Battle over attorneys' fees connected to HPD BAT van investigation

June 27, 2012 2:59:47 AM PDT
A battle was waged Tuesday over attorneys' fees connected to the troubles with the HPD BAT vans. 13 Undercover first exposed problems with the mobile blood alcohol testing units and now there's new fallout over it.

A Harris County Grand Jury didn't indict anyone in the District Attorney's office last year, and contempt of court charges against two prosecutors were eventually dropped. But the controversy under DA Pat Lykos' watch reared up again Tuesday at commissioners court.

"This court should not be in the business of cleaning up her messes," said attorney Chip Lewis.

Lewis is angry. He represented Amanda Culbertson, the whistle blower whose questioning of the BAT van breath testing prompted the investigation. Lewis didn't want the Harris County commissioners to approve a $17,000 payment of legal fees for Steve Morris, one of the prosecutors involved in the contempt of court investigation.

"The legal expenses that the district attorney asked the public funds go for, goes out of grand jury investigation of the district attorney's office," Lewis said.

But the DA's office argued that since Morris incurred those legal fees in while doing his job as a prosecutor for Harris County, the county is obligated to pay the bill.

"Those matters arose from the course and scope of his employment, and that contempt action was dismissed," said John Barnhill with the Harris Co. DA's Office.

Commissioners agreed, authorizing the payment of the $17,000 in fees. Our legal analyst agrees, pointing out Morris wasn't indicted nor convicted of anything.

"He is a public employee. He was accused of something while working in his public capacity and he deserves for the public to pay his bills," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

The DA's office says the money is coming out of a discretionary fund, technically not taxpayer dollars.

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We've been covering the BAT vans and Harris County DA investigations for sometime. You can check them all out here.


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