‘Bizarre, obsessive use of power’: Recapping day one of the Paxton whistleblower hearing

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Monday was the first day of court hearings for the whistleblower lawsuit filed against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Four former top aides sued Paxton for wrongful firing and retaliation after they accused the state’s top law enforcement officer of using his office to help Nate Paul, a wealthy Austin-area real estate developer and Paxton campaign donor.

James Brickman, David Maxwell, J. Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar were present at Monday’s hearing, presided over by District Judge Amy Clark Meachum. Recent court filings say Paxton and another top aide received subpoenas to testify, but they were not at the hearing.

Much of Monday was spent arguing the merits of the case. Lawyers representing the Office of Attorney General have sought to dismiss the lawsuit. Specifically, they argued Monday that whistleblower protections don’t apply to claims about an elected official, that Paxton is not considered a “public employee” and that the AG’s office has immunity. However, Judge Meachum said Monday afternoon the hearing should continue.

There was some witness testimony in the afternoon, with OAG attorneys often objecting to questions and claiming attorney-client privilege, among other reasons. The hearing was expected to continue with more testimony Tuesday, but attorneys for the AG’s office filed petitions for writ of mandamus in the 3rd Court of Appeals late Monday night. The stay was granted, which halts the lawsuit hearing for now.

Paxton is under federal investigation over claims of bribery and abuse of office. Attorneys for the four former senior aides touched briefly on the relationship between Paxton and Paul, using the words “obsessive” and “bizarre” to describe what they say was Paxton’s attempts to help Paul.

The whistleblowers say Paxton paid a special prosecutor to investigate people involved in federal and state raids at Paul’s home and offices. They say targets included FBI agents and a Federal Magistrate Judge.

Paxton has denied the claims and has called the accusing top aides “rogue employees.”

In the amended complaint filed last month, the former aides allege Paxton sought records related to the raids, on Paul’s behalf. The records would not be released under normal circumstances because the investigation was and is still open.

Paxton contacted one of his top attorneys several times about issuing an opinion favorable to Paul’s efforts to get the records, according to the complaint.

FBI investigators searched Paul’s home and businesses on August 14, 2019. It is not clear what the FBI was investigating, and Paul has not been charged with a crime.

The lawsuit also states the aides believe Paxton used the power of his office to help repay Paul for a home remodel, or in exchange for hiring a woman Paxton was allegedly having an affair with.

The top aides allege one of Paul’s companies was involved in the remodel of Paxton’s Tarrytown home last year.

As for the woman in question, Paul has admitted in court depositions that she was recommended to him for a job, and that she was hired to work for one of his companies.

“On information and belief, that individual still works for one of Nate Paul’s companies as a construction project manager even though that individual has no prior experience in the construction industry, much less managing construction projects,” reads the whistleblower lawsuit.

Attorneys for the whistleblowers said Monday they may not know all of the connections between the two men. The aides said Paxton and Paul met privately on several occasions last year.

It remains unclear how Paul and Paxton became friends. Paul has not returned numerous requests for comment over the last few months.

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