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The Texas Attorney General’s office Ken Paxton told a district court on Monday that there was no retaliation when it fired former top Paxton aides who reported their boss to authorities for potentially breaking the law.
In the agency’s first official response to a lawsuit filed by four out of eight whistleblowers who left the agency after the allegations were settled, Paxton’s attorneys flatly dismissed Pages and Pages with allegations of wrongdoing and retaliation in just a few short sentences.
The agency “generally denies any allegation or allegation” made by the whistleblowers prosecutors wrote in the short file.
“Any act that the plaintiffs allege as an adverse employment measure was the result of their own misconduct, lack of competence and / or the plaintiff’s infidelity to the office,” wrote the agency’s lawyers.
The agency is represented by two outside lawyers, William Helfand and Sean Braun from Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP in Houston. The attorney general’s office didn’t answer questions about how much the outside attorneys are paid.
Paxton is reportedly under investigation by the FBI over allegations made by the aides.
Four former top agency employees – Blake Brickman, Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley and David Maxwell – sued their former employer on Nov. 12, alleging they suffered retaliation, including wrongful termination, after reporting Paxton to authorities. At this point only three of the men had been released; Vassar, who had taken paid leave, was released days after the lawsuit was filed. His attorney, Joseph Knight, said he was given “fabricated, nonsensical reasons” for dismissing, which he believed was motivated by the lawsuit.
The agency didn’t respond to questions about why Vassar was fired, but a Paxton spokesman said other layoffs were not retaliation. Agency spokespersons did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the lawsuit on Monday morning.
Ultimately, five of the whistleblowers were fired and three resigned.
Top aids claim Paxton broke the law by using the agency to do a favor to a political donor, real estate investor Nate Paul. According to the adjutants, as well as numerous court records, official documents and media reports, Paxton intervened on Paul’s behalf in a series of pending filing inquiries, issued a legal opinion that helped Paul avoid foreclosure sales on multiple properties, and took the unusual step into a lawsuit between Paul and intervene in an Austin charity.
Most notably, Paxton hired an outside attorney to investigate Paul’s allegations that federal and state authorities mistreated Paul in a robbery on his home and office in 2019. Paxton hired the outside attorney, top aides say, although the Pauls agency staff had already reviewed allegations and found them to be unfounded.
Paxton dismissed his aides’ allegations as “false” and labeled them “rogue employees”. In a statement last month, Paxton, who has been charged with separate securities fraud charges since 2015, said he knew “a little about being falsely accused” and dismissed the whistleblowers’ allegations, which he called “excessive” under assumptions and misrepresent the facts to a large extent. “
Paul and Paxton’s relationship remains unclear, though friendly, and Paul gave Paxton’s $ 25,000 campaign in 2018 as Paxton sought a second term as attorney general. Paul also revealed in a statement earlier that fall that he had hired a woman on Paxton’s recommendation, though he said it was no favor for Paxton. The woman was involved in an extramarital affair with the Attorney General, according to two people who said they learned directly from Paxton in 2018.