Last month, four whistleblowers in a case involving Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sought a Travis County judge to compel the AG to testify. Paxton and his aides would have to testify under oath about allegations of bribery and corruption.
Court Jan Soifer, the district court in the case, granted the application to compel.
Paxton, first assistant attorney general Brent Webster, chief of staff with the Attorney General’s Office Lesley French Henneke, and veteran Paxton aide Michelle Smith will be forced to conduct depositions regarding allegations of inappropriate behavior by Paxton.
Paxton was served with documents in the case the same day, according to the whistleblowers’ attorney, Tom Nesbitt.
According to whistleblower lawyer Tom Nesbitt, Paxton was served earlier in the day at a restaurant in Austin.
“In this case, I believe the plaintiffs have shown good cause that these four people have unique and superior knowledge of discoverable information,” the judge remarked from the bench.
She went on to say that the four individuals were “not just figureheads,” but also knew about issues “at the heart” of the case.
Paxton filed an appeal, claiming that the court’s decision would jeopardize the state’s ability to settle disputes. In a statement announcing the appeal, the attorney general’s office stated that the lawsuit had already been settled and that the trial court was disregarding the deal established between the agency and its former employees by allowing the “unlimited and unprecedented discovery” to proceed.
“They lost badly,” Nesbitt said after the hearing. “I wouldn’t put it past Ken Paxton.” There’s no limit to how much taxpayer money he’ll spend to avoid accountability, so I’m sure they’ll try an appeal.”
The whistleblowers are four former top deputies — Blake Brickman, Ryan Vassar, David Maxwell, and Mark Penley — who filed a lawsuit against Paxton in 2020, claiming he fired them unjustly after they reported him to the FBI. They said he abused his position to benefit a rich buddy and donor, Nate Paul.
Paul testified during Paxton’s impeachment trial earlier this year. Paxton not only did not have to be deposed or testify in his own case, but he also did not appear for most of the trial.
In February, they were on the verge of settling with Paxton for $3.3 million, but the Texas House objected to using taxpayer funds for the sum and instead elected to examine the underlying charges. The House impeached Paxton in May as a result of this. After a trial in September, he was acquitted by the Senate.
The whistleblowers wanted to reopen their lawsuit following the impeachment verdict, and the Texas Supreme Court granted them permission. However, Paxton’s office promptly challenged the resurrected Travis County lawsuit, suing whistleblowers in neighboring Burnet County to stop it.
Burnet County ruled against that attempt, and Paxton’s lawyers have yet to relaunch their counter-suit.
Earlier in the hearing, Soifer ruled against Paxton’s side, dismissing their petition to enforce the proposed settlement deal. It was their latest attempt to effectively end the matter in Travis County by claiming it was already settled.
They have made that point despite the fact that the Legislature has yet to approve the $3.3 million, which is one of the agreement’s terms.
“It says [it] in plain English,” Soifer pointed out.
When it came to depositions, Nesbitt contended that Paxton’s testimony was especially important. His office has stated publicly that Paxton is the “decision-maker” for employee hiring and termination.
“Ken Paxton made these decisions,” Nesbitt said, adding Soifer that arguing in an employment lawsuit that the “decision-maker… somehow doesn’t have special knowledge, doesn’t have unique knowledge” is almost unheard of.
Regarding Paxton’s deposition, Nesbitt stated that it was purely coincidental that he was served on the same day as the hearing.
“We’ve been trying to find him for a long time,” said Nesbitt. I mean, the guy runs away… So we eventually located him. We received information that he will be at a restaurant at a specific hour.”
The restaurant where Paxton was served was not named by Nesbitt. He claimed Paxton was having “some kind of little holiday lunch” when the incident occurred.