Politics

Bills to fight Texas AG Ken Paxton’s whistleblower case top $700K, records show

Paxton, a Republican, brought on a private law firm to fight a whistleblower lawsuit accusing him of wrongful termination. His agency has paid the firm at least $700,000 to fight the suit since 2020.

Ken Paxton was acquitted of all 16 impeachment charges Saturday. Four other charges were later dismissed.
Michael Minasi | KUT
Ken Paxton was acquitted of all 16 impeachment charges Saturday. Four other charges were later dismissed.

A private law firm has charged the state nearly $700,000 to defend the Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton against the whistleblower lawsuit that led to his impeachment.

According to documents The Texas Newsroom obtained through a public information request, Houston-based Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith filed an invoice on Jan. 1 that brought its charges to date to $697,658.63.

Including other charges, the state has been billed just more than $700,000 to fight the case over more than three years. These costs are in addition to, and separate from, those incurred during Paxton's impeachment trial.

The lead lawyer on the case, William Helfand, is charging $540 an hour. The January invoice, which detailed $30,637 in charges, included time spent drafting arguments that Paxton and his aides should not have to testify under oath.

Paxton's agency hired the outside law firm in 2020, shortly after four former senior employees sued for wrongful termination under state whistleblower laws. They accused Paxton of forcing them out of their jobs after they reported him to the FBI for alleged corruption.

The allegations eventually led the Texas House to impeach Paxton for alleged bribery and abuse of office. He was acquitted after a trial in the Senate.

But the whistleblower lawsuit has continued.

Spokespeople for Paxton's agency did not respond to requests for comment. But the attorney general himself has repeatedly weighed in on the cost of the lawsuit.

In an attempt to toss the lawsuit last month, Paxton said it had become too costly for taxpayers and distracting for his agency. He wrote in a statement that he wants to refocus "the entirety of agency expertise and resources to our urgent legal initiatives."

It's likely Paxton hired the private firm to avoid conflict of interest concerns that would have been raised if his own agency lawyers had taken on the case. The same firm also produced a paper that purported to clear Paxton of the corruption that the whistleblowers raised.

Paxton has denied all wrongdoing in the case.

In addition to Lewis Brisbois, Paxton's agency has brought on other private firms to handle other aspects of the case. According to the new invoices, it hired the Kingsland-based firm Brown, Lacallade & Lange to attend a hearing in December.

That day cost the state $1,375.

Another private firm billed $2,876 in December and January, according to the newly-released invoices.

This brings the grand total to defend Paxton's agency in the case to just more than $700,500.

The state of Texas also incurred costs to prosecute Paxton in his impeachment case. The investigation and trial cost at least $4.2 million. The attorney general tapped his campaign funds to pay his attorneys $2.3 million to defend him against the charges, according to The Texas Tribune.

Copyright 2024 KUT News.