- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A top Texas attorney general’s office lawyer was fired last year after raising concerns that the state violated federal rules while trying to salvage a troubled technology deal involving an overhaul of its child support system, according to a published report Tuesday.

Martha Fitzwater Pigott was fired in September. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office later offered a settlement that kept her on the state payroll for almost six months in exchange for keeping the details of her complaints secret, documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/2ajijda ) show.

High-profile cases of state agencies using emergency leave to continue paying employees who resign or are fired have become commonplace in Texas lately - so much so that Gov. Greg Abbott recently instructed agencies “to refrain from using emergency leave as severance or settlement payments.”

Fitzwater Pigott worked in an office that oversaw a contract with tech giant Accenture, which was hired in 2010 by the attorney general’s office to overhaul electronic record keeping for Texas’ child support system. Abbott was attorney general at the time, before becoming governor in 2015.

But that deal was plagued by years of failures that saw its budget balloon to $310 million, or about $100 million more than originally planned.

Fitzwater Pigott did not return the newspaper’s calls seeking comment, so exactly what complaints she raised are unclear. But records indicate that, in the fall of 2015, she expressed concern that federal laws may have been broken as the attorney general’s office worked to make improvements to its deal with Accenture.

Records show that Austin-based lawyer Phillip Durst told state officials that his client, Fitzwater Pigott, was subsequently fired “under very suspicious circumstances” despite a strong employment record.

Her attorney wrote: “I think the taxpayers of Texas and the funders of the (Child Support Division) programs will be very concerned if it is determined, as we believe, that the (Office of the Attorney General) was not properly complying with its financial obligations and that this program could be more efficient to the people it serves.”

Paxton’s office responded by signing an agreement that kept paying Fitzwater Pigott through January 2016, as long as she didn’t sue the agency. That deal was later extended until Feb. 14, when she took a job at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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