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The former aides to Attorney General Ken Paxton whose allegations of abuse of office spiraled into a dramatic impeachment trial in the Texas Senate that ended in acquittal said Monday that they have asked the state Supreme Court to allow their whistleblower lawsuit to be revived and placed in line for trial.
"The political trial is over," Blake Brickman, a former deputy attorney general who was among eight top Paxton aides who in September 2020 reported their boss to the FBI, said at a news conference in the Capitol. "It's time for the case to return to a real court."
Brickman was joined by two of his three former colleagues who filed the lawsuit accusing Paxton of using his elective office to help a friend and political benefactor with his legal difficulties. Four other deputies also went to the FBI but are not part of the lawsuit.
The matter came to a head in February when the attorney general's office and the whistleblowers agreed on a tentative $3.3 million settlement, which included a provision that Paxton publicly apologize for calling Brickman, Mark Penley, Ryan Vassar and David Maxwell "rogue employees." And the money for the settlement was to be paid from funds allocated by the Legislature.
The impeachment effort began behind the scenes early this year after Paxton, a Republican who in November won a third four-year term, declined to answer questions from the House Appropriations Committee about the events associated with the original lawsuit. House lawmakers refused to include funding for the settlement in the two-year budget that took effect Sept. 1.
At Monday's news conference, Brickman and Penley did not mask their disappointment that 17 of the 19 Republican senators voted to acquit Paxton on all 16 articles of impeachment, ensuring that the attorney general would resume the duties he was sidelined from performing once the House formally filed the charges May 27. Vasser also attended the news conference but did not speak. Maxwell was unable to attend.
"Anyone who watched the impeachment trial knows the House managers presented ample evidence of Ken Paxton's criminal conduct," Brickman said.
Paxton, who only attended part of two days of the 10-day trial, has insisted he was wrongfully accused. And in interviews since then with conservative media outlets he has said he plans to campaign against Republican lawmakers behind his impeachment in next year's primaries.
His office, in a statement, said any response to the statements by his former aides at the news conference would be made to the court and not to news outlets.
"The Office of the Attorney General will respond to the so-called whistleblower plaintiffs’ comments in a written response to be filed with the Texas Supreme Court — consistent with that Court’s procedures — as opposed to staging a press event in the state Capitol," the office said.
Brickman and Penley predicted that a civil trial would be far different from the proceedings in the Senate, in that a judge and not the lieutenant governor would preside over the case and the jury would not comprise elected state senators. In their filing to the state Supreme Court, the whistleblowers said their case has been paused since the tentative settlement was announced and it should return to active status because there has been no movement on a state-funded settlement.
"The (settlement agreement) — not merely the payment obligation, but the entire (agreement) —is expressly 'contingent upon all necessary approvals for funding’ ” the petition states. "This contingency has failed. The Legislature has adjourned without funding approval, and, for reasons unrelated to the merits of Respondents’ case, some key members have expressed hostility toward funding approval."
The lawsuit is not against Paxton personally, but rather against the attorney general's office. Therefore the state would pay any settlement or any judgment awarded by the court.
Asked directly if the whistleblowers would prefer trying once more to reach a settlement that the Legislature would sign off on or taking their chances in court, Penley replied: "If they funded then that would be great. If they choose not to, what I'm saying today is I'm ready — and I believe my colleagues are ready — to go back to state district court here in Travis County and continue with our litigation."
Penley and Brickman, both of whom testified in the impeachment trial, used the the 30-minute news conference to hammer home the points they made during the impeachment trial, which in the end didn't persuade a two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove Paxton from office.
"We saw personally with our own personal knowledge that Ken Paxton would not obey the limits of the law," Penley said. "He did not stay within the guardrails, the boundaries, of the law. And that's why we went to the FBI and made personal eyewitness reports."
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Paxton whistleblowers ask Texas Supreme Court to jump-start lawsuit