AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Two weeks after Attorney General Ken Paxton’s acquittal in his impeachment trial, the Texas Supreme Court announced on Friday that the whistleblowers’ lawsuit against Paxton can move forward.
The lawsuit was filed by former top deputies at the Office of Attorney General who claim they were wrongfully fired by Paxton. The former employees say the firings came after making “good faith” reports to the FBI about alleged actions taken by Paxton for the benefit of Austin-area real estate developer Nate Paul.
The ruling from the Texas Supreme Court clears the way for the lawsuit to return to a Travis County trial court. The lawsuit had been on hold after a $3.3 million dollar settlement with the whistleblowers was proposed. Concerns over using taxpayer funds to pay the settlement helped lead to the Texas House investigation of Paxton and subsequent impeachment trial.
Nexstar spoke with Blake Brickman, one of the whistleblowers involved in the impeachment trial and lawsuit. While Brickman has publicly expressed his disappointment and shock over the outcome and various elements of the impeachment trial, he said he looks forward for what’s to come with the whistleblower lawsuit.
“We can actually put Ken Paxton under oath and depose him, which did not happen in the impeachment trial,” Brickman said. “He’s either going to have to testify or invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.”
The Attorney General did not take the stand during his impeachment trial, after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ruled that Paxton could not be compelled to testify. However, for the whistleblower trial in Travis County, the judge could compel Paxton to testify.
When asked what questions he would want to Paxton to testify to, Brickman responded that he would ask questions regarding Paxton’s involvement with Paul.
“Why did you turn your entire office over to an Austin businessman that’s under federal indictment,” said Brickman as a question he would want asked. “Why were you so obsessed with anything related to Nate Paul at the expense of all the important work we were doing?”
Brickman emphasized that this case shouldn’t be political, but rather what is “right and wrong.” However, in regards to the impeachment trial, Brickman felt that it was in fact political.
Following the Senate’s vote to acquit Paxton on 16 articles of impeachment and toss the remaining four related to his ongoing securities fraud indictment, Patrick gave a blistering speech, slamming Speaker Dade Phelan and the House for what he believes was a rushed process.
“When Lieutenant Governor Patrick made his speech immediately after the trial was very clear to me, that, you know, this is how it was gonna be,” said Brickman.
“I’m concerned with the precedent that 16 Republican senators set saying, basically, Ken Paxton, his behavior was okay,” said Brickman in reference to the senators who voted to acquit Paxton in the Impeachment Trial.
“My fight will continue as long as it takes to expose this,” Brickman said. “I cannot stand by and allow corruption to happen in this state.”
State Senator Paul Bettencourt is one of the six members who voted to throw all the charges out before the trial started. He’s heard the accusations that political pressure influenced the Senate’s decision to acquit Paxton, and he’s ready to respond to critics.
“It’s hogwash. It never happened. It’s propaganda. It’s not real,” Bettencourt said, pushing back against the criticism.
He and other Republicans who voted to acquit have said reports that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put pressure on Senators are false.
“[Patrick] firewalled himself off. He said, ‘you can’t talk to me, you know, weeks in advance.'” Bettencourt said.
Bettencourt sounded a similar tone to Patrick, faulting House members for rushing to impeach Paxton. He emphasized that a majority of Senators did not believe impeachment attorneys proved their case.
“And that’s why the verdict came out because it just doesn’t meet beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” Bettencourt said.
Bettencourt is now calling for amendments to the Texas constitution to change the way future impeachments are conducted. His proposals include minimum time standards to allow for reviewing evidence and requiring the House to cross-examine witnesses.