On Tuesday, David McSwane of the Dallas Morning News reported that a high-ranking lawyer within the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) was placed on emergency leave last September after being fired from her position.The fired lawyer, Martha Fitzwater Pigott, was authorized to be paid for six months following her termination on September 1, 2015. As you may recall, putting former employees on emergency leave so they can receive severance payments or retain their health insurance benefits got Ag Commissioner Sid Miller and Attorney General Ken Paxton in hot water last spring (even though it turns out everybody was doing it). It was such a problem, the state’s Reluctant Dad-in-Chief Greg Abbott was forced to actually tell state agencies they couldn’t do that anymore, or he’d take away the car keys for good.
What’s news this week is that Fitzwater Pigott was fired shortly after she voiced serious concerns about the legality of contract renewal negotiations she was overseeing to her supervisor.
In other words, it appears that Fitwater Pigott was fired for whistleblowing. The OAG reached a settlement with her to keep the details of the complaint she filed regarding her termination quiet and then used its special slush fund called paid emergency leave to do it.
But that’s not all.
Martha Fitzwater Pigott was overseeing contract renewal negotiations on the white whale of Texas contracting, T2. That’s the contract to overhaul of the OAG’s child support database with Accenture that went $100 million dollars over budget and repeatedly failed to meet contract deadlines, the same contract that just recently was renewed for double its original estimate (Texas is paying $410 million now) and ten years after the project was originally bid. But don’t take it from us that T2 has been a total nightmare. Here’s how Ken Paxton’s deputy attorney general for child support Mara Friesen, Fitzwater Pigott’s boss, the person who described Fitzwater Pigott as “violating her trust” for voicing concerns that the OAG was not handling the contract properly, described T2 in a letter to the Legislative Budget Board last December:
Our assessment is the state of the project before we set out to make changes would have resulted in runaway development costs, overly complex systems, increased maintenance costs, and significant delays – even as much as well past 2020.
By the way, Friesen sent that letter to explain why the federal government had frozen payment on its portion of funding for the contract, presumably because, guess what, there were serious issues with the contract. But there’s no mention of that in Friesen’s letter.
So, on the one hand, we have fallout from the emergency leave scandal to pay off state employees who might cause a problem. And on the other we have the state’s longest running contract clusterfuck, the one that originated under the now-governor’s watch and which he constantly touted in his race for governor. It’s the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of Texas state government: two great scandals that taste great together.
But for all you K Pax fans out there, don’t worry. Given the whiplash speed of deflection the OAG’s office is currently demonstrating (AP report that $100,000 contribution toward’s the AG’s legal defense fund looks a whole lot like a bribe, no problem! We’ll sue the City of Austin over open carry the next day! Don’t want folks to notice that the AG’s filing yet another appeal against his securities fraud indictment? Let’s do a press his calling the UT professors’ suit against campus carry a frivolous lawsuit!), there’s sure to be new news ASAP.