While the OAG argued that as an elected official, Paxton’s decisions are largely shielded from suits under the Texas Whistleblower Act, the court favored the former employees’ interpretation of the law.
“The legislature enacted the Act to ensure lawful conduct by those who direct and conduct State business,” wrote Chief Justice Darlene Byrne in the court’s opinion. “Crucially, this appeal also implicates the State’s fundamental policies of governmental transparency and accountability.”
“In light of these purposes and policies, we decline to adopt the interpretation of the Act proposed by the [OAG], which 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.”
The court’s order upholds a decision from the trial court to allow the lawsuit to continue, though another appeal from the OAG to the Texas Supreme Court would come as no surprise.
It has been 11 months since the whistleblower lawsuit was originally filed in the trial court and seven months since the OAG brought the standing of the case to the appellate court.
The former employees alleged at the beginning of Fall 2020 that Paxton had used his position of authority to benefit a particular individual, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, in several ways.
Details of those allegations trickled out throughout the case. As outlined in the latest opinion, specific ways that they claim Paxton used his position to benefit Paul include directing a subordinate to issue an opinion granting an open records request; intervening in a lawsuit that Paul’s entities were involved in; issuing an informal opinion about foreclosure sales amid COVID-19 restrictions; and finally investigating criminal complaints made by Paul and referred to the OAG.
According to the opinion, the former employees also contend that Paul likewise benefited Paxton with a $25,000 donation each from himself and a political action committee associated with him, employing a woman with whom Paxton reportedly had an extramarital affair, and that “Paul or his entities had assisted in a ‘major remodeling project’ at Paxton’s home.”
Paxton and the OAG rejected the arguments that the attorney general committed any wrongdoing, releasing a lengthy report in August about the allegations that defended Paxton’s actions as a matter of legitimate policy decisions.
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Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.