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Attorney T.J. Mayes, an attorney and former chief of staff to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and others have resigned from the San Antonio law firm led by Martin Phipps, with Mayes alleging on social media that the high-profile attorney is a “crook” and abuses women.

Mayes and five other employees at the firm gave Phipps a letter demanding “immediate measures to cure the hostile work environment,” and in the following days, resigned from the firm that bears his name. On Jan. 19, Mayes submitted the letter as evidence to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed a formal complaint against Phipps with the Texas Bar Association. 

Phipps’ firm is representing Bexar County in a 2017 lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry’s opioid makers seeking $1 billion in damages. In December, major pharma firms proposed a $26 billion settlement for state and local governments, but the Phipps firm wants to take the matter to trial.

Mayes’ complaint to the bar association asserts that Phipps asked Mayes and another of the firm’s employees, Robert Vargas III, to arrange for a marriage license from Phipps’ recent marriage to another staffer to be destroyed in exchange for political favors. They declined, Mayes said.

Phipps did not return a message left for him seeking comment on the resignations. However, Gabe Ortiz, an attorney with the firm for five years, told the San Antonio Report that Phipps is not returning calls from the media – “not that I’m aware of.”

Mayes’ resignation, first reported by the San Antonio Business Journal, comes just over four months to the day Phipps named Mayes a partner in the firm and changed its name from Phipps Deacon Purnell PLLC to Phipps Mayes PLLC. 

In his two-page resignation letter dated Jan. 11, Mayes wrote: “When I joined the firm two years ago, I hoped we would do something great for Bexar County taxpayers. The prospect of helping thousands of our neighbors who are suffering kept me at the firm for a long time against my better judgment. I now believe that staying will only help facilitate your endless capacity for self-destruction. My association with you is a stain from my record that I wish I could erase.”

Prior to joining the firm as a junior partner in January 2019, Mayes was chair of Bexar County’s Joint Opioid Task Force. Formed in 2017, the task force was charged with decreasing opioid overdose deaths in the county. Mayes told the San Antonio Report that he was hired by Phipps “to clean up campaign contribution practices for that law firm, and I did.”  

In the letter Mayes and other employees gave to Phipps on Jan. 11, they outline grievances “out of concern about our financial situation and our physical safety.” Further, the letter complains about what it called Phipps’ “personality traits,” including “a disregard for ethical canons and moral conventions, … hostile aggression, sadism, misogyny, … and an insatiable desire for revenge.”

“We all share concerns about your mental health,” the six employees wrote. “Many of us are concerned you may be in immediate danger to yourself or others. We hope you will seek the help you need.” 

Mayes, who also hosts the KLRN public affairs program “On the Record,” has gone public with his complaints against his former employer because, he said, “I need him exposed for my safety.”

County Judge Nelson Wolff has announced Bexar County is seeking $1 billion in damages from opioid manufacturers and distributors for the impact the opioid epidemic has had locally. Photo taken on August 30, 2019.
Martin Phipps, partner at the law firm that bears his name, attends a July 2019 press conference regarding the county’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On Wednesday, Mayes tweeted that he had resigned from the firm after becoming convinced that “Phipps is a crook and a serial abuser of women,” adding that he submitted documents to regulatory agencies.

“When you have information that proves someone’s a serial abuser, you have an obligation to blow the whistle as loud as you can,” Mayes said.

Mayes said Phipps is suing him for violating a confidentiality clause, and Mayes has hired trial attorney Ricardo Cedillo, of the firm Davis, Cedillo & Mendoza, to represent him.

A 1994 graduate of St. Mary’s University School of Law, Phipps also taught trial advocacy at the school, according to the firm’s website, and has represented Fortune 500 companies in hundreds of trials throughout Texas.

Well known in legal circles, Phipps is a colorful character, often dressed in tailored suits and a bowtie and known for hosting lavish events at the strikingly designed office building on the Museum Reach of the River Walk that bears his name. Phipps enjoys giving visitors tours of his extensive contemporary art collection, which takes up most available wall space on three floors of the building. Paramour, a high-end cocktail bar, is located on the building’s fourth floor, with outdoor patios on three sides offering dramatic views of downtown and the Pearl.

The Phipps law office located at 102 9th St., with Paramour at the Phipps on the top floor of the building. Photos taken on January 27, 2021.
The Phipps law office located at 102 9th Street along the Museum Reach. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Phipps represented farmers in a class action suit against Bayer CropScience alleging the agribusiness giant contaminated the American rice supply and created a substantial decline in crop futures. A settlement of $750 million was reached, according to the firm’s website.

The law firm’s Ortiz said he’s read the employees’ complaints but he does not know why they chose to resign. 

“I haven’t been exposed to anything that anyone has mentioned in that letter,” he said, referring to the employees’ letter to Phipps. “I can tell you … I have never been exposed to or been mistreated or anything of that nature.”

Ortiz said the employees who resigned were not involved in helping litigate the opioid case and thus progress on the case would not be affected. “We’re still pushing full force to take this thing to trial,” he said. 

This article has been updated to correctly reflect Robert Vargas III’s position at Phipps Mayes.

Vargas, who resigned the same day as Mayes, had worked at the firm as director of public policy since March 2020. Prior to that, he worked for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office on intergovernmental affairs and legislative issues, he said. 

Vargas confirmed that he had resigned along with Mayes, but declined to comment publicly on Phipps or conditions in the workplace. Nine people out of a workforce of about 15 have resigned in the last two weeks, he said. 

“Those of us that left, we didn’t plan to leave over the last few months,” he said. “It was just kind of a – it’s time to go, today’s the day. So there was no planned exit and it wasn’t like we all had jobs lined up.”

Mayes said he contacted the San Antonio Police Department prior to submitting his resignation because he feared for his safety due to threats Phipps allegedly made against others in unrelated circumstances on prior unrelated occasions. Mayes said the documentation he has given to authorities, including audio recordings, lends credibility to his fears.

Mayes said he did not want the firm to be renamed Phipps Mayes. “He asked me to do it in January and I said no,” Mayes said. “But then the other named partners left in July, so he needed another name to put on the firm.”

With his name on the firm, Mayes said he felt a sense of accountability and began to spend more time in the office. That’s when he began to witness what he terms abuse by Phipps.

“My issue with him is not how he treated me, but how he treated other people,” Mayes said. 

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.