Harris County DA fires back against attorneys in Hidalgo staffers' case

ByTed Oberg and Sarah Rafique via KTRK logo
Friday, July 15, 2022
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Indicted county staffer claims Harris County DA acted after county commissioners didn't meet request to "vastly expand the District Attorney's budget."

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Weeks after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's indicted staffers tried to boot Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg from their contract steering case, the DA is firing back.

In court papers filed Friday morning, Ogg is demanding fines against the defense attorneys who made the claims.

Note: The video above is from a June 1 report on the initial motion.

Last month, attorneys for Alex Triantaphyllis, who is Hidalgo's current chief of staff but was her deputy chief of staff at the time the allegations took place, and Wallis Nader, who is Hidalgo's deputy policy director, filed a motion asking to get Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg off their case.

Triantaphyllis, Nader and Aaron Dunn, then a senior advisor for public safety and emergency management at the county, were indicted by a grand jury on one count of misuse of official information and one count of tampering with a government record each.

"Ogg opened a grand jury investigation into Judge Hidalgo and her staff merely because the Commissioners Court decided to allocate funds to programs and priorities other than the District Attorney's Office," attorneys Marla Poirot and Dan Cogdell wrote in their motion to disqualify for Triantaphyllis' case.

Attorney Brett Podolsky filed a "substantially similar" motion for Nader's case. Dunn's attorney has not filed any motions requesting Ogg be removed from the case.

Ogg said last month that the motion contained "a string of fictitious and often unrelated incidents linked together to allege some conflict of interest that simply doesn't exist. I've been asking for more money since February of 2019. And certainly before that, I asked the Republican led commissioners court for more money."

The criminal allegations against Triantaphyllis, Nader and Dunn took place last year. The three are accused of steering an $11 million COVID outreach contract awarded to Elevate Strategies - a small Houston based firm - in June 2021. Prosecutors allege the trio of staffers also lied about it on official county forms.

In their June motion to have Ogg's office removed, lawyers for Triantaphyllis and Nader also allege a conflict of interest in the DA's office. The Triantaphyllis and Nader motions suggest a current assistant district attorney once worked as an assistant county attorney on some of the issues now being prosecuted.

The DA's office denies any such conflict exists.

Now, in a motion filed on Thursday, the Harris County DA's office is calling for attorneys Poirot, Cogdell and Podolsky to be sanctioned.

"Grand jury is secrecy is sacrosanct. Throughout the Motions, (Poirot, Cogdell and Podolsky) refer to grand jury proceedings and hearings and rulings related to statutorily secret proceedings. These public statements are forbidden by law and (the attorneys are) subject to sanctions to be imposed by the Court for violating grand jury secrecy," according to the motion filed this week. "The Motions seem to be a publicity stunt rather than a legal motion based on law and admissible evidence. Counsel spin a false narrative based on false facts, seemingly as a campaign piece intended to support Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and attempt to deflect attention from the actual facts at issue in this litigation."

Nader's attorney, Brett Podolsky, told 13 Investigates, "The DA's motion is a weak attempt to distract from the fact that the Harris County District Attorney's Office should not be allowed to prosecute a political rival merely because funding requests are denied. Wallis Nader is an honest and dedicated public servant whose only objective is the well-being of the residents of Harris County. This motion for sanctions is just the latest in a string of baseless charges levied against a variety of Harris County residents, corporations, judges, and now attorneys. Meanwhile, violent crime rates continue to rise."

Dan Cogdell, one of Alex Triantaphyllis' attorneys, told 13 Investigates, "Given the incendiary nature of the state's allegations, I will save my response for the courtroom."

Triantaphyllis' other attorney, Marla Poirot, told 13 Investigates, "Today's filing is yet another publicity stunt by this DA's office to try and deflect attention away from the important issues of their conflict and bias that were raised in our Motion to Disqualify. My client, like every other Harris County citizen, has a fundamental right to an objective and neutral prosecution team in any criminal case against him. And I have an ethical duty as his lawyer to protect that right and to raise these important issues with the presiding court. The Harris County DA's Office is neither unbiased nor unconflicted in this matter for the many reasons detailed in our thorough motion filed over six weeks ago. Their response today woefully fails to demonstrate otherwise. I absolutely have not violated any grand jury secrecy rules, nor any disciplinary rules, and this sanctions request is baseless and frivolous in every respect."

A hearing in the case was previously scheduled for Monday, July 18.

Read the state's motion for sanction - on a mobile device? Click here to open.

Read the state's response to the defendants' motion to disqualify the DA and appoint an attorney pro tem - on a mobile device? Click here to open.

Read the initial motion to dismiss that was filed by Nader and Triantaphyllis - on a mobile device? Click here to open.

SEE ALSO: 13 Investigates: Search warrant on Harris County contract details alleged advantages

SEE ALSO: Harris County senior staffers indicted in $11M contract investigation appear in court

SEE ALSO: Indicted Hidalgo staffer wants Ogg botted from criminal case

SEE ALSO: Ogg says Hidalgo staffer's motion 'fictitious,' denies bias