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Attorney General Ken Paxton sought Thursday to end the long-running whistleblower lawsuit against him — and avoid sitting for a deposition — by saying he would no longer contest the facts of the case and was prepared to accept any judgment.
The move came after he appeared to exhaust his options to reverse a Travis County judge’s order that he and three top aides answer questions under oath by Feb. 9. The all-GOP Texas Supreme Court ruled against Paxton on that issue last week.
Paxton’s office portrayed Thursday's move as one that would finally put an end to a costly and distracting lawsuit, in which his former top deputies allege they were illegally fired for reporting the attorney general to law enforcement alleging abuses of office. But a lawyer for one of the whistleblowers said the lawsuit was “not over” and Paxton was just trying to delay it further — and on Friday, a Travis County judge ordered Paxton and his aides to appear for depositions again, this time giving them specific dates.
“Today, my office acted to end this wasteful litigation by filing an amended answer that — consistent with the previous decision to settle this case — will enable the trial court to enter a final judgment without any further litigation,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday. He added that he "will not allow my office to be distracted by these disgruntled former employees and their self-serving sideshow."
With his latest court filing, Paxton is essentially dropping his denial that he violated the Texas Whistleblowers Act — one of the allegations that the Texas Senate acquitted him in his impeachment trial last year. The filing emphasized that it should not be "construed as an admission" of guilt by Paxton or his office.
State Rep. Andrew Murr, the Junction Republican who was the top House impeachment manager, claimed vindication after Paxton's new filing, saying he has has "dropped all pretense of innocence."
"He's admitted to what many in the Texas House have known in our hearts to be true: he flagrantly broke the law, violated the Whistleblower Act and betrayed the trust placed in him by retaliating against his own team, those who bravely reported his illegal actions," Murr said in a statement.
The Travis County judge, Jan Soifer, did not appear fazed by Paxton's latest filing as she issued a new order Friday ordering him to appear for a deposition on Feb. 1. She also ordered the three aides — Brent Webster, Lesley French Henneke and Michelle Smith — to be sit for depositions on Feb. 2, 7 and 9, respectively.
Whether Paxton's reversal in the courts actually ends the case remains to be seen. The whistleblower’s lawyer, Tom Nesbitt, said Paxton’s latest maneuver is “another desperate stunt by Ken Paxton to prevent the truth from coming out.”
“Ken Paxton has never answered questions about his illegal and corrupt conduct,” Nesbitt said. “He is clearly terrified of doing so - even if it means taking a different position now about him breaking the law than he did at his impeachment trial.”
The whistleblowers — four former top deputies — filed suit against Paxton in 2020, alleging they were improperly fired for reporting him to the FBI. They said they believed he was misusing his office to help his friend and campaign donor Nate Paul.
The whistleblowers almost settled with Paxton for $3.3 million early last year, but state lawmakers balked at using taxpayers dollars for the settlement and the House chose to investigate the underlying claims, leading to Paxton’s impeachment. The Senate acquitted Paxton after a trial in September, and the whistleblower lawsuit resumed.
The whistleblowers’ claims have also been under federal investigation.
Paxton has spent the months since the impeachment trial trying to derail the revived whistleblower lawsuit, arguing it was already effectively settled, even though the Legislature still had not funded the $3.3 million. But multiple judges have rejected that argument, and last month, a Travis County district judge ordered that the case move forward with depositions.
Paxton announced Thursday's filing on the radio show of conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, saying his office has decided "we're not playing this game anymore."
"Give us whatever liability you think we have, whatever damages," Paxton said. "The end result is the Legislature has already ... said they’re not paying anything and so there’s no reason for us to let them harass my office when we’re dealing with all these immigration issues and suing Pfizer and we’ve got this huge Google lawsuit."
The whistleblowers have said they are intent on having their day in court and want to see Paxton answer questions under oath.
"We are not going away,” one whistleblower, Blake Brickman, said at a news conference after Paxton’s Senate acquittal. “For us this case has always been about more than money. It's about truth. It's about justice."