an Associated Press article dated November 5, 2020, Paxton ‘had an extramarital affair with a woman whom he later recommended for a job’ with Paul, and whom Paul in fact employed. According to the same news article, the woman previously worked for a Republican Texas State Senator.”
Paul requested assistance from the Attorney General’s Office with respect to allegations Paul has made against that the August, 2019, federal search warrants were violations of state laws (as well as federal). Paul requested that OAG begin an investigation within the Criminal Investigation Division of OAG into the matters.
Paxton clearly took aggressive steps to move the Paul request forward, while management attorneys, including the four plaintiffs, within OAG balked at proceeding with the investigation. There specifically lies the dispute between Paxton and the seven OAG deputies who resigned, were terminated, or who suffered suspensions.
Paxton certainly presented his beliefs and rationale for undertaking the Paul investigation in public-issued press releases during the months of October and November. The plaintiffs take strenuous exception to those public statements and blame Paxton for “misleading the public.”
It’s important to remember that elected officials are allowed to receive political contributions in Texas. The contributor just can’t demand something in return for the contribution or for some other favor, which such demand or request would turn the relationship into bribery.
The plaintiffs aver Paxton “use[d]…his office to investigate and attack Paul’s enemies.” Every criminal investigation could fall under such an allegation, because in every investigation there’s a target and a victim, depending upon each person’s perspective. The voters elected Paxton to use his judgment. As long as there was no quid pro quo between Paxton and Paul, there was no bribery nor would there appear to be any abuse of office.
If, in fact, the plaintiffs and other three officials, who lost their jobs by resignation, termination, or constructive termination, interfered with a legitimate decision by Paxton to conduct a criminal investigation, then they should have lost their jobs. If there was a quid pro quo between Paxton and Paul, then Paxton is in the wrong.
At this point in time, however, it’s unclear whether it’s a dispute between David and Goliath or whether it’s just bickering among the Keystone Cops.