Harris County commissioners outline how officials can get legal fees paid

HARRIS COUNTY (KTRK) -- On Tuesday, Harris County commissioners approved a policy outlining how county officials can have legal fees reimbursed with taxpayer funds if they're involved in a criminal matter. In each instance, the request for reimbursement will still have to go before the commissioner's court and can only be awarded if the individual was not guilty, not indicted or if the case was dismissed.

"The purpose of this policy is to provide county officials and employees guidelines for presenting a request for payment of legal fees and costs incurred in connection with a criminal investigation," according to the approved county document. "County officials and employees are not entitled to payment of such fees and costs from the County. Instead, this policy provides the requirements that must be met before such a request will be added to a meeting agenda for Commissioners Court's consideration and vote."

The Harris County Attorney's Office told 13 Investigates state law already allows county employees to be paid for "reasonable legal expenses" for criminal investigations related to that employee's duties with the county. The policy just outlines the guidelines that must be met before possible payment will be considered.

For example, if a county official receives a subpoena that requires them to participate in a criminal investigation and hires an attorney to represent them, their legal fees can be reimbursed if the investigation is complete and they have not been indicted or charged with a crime.

In order to receive payment for legal fees, the county official or employee has to contact the First Assistant Harris County Attorneys to ensure they are qualified for reimbursement and have documentation, such as copies of legal bills. The request for payment will then be added to a regular commissioner's court meeting and subject to their approval.

SEE ALSO: Harris County District Attorney demands documents on county's $11 million vaccine contract

On November, 13 Investigates learned the Harris County District Attorney's Office issued subpoenas demanding documents from numerous Harris County offices.

The DA's office demanded 11 months of records from county commissioners regarding how an $11 million vaccine outreach contract was selected. The broad request asked not only about the winning firm, but other bidders as well.

The $11 million contract was awarded to Elevate Strategies, a small Houston firm led by a woman with political ties to some court members. It was designed to reach unvaccinated people in Harris County to convince them to get vaccinated. After controversy erupted about how the deal was awarded and to whom, the deal was canceled.

The county still paid thousands of dollars on the deal as the contract wound down.

An email to Elevate Strategies late Tuesday afternoon was not returned. We asked the Harris County DA's office for an update, but they said they couldn't comment on the case.
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