AG Whistleblower Case Put on Pause

Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley and Blake Brickman
Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley and Blake Brickman | Image by John Jordan/The Texas Tribune

A judge paused a lawsuit that alleged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fired whistleblowers for reporting him to the FBI.

Paxton’s legal team filed an emergency temporary restraining order against the plaintiffs — James “Blake” Brickman, Ryan Vassar, David Maxwell, and Mark Penley — claiming the whistleblowers violated a settlement reached by the two sides in February, according to The Texas Tribune.

Paxton’s claims centered around a request from the plaintiffs that the Texas Supreme Court reinstate their case against him. In their filing, Paxton’s team said the plaintiffs were “seeking to resume discovery” and planned to subpoena records from Paxton’s impeachment trial.

“The harm in this case is imminent given the fact Defendants have breached and continue to disregard the resolution of that lawsuit under the clear terms of the [mediated settlement agreement],” reads the filing, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Within hours of the filing, Burnet County Judge Evan Stubbs granted the order and stated there was “good cause to believe [the whistleblowers] have engaged, are engaged, and will continue to engage in acts and practices inconsistent with the Mediated Settlement Agreement,” per The Texas Tribune.

The whistleblowers’ filing also requested that Stubbs shield multiple people from deposition, including First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster, chief of staff at the Office of the Attorney General Lesley French Henneke, political aide Michelle Smith, and Paxton.

A hearing on Paxton’s petition for a temporary injunction was set by Stubbs for November 14.

In a statement, the plaintiffs’ lawyers described the request for an injunction as “Ken Paxton’s latest cowardly attempt to avoid testifying under oath,” per The Texas Tribune.

“Just like he hid out during his impeachment trial, sheltered from giving testimony, he’ll do anything to avoid accountability,” they wrote, according to DMN.

Paxton’s team responded to the claims in a statement, saying, “Texas law is clear that settlement agreements should be enforced.”

“If plaintiffs are allowed to disregard their settlements with the State, the important work of my office, and litigation for state agencies across Texas, would be significantly impaired,” he said, The Texas Tribune reported.

The original case revolved around claims from the whistleblowers that they were fired unjustly for reporting the attorney general to the FBI in 2020 over claims that Paxton abused his power in office to support his friend and political donor Nate Paul.

The two sides were close to reaching a settlement in February in which Paxton agreed to pay $3.3 million in damages. Paxton then requested that the state pay the settlement, prompting the Texas House to further investigate the allegations.

The House later drafted 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton that claimed he abused his power in office, leading to a 121-23 vote to impeach the attorney general, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The case was then sent to the Senate, which voted to acquit Paxton on 16 of the 20 articles and dismiss the remaining four.

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