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Alleged Threats Against San Antonio Councilman Emerge From Lawyer Involved With Opioid Lawsuit

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio

More troubling accusations are being made about Martin Phipps, the San Antonio lawyer who runs one of the firms representing Bexar County and more than a dozen others in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.

According to a text conversation between two of the former employees — including former Phipps Mayes partner TJ Mayes — Martin Phipps has regularly expressed his desire to kill San Antonio City Councilman Manny Pelaez.

On Thursday, TPR reported on a complaint about Phipps with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a letter six of his staff gave to the lawyer concerning what they called a hostile and abusive workplace and his “persistent display of homicidal fantasy.”

In the text exchange clearly documented for posterity, Mayes asks another employee whether they would be willing to swear under oath that he “heard Martin Phipps state his desire to kill Manny Palaez.”

“You are correct,” the other former employee replies. TPR has confirmed the conversation independently, but held back the name at the employee's request.

“It’s one thing for someone to joke about someone...we’ve all in frustration said ‘Man, I could kill that guy,’ said the former employee. “You say things in frustration but then at some point you realize, oh you're not joking. You realize this is real. This isn’t a joke.”

The intensity and frequency of the statement alarmed him.

The news came as a surprise to the District 8 councilman. Pelaez said he didn’t know if it was his policies or the fact that he had represented former Phipps employees in employment disputes.

“Whatever the reason is, threatening the life of a public official — last I heard — is still a crime. Threatening the life of anyone is alarming,” said Pelaez.

According to Mayes there is more than a little personal and professional animus between the two lawyers.

A member of the Phipps Mayes team responded that the message was untrue.

“We will attribute this to a former employee continuing to make unfounded libelous accusations,” said Gabe Ortiz, another lawyer speaking for the firm.

“Although we do not know when this alleged conversation occurred, we hope that if these former employees were truly concerned about the safety of Councilman Pelaez, they took appropriate measures at the time to ensure his well-being.”

The text conversation took place on Jan 16, 5 days after Mayes had resigned. It isn’t clear when the threats began.

Pelaez said while surprised by the news he did receive an email on Jan. 14 from Mayes stating that Phipps “was mentally unstable and capable of homicidal violence.”

“This is not a joke and not overly-dramatized,” read the email that warned Pelaez that it was a “highly volatile situation” and not to take “any action that could trigger him into violent behavior.”

Pelaez said he didn’t realize it was a warning for himself.

“That message doesn’t say ‘Hey, Manny, he threatened to kill you. That message says, I’ve taken steps to protect my family, keep this confidential. I did share it with (SAPD Police Chief) McManus,” said Pelaez.

He said he didn’t know what else to do with it. Now he has shared the recent threat.

As TPR reported Thursday, the new details build on an EEOC complaint filed by Mayes that said “three law enforcement agencies are aware that there is a tense situation related to this letter.”

Mayes also said via text message that he contacted police about Phipps twice the day he resigned.

According to a letter given to Martin Phipps and dated Jan. 8, “Many of us are concerned that you may be in an immediate danger to yourself or others.”

The letter is signed by a half-dozen current and former employees.

It also states that the signatories intend to abide by the current confidentiality agreements in place.

“Confidentiality clauses should not cover violence against women, illegal conduct, unethical acts and abusive behavior,” said Mayes.

He confirmed he is currently being sued by his former firm in private arbitration.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org