The four men behind the lawsuit that put Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in political jeopardy were one-time employees and allies Mr. Paxton handpicked to advance his conservative agenda.
The four members of staff – James Blake Brickman, David Maxwell, Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar – joined forces when they decided the actions they saw involving Mr Paxton were too worrying to leave alone.
They filed the whistleblower lawsuit in 2020 after Mr. Paxton ignored their repeated expressions of concern. According to the 372-page file setting out their allegations, the four staffers fell out with Mr. Paxton after the FBI raided the home of Nate Paul, a wealthy real estate investor in Austin and Mr. Paxton’s donor in 2019. . Convinced that the authorities had acted illegally, Mr Paul enlisted Mr Paxton’s assistance.
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 solicitor with staff from the local district attorney’s office, he had also assigned a solicitor deprived of looking into Mr. Paul’s concerns.
The four said in the complaint that they believe Mr. Paxton « has violated Texas criminal laws, including but not limited to bribery, improper influence, and bribery laws. »
Mr. Paxton, they said in the legal documents, « has flagrantly violated and apparently believes he is above the very law he promotes on his website. »
Mr. Paxton responded by suspending and subsequently firing them.
Earlier this year, Mr Paxton said he had reached an agreement with them. But more trouble ensued as she demanded the state pay them $3.3 million in settlements, leading a Texas House committee investigating her actions to schedule a vote Saturday afternoon on whether to impeach Mr. Paxton.
During a press conference on Friday, Mr Paxton called the efforts to impeach him « illegal » and « political theatre » and added that he had not been given an opportunity to challenge the allegations brought against him.
He also said he was confident impeachment calls would not prevail. « I hope the House makes the right decision, but if not, I look forward to a speedy resolution in the Texas Senate, » he said.
These are the four informants.
James Blake Brickmann
Mr. Brickman served as Deputy Attorney General for Policy and Strategy Initiatives from February 2020 until he retired on October 20, 2020, according to legal filings. The documentation stated that Mr. Brickman and Mr. Paxton had a good working relationship before the scandals surfaced and that, at Mr. Paxton’s request, Mr. Brickman moved his wife and three children to Austin to work with him. The documents state that months before Mr. Brickman began expressing concern about Mr. Paxton’s behavior, the attorney general routinely praised his work, once calling him an « extraordinary addition » to his office.
But after members of staff questioned efforts to assist Mr Paul, the relationship soured, documents say. Mr Brickman was asked to walk away from key meetings, a move he claimed in court documents was intended to « reduce Brickman’s duties and responsibilities to punish him, to try to intimidate, embarrass or humiliate him. »
Before coming to work for Mr. Paxton, Mr. Brickman was the chief of staff to former Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky, a Republican. He also served as chief of staff to former Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, also a Republican.
For 10 years Maxwell supervised a team of approximately 350 employees at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, where he served as Deputy Director and Division Director of Law Enforcement. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Maxwell came into conflict with Mr. Paxton when he learned of Mr. Paxton’s attempt to intrude on the federal investigation connected to Mr. Paul. In the lawsuit he filed with other whistleblowers, Mr Maxwell and Mark Penley said « many of Paul’s complaints were outside the state’s jurisdiction. »
In legal documents, Mr. Maxwell described himself as an « honest, thorough and tough law enforcement investigator. » His law enforcement career spanned nearly 50 years, including 35 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety, most of that time as a Texas Ranger, according to legal documents.
Mr. Maxwell is also known in Texas for helping to identify the man who raped and stabbed to death his sister, Diane Maxwell Jackson, decades after the crime. which took place in 1969. A judge sentenced his 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 oversaw a team of approximately 220 employees across various divisions, including criminal proceedings, special proceedings, criminal appeals and crime victim services, according to the legal documents. Mr. Penley, a retired federal prosecutor, spent nearly 40 years practicing law.
Mr. Penley also found himself at odds with Mr. Paxton several times as Mr. Paxton worked to help Mr. Paul resolve his legal issues. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Penley at one point refused to sign a memo approving the hiring of the special prosecutor assigned to raid Mr. Paul’s properties.
Through the end of 2020, Vassar served as a Deputy Attorney General as Counsel for the Attorney General’s Office. He was the latest of four former staff members from Mr Paxton’s office to be ousted after corruption allegations surfaced against Mr Paxton. Mr. Vassar said in the lawsuit that he had refused many requests from his former boss to help unearth information that would help Mr. Paul.
Mr. Vassar had a long legal career in Texas before the scandal broke. Most recently, he took a job as a general counsel at the Cicero Institute, a non-profit public policy organization, according to the institute’s website. For three years, Vassar worked as a law clerk for Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett. He holds degrees in accounting from Texas Tech University and law degrees from South Texas College of Law in Houston.