State Budget Blocks $3.3 Million Settlement Payment in Whistleblower Suit Against AG’s Office
Ken Paxton’s office had sought to use state funds to settle retaliation charges brought by AG staffers who blew the whistle on alleged corruption
AUSTIN, Texas – New documents released Monday night show state budget writers added a provision that effectively blocks the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton from using taxpayer funds allocated to the office to settle a whistleblower lawsuit alleging retaliation for reporting corruption.
The provision is contained in the conference committee report (Page 7) reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions of the biennial state budget bill, HB 1, which must be finalized by May 29, when the legislative session is scheduled to conclude.
“The Legislature’s emphatic rejection of payment for this settlement imposes an important accountability measure for an attorney general that has evaded real consequences for various scandals clouding his office. The message to Paxton is clear: Taxpayers won’t pay to make this problem go away for you. You figure it out,” said Adrian Shelley, the Texas director of Public Citizen.
The included budget rider prohibits the attorney general’s office from “using any appropriated funds for the purposes of a settlement or judgment relating to lawsuits or claims filed under Chapter 554 of the Government Code,” commonly known as the Texas Whistleblower Act.
The plaintiffs in the suit are former Paxton aides. In the fall of 2020, the plaintiffs reported to authorities alleged criminal conduct by Paxton that benefitted a wealthy friend and donor of the attorney general. The allegations reportedly triggered an FBI investigation, and the eight aides, four of whom sued, say they were either fired or forced to resign.
In February, as the legislative session began, both sides in the lawsuit announced a $3.3 million settlement that would include an apology from Paxton. At a committee hearing the same month, Paxton was asked if he would pay the settlement with his campaign funds. Paxton did not answer, instead allowing one of his assistants to respond.
The whistleblower suit is just one of multiple Paxton controversies.
Paxton has been under state criminal indictment for securities fraud charges for all except a few months of his more than eight years in office. He also faces a misconduct lawsuit brought by the State Bar of Texas due to Paxton’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
Both legislative chambers still must give final approval to the budget before it is sent to Gov. Greg Abbott.