Even for Attorney General Ken Paxton, the legal filings surrounding his possible misconduct are getting labyrinthian and bizarre. He filed suit with the Supreme Court of Texas this week to try and get the whistleblower lawsuit targeting him dismissed.
To recap, in 2020 eight members of Paxton’s staff accused Paxton of bribery and improper use of office, mostly related to Paxton’s dealing with Austin real estate mogul Nate Paul. Paul’s home was raided by the FBI in August 2019, and the staff accused Paxton of using his office to harass the federal investigators involved in the case against his friend and political contributor. Those claims are currently being investigated by the FBI. This is not related to the fraud case that Paxton was indicted on five years ago, and which he has been slow walking through the courts by fighting over the pay of the special state prosecutors involved.
The whistleblowers subsequently found themselves fired or put on leave, leading them to sue Paxton for improper dismissal under the Texas Whistleblowers Act. Paxton has long argued that he has immunity to the Whistleblower Act due to his office and filed to have the lawsuit dismissed.
In October, the Third Court of Appeals disagreed with the attorney general and said that the suit could move forward. In the opinion, the court stated:
“[Paxton’s argument] would have the effect of stripping whistleblower protections from employees who might report misconduct by the thousands of elected officials throughout the State — particularly by those who direct and lead the agencies of this State.”
Undeterred, Paxton’s latest gambit is to try the exact same argument in the Texas Supreme Court. Once again, he argues that as an elected official he is not technically a public employee and therefore not subject to the Whistleblower Act.
Interestingly, Paxton is asking the SCOTX to review the lower court ruling that the Third Court of Appeals upheld. This is a bit of legal sleight of hand where Paxton is targeting the lower court for having the temerity to actually listen to the whistleblower complaints rather than focus on the minutiae of whether the attorney general should be held accountable like other public figures.
The SCOTX are all elected Republicans in their own right, which may be why Paxton thinks that he will find a more sympathetic audience to his power fantasy than in other courts. Considering that Paxton remains popular enough to still be a viable candidate for his job despite under multiple criminal charges and investigations, the move could be seen as a dare to the court to try and fight one of the state’s most potent Trumpists.
Paxton has managed to spend his time in office making repeated criminal and civil complaints go away though deft legal maneuvering. His penchant for finding himself constantly on the docket or in the crosshairs of law enforcement has led to the first real challenge to his power on the Republican side. Most of his opponents have firmly based their campaigns on his increasing legal woes, and it’s only a matter of time before Paxotn’s juggling act eventually comes to an end.