Texas attorney general accused of firing aides in retaliation

State law includes a stout statute to protect government employees who believe their employer – a governmental body or official – has broken the law. In these situations, a government employee might want to report the misdeeds to authorities, but fears that the cost of filing a report would likely be termination and irreparable career damage.

Protecting whistleblowers

The Texas Whistleblower Act is designed to encourage public employees to report illegal acts committed by government officials, agencies and organizations by protecting them from retaliation such as termination, suspension or reductions in pay or hours.

On his website, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says, “an employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”

Allegations of wrongdoing

Two former top aides to Paxton claim he doesn’t live up to those words. Mark Penley, the former deputy attorney general for criminal justice, and David Maxwell, the former director of law enforcement say they were recently fired for reporting to authorities that Paxton illegally used his office to benefit his friend and financial supporter, Nate Paul, a real estate developer.

Maxwell and Penley filed a whistleblower lawsuit, claiming that they were subjected to unlawful retaliation for reporting Paxton’s alleged abuse of his office. Two other senior aides also signed on to the suit that states that over the course of recent months “the Attorney General became less rational in his decision making and more unwilling to listen to reasonable objections to his instructions, and placed increasing, unusual priority on matters involving Paul.”

Interrogation and termination

Penley and Maxwell also claim that when they showed up for work on Nov. 2, they were interrogated for hours by Brent Webster, Paxton’s new deputy – and then fired. They say Webster “engaged in a charade under the guise of an administrative investigation interview,” but that their whistleblower reports about Paxton were “the driving force.”

Paxton said in an interview that the aides were fired due to “legitimate issues unrelated to me” and not in retaliation for their complaints about him.

He added that their lawsuit is nothing more than “claims by people – and those things have to be proven in our American system.”

A total of eight aides filed reports about Paxton to law enforcement.

A ferocious response?

According to a news report, the lawsuit states that “the most senior members” of the attorney general’s office believe “Paxton was breaking the law and abusing his office to benefit himself as well as his close friend and campaign donor.” The suit states that the AG responded “with ferocity” to their whistleblower complaints “as though he was trying consciously to show Texans exactly what retaliation against whistleblowers looks like.”