AUSTIN — The high-profile settlement agreement reached between a group of whistleblowers and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office could be in jeopardy, according to whistleblower attorneys.
Last month’s $3.3 million settlement agreement was pending approval of funding by state legislatures. However, the four whistleblowers’ lawyers issued a statement on Wednesday saying they are going back to court after saying the agency had not given a deadline to secure the money in the current legislative session, which lasts until May would agree.
“We would still settle the case if lawmakers approved the payment at this session, but we cannot and would not agree to that [Office of the Attorney General] the benefit of a settlement while whistleblowers wait forever for legislature approval,” the attorneys wrote in a joint statement.
They said they would return to court “where taxpayers will end up paying more to defend OAG than they would pay to settle this case.” The case is pending in the Texas Supreme Court.
The whistleblower lawyers filed a motion with the Supreme Court on Wednesday explaining the situation. If funding is not approved this legislative session, Paxton’s agency told whistleblowers the case should be shelved until the Legislature can reconsider it in 2025 or even later, the filing said.
“Thus, OAG reaps all the benefits of a settlement, and the defendants get none,” the filing reads.
Paxton’s agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Related: Who Pays $3.3 Million Settlement In Whistleblower Lawsuit Against Texas AG Office Ken Paxton?
The preliminary settlement agreement drew backlash from the Texas legislature, which refused to foot the bill. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said he didn’t think it was an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money. His spokesman declined to comment on the new developments on Wednesday.
Paxton’s office, meanwhile, pleaded for the settlement to avoid expensive litigation costs should the case go out.
The terms of the settlement include a payout of more than $3.3 million to the whistleblowers. Paxton also agreed to apologize for calling them “rogue employees,” stating that they “acted in a manner that they felt was right.”
The four former senior employees sued Paxton’s office in late 2020, saying they were fired after they accused him of abusing the office to help a campaign donor. They are former Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Mark Penley, former Deputy AG for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar, former Deputy AG for Policy and Strategic Initiatives James “Blake” Brickman and former Director of Law Enforcement David Maxwell.
Her allegations spurred an FBI investigation recently taken over by Justice Department officials in Washington, according to the Associated Press. No charges were brought.
Paxton denied the allegations of abuse of office and said the ex-employees had carried out a politically motivated witch hunt against him.
See Also: Texas AG Paxton Defends $3.3 Million Whistleblower Agreement Before House Budget Clerks