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AG’s office to prosecute Harris County judge’s corruption cases

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(The Center Square) – Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Thursday asked Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office to take jurisdiction over and prosecute corruption cases related to the office of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Both Ogg and Hidalgo are Democrats.

At a news conference, Ogg said she asked Paxton’s office to take jurisdiction of six public corruption cases pending against three former members of Hidalgo’s office. They were charged with illegally steering an $11 million contract for COVID outreach to Elevate Strategies, a company with no healthcare experience and only one employee, The Center Square reported.

Ogg said she asked for the AG’s intervention “to safeguard the public’s interest and trust in our government. The people of Harris County have a right to expect that their elected district attorney will prosecute corruption committed by public officials regardless of political affiliation. Remember, it was the members of a grand jury made-up of a diverse cross section of Harris County residents who ultimately reviewed the Texas Rangers’ investigation and the evidence that they uncovered.”

“DA’s do not determine the outcomes of cases,” she said. “Our job is to ensure that the process is fair. Unfortunately, locally elected prosecutors like myself face enormous challenges when prosecuting public corruption cases because political retaliation is very real,” she said, referring to outside money that poured in to fund her challenger, Sean Teare, who defeated her in the Democratic primary in March.

Teare received $700,000 from billionaire Democratic donor George Soros’ Justice and Safety PAC, which prioritizes getting district attorneys elected to implement policies that abolish bail, release criminals, and defund the police. After the investigation was announced into Hidalgo’s office, Hidalgo endorsed Teare using county resources, prompting an ethics complaint.

“As we have seen, as the top law enforcement official in Harris County, these challenges present major concerns for the public about how public corruption cases will be handled by the next District Attorney of Harris County,” Ogg said. Teare has publicly referred to the Hidalgo corruption case as “political prosecution” despite never having had access to the evidence in the cases.

Ogg said Teare has a conflict of interest in prosecuting the cases because he is currently employed by a law firm representing one of the defendants. Teare’s and Hidalgo’s relationship also “raises the specter of fixing cases for political support,” Ogg continued.

“This is no way to prosecute public corruption. It is the same type of conflict of interest that undermines the public’s confidence in our justice system. We cannot have one set of rules for the politically powerful and another set of rules for the powerless.”

Shane Attaway, a chief of the AG’s Criminal Prosecutions and Law Enforcement Divisions, spoke briefly at the news conference, saying his staff will provide investigative and prosecutorial roles and present evidence to the jury.

“Our prosecutors and investigators are the best in the State,” Paxton said in a statement. “They handle every case with utmost professionalism. In this case as in all others, we will seek truth and justice,”

After the news conference, Hidalgo issued a statement, saying, “I am not surprised at all, just even more disappointed. DA Ogg showed us months ago the political nature of her work when she secretly hired the general counsel of the Texas Republican Party as the lead prosecutor – all during my reelection. True to form, the DA still has only baseless claims and now she wants to keep the story alive by handing her case to Ken Paxton, who routinely targets me and Harris County.”