Texas Supreme Court pauses depositions in Paxton whistleblower case

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, speaks with defense attorney Dan Cogdell before starting the ninth day of his impeachment trial in the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in Austin.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, speaks with defense attorney Dan Cogdell during his impeachment trial in the Texas Senate on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Credit: Sam Owens/Pool via San Antonio Express-News
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The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily halted depositions that were scheduled to begin Thursday in the whistleblower case against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The all-GOP court issued an order Tuesday blocking the depositions and giving the parties until Feb. 29 to respond with their broader legal arguments. The decision was made public within hours of Paxton’s top political ally — former President Donald Trump — calling on the court to end the case.

The Supreme Court did not elaborate on its decision to block the depositions. Lawyers for the whistleblowers emphasized that it was not a ruling on the substantive argument by Paxton's office against the depositions.

"This was not a ruling on the merits and we look forward to continuing the fight for justice in this case," two whistleblower attorneys, Tom Nesbitt and TJ Turner said, in a statement. "The people of Texas deserve answers from Ken Paxton."

Earlier this month, a district court judge in Travis County had ordered Paxton and three top aides to sit for depositions starting Thursday with the attorney general himself. Paxton’s office fought that order up to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to at least put the depositions on hold.

Four former top deputies filed the whistleblower lawsuit in 2020, alleging Paxton improperly fired them after they reported him to the FBI for allegedly abusing his office to help a wealthy friend and donor, Nate Paul. Their claims were the basis for Paxton’s impeachment by the Texas House last year. He was acquitted by the Senate after a trial in September.

In a remarkable move earlier this month, Paxton sought to stave off the depositions by announcing he would no longer contest the facts of the case and accept any judgment. But it did not sway the whistleblowers, who have pressed forward with seeking the depositions of Paxton and the three aides: Michelle Smith, Brent Webster and Lesley French Henneke.

The two sides are due in Travis County district court Wednesday for a hearing on Paxton’s motion for the judge to enter judgment.

With the deposition question before the Supreme Court, Trump allies had ramped up pressure on the court to side with Paxton. And then on Tuesday morning, Trump himself weighed in on his social media platform, Truth Social.

“Enough time and money has been wasted forcing [Paxton] to defend himself, instead of defending our broken Southern Border, which is under continual siege,” Trump said, calling on the justices to “end the Politicization and Abuse of our Justice System.”

The Supreme Court did not explain its ruling Tuesday. It said one justice, Evan Young, did not participate.

Three of the nine justices are up for reelection this year, though only one, John Devine, has a primary challenger.

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