AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are weighing in on the whistleblower lawsuit against Attorney General Ken Paxton.
On Monday, Abbott and Patrick filed two amicus curiae briefs (or friend of the court briefs) asking the Texas Supreme Court to take up Paxton’s appeal to toss out a whistleblower lawsuit against him.
In late 2020, eight of Paxton’s former top aides accused him of bribery and abuse of office, reporting their claims to federal and state law enforcement agencies. Within less than two months, those employees were fired or left the agency. Four of the fired employees then filed a whistleblower against the Republican attorney general, saying their termination was retaliatory due to their complaint.
The attorney general denies any wrongdoing.
Paxton’s attempts to get the lawsuit tossed have failed in lower courts. He and his attorneys have argued the state’s whistleblower law does not apply to him as an elected official, saying he is protected by sovereign immunity. A district court and appeals court both refuted this argument, ruling in favor of the whistleblowers and allowing their lawsuit to proceed.
Texas’ whistleblower law covers public employees, appointed officials and governmental entities.
Paxton’s attorneys argue the attorney general’s executive powers, vested by the Texas Constitution, could be hampered by allowing the whistleblowers to sue him for being fired. The whistleblowers’ attorneys have argued siding with Paxton would have a consequential impact on state whistleblower protections, limiting any future employee’s ability to report misconduct by an elected official.
The lieutenant governor’s brief, written through his office’s general counsel, states Paxton’s petition to the Texas Supreme Court “addresses matters of statewide importance, as well as the separation-of-powers questions that warrant review by this Court.
“Regardless of the outcome of the case, this case relates to the interpretation of Texas law, and the people of Texas deserve that a case of this importance be considered and reviewed by the highest court in the state,” attorney Chris Sterner wrote on behalf of Patrick.
Governor Abbott’s brief stated a similar argument, also written on behalf of the governor by his office’s general counsel. Neither attorneys for governor or lieutenant governor explicitly said whether they agree with Paxton’s argument for appealing the whistleblower lawsuit.
If the high court accepts Paxton’s appeal, the case that’s already been going on for a year and a half would be further drawn out by procedural delays.
Paxton is in the middle of a runoff election to secure his spot as the Republican nominee for seeking a third term in office. On May 24, he’ll go head-to-head against runner-up George P. Bush, the Republican currently serving as Texas Land Commissioner.
Nexstar reached out to the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor seeking comment and did not immediately hear back.
Why did the former Texas Attorney General aides blow the whistle on Paxton?
The four former deputies sued Paxton for wrongful firing and retaliation after they accused the attorney general of using his office to help Nate Paul, a wealthy Austin-area real estate developer who donated $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.
It is unclear how Paul and Paxton became friends, but the lawsuit, which KXAN received a copy of, presents four instances in which Paxton directed the whistleblowers to take actions that could benefit Paul and his companies.
In 2019, the FBI raided Paul’s home and offices as part of an investigation. The whistleblowers allege Paxton leaned on his deputies to release state and federal records related to the searches. The whistleblowers, however, felt this would scuttle long-standing policies that exempt records tied to ongoing investigations from state public records law, “and likely spark innumerable lawsuits.”
Around July 2020, the whistleblowers allege Paxton directed employees to research restrictions on foreclosure sales and then made it clear he wanted an opinion issued that would stop foreclosure sales, the lawsuit states. The employees later learned that opinion, which was issued Aug. 2, was cited the following day by Paul’s attorney to prevent the impending foreclosure sale of his properties.
The whistleblowers also allege Paxton “plotted OAG investigations into Nate Paul’s adversaries.” Paxton’s former first assistant attorney, Jeff Mateer, and Brickman had to talk Paxton out of personally appearing in a hearing for a legal case between some of Paul’s companies and an Austin charity, “…as Paxton has not appeared in any court on behalf of the OAG in years,” according to the suit.
But the act that prompted Paxton’s staff to report him to the FBI was his hiring of an outside lawyer to investigate Paul’s claims that the FBI broke the law by searching his home and offices. Paxton’s staff concluded the allegations were outside their jurisdiction and unsupported by evidence, according to the complaint.
Paxton claims the allegations brought forth by his former employees are false, and the employees left or were terminated for reasons unrelated to him.