The four men behind the whistleblower case that put Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in political jeopardy were once employees and allies whom Mr. Paxton carefully selected to advance his conservative agenda.
The four staffers – James Blake Brickman, David Maxwell, Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar – joined forces when they decided that the actions they witnessed involving Mr. Paxton were too disturbing to pass up.
They filed the whistleblower case in 2020 after Mr Paxton ignored their repeated expressions of concern. According to the 372-page filing detailing their allegations, the four staff members got into a fight with Mr. Paxton after the FBI raided the home of Nate Paul, a wealthy Austin real estate investor and a donor to Mr. Paxton, in 2019. Convinced that the authorities had acted illegally, Mr. Paul enlists the help of Mr. Paxton.
In the lawsuit, the four men allege that Mr. Paxton not only used his influence to arrange and attend a meeting for Mr. Paul and his attorney with the staff of the local district attorney, but also appointed a private attorney to look into Mr. Paul’s concerns.
The four said in the complaint they believed Mr. Paxton had “violated Texas criminal law, including but not limited to the laws relating to bribery, undue influence and abuse of office.”
Mr Paxton, they said in legal documents, “has flagrantly violated and apparently believes he is above the law which he promotes on his own website.”
Mr Paxton responded by suspending and later firing them.
Earlier this year, Mr Paxton said he had reached a settlement with them. But more trouble ensued when he asked the state to pay them $3.3 million in compensation, leading a Texas House committee investigating his actions to schedule a vote Saturday afternoon on whether to impeach Mr. Paxton.
At a press conference on Friday, Mr. Paxton called the attempts to impeach him “illegal” and “political theater”, adding that he was not given the chance to challenge charges against him.
He also said he was confident that calls for his impeachment will not prevail. “I hope the House makes the right decision, but if not, I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate,” he said.
These are the four whistleblowers.
James Blake Brickman
Mr. Brickman served as Deputy Attorney General for Policy and Strategic Initiatives from February 2020 until his resignation on October 20, 2020, according to the legal documents. The documents stated that Mr. Brickman and Mr. Paxton had a good working relationship before the scandals came to light and that at Mr. Paxton’s request, Mr. Brickman moved to Austin with his wife and three children to work with him. Months before Brickman began raising concerns about Mr. Paxton’s behavior, according to the documents, the Attorney General regularly praised his work, once calling him a “great addition” to his office.
But after employees questioned efforts to help Mr. Paul, the relationship soured, the documents say. Mr Brickman was asked to step back from key meetings, a move he said in court documents was intended to “reduce Brickman’s duties and responsibilities to punish him, to try to intimidate and embarrass or humiliate him. “
Prior to joining Mr. Paxton, Mr. Brickman was the chief of staff to former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a Republican. He has also served as chief of staff to former Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, also a Republican.
For 10 years, Mr. Maxwell oversaw a team of approximately 350 employees at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, where he served as Deputy Director and Director of the Law Enforcement Department. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Maxwell came into conflict with Mr. Paxton upon learning of Mr. Paxton’s attempt to interfere with the federal investigation related to Mr. Paul. In the lawsuit he filed with fellow whistleblowers, Mr. Maxwell and Mark Penley that “many of Paul’s complaints were outside the jurisdiction of the state”.
In legal documents, Mr. Maxwell described himself as an “honest, thorough and tough law enforcement investigator”. His law enforcement career spanned about 50 years, including 35 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety, most of it as a Texas Ranger, according to legal documents.
Mr. Maxwell is also known in Texas for helping to identify the man who raped and fatally stabbed his sister, Diane Maxwell Jackson, decades after the crime, which took place in 1969. A judge sentenced her killer to life in prison in 2004.
Mr. Penley served as Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice under Mr. Paxton for just over a year, from October 8, 2019 to November 2, 2020. During that time, he led a team of approximately 220 staff across various divisions, including criminal prosecutions , special prosecutions, criminal appeals and crime victim services, according to legal documents. Mr. Penley, a retired federal prosecutor, has practiced law for nearly 40 years.
Mr. Penley also found himself at odds with Mr. Paxton on several occasions as Mr. Paxton worked to help Mr. Paul navigate his legal troubles. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Penley at one point refused to sign a memo approving the appointment of the special prosecutor assigned to the raid on Mr. Paul’s property.
Until the end of 2020, Mr. Vassar served as Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel for the Attorney General’s Office. He was the last of four former members of Mr Paxton’s office to be ousted after corruption allegations against Mr Paxton surfaced. Mr Vassar said in the lawsuit that he refused many requests from his former boss to find information that could help Mr Paul.
Mr. Vassar had a long legal career in Texas before the scandal broke. According to the institute’s website, he recently took a job as general counsel at the Cicero Institute, a non-profit public policy organization. For three years, Mr. Vassar as legal clerk for Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett. He graduated with a degree in accounting from Texas Tech University and a law degree from South Texas College of Law Houston.