JudicialLocal NewsDistrict Attorney Calls for Sanctions Against Hidalgo Staffers’ Attorneys for False Statements, Violating Grand Jury Secrecy

The Harris County district attorney has motioned for sanctions against defense attorneys for violating grand jury secrecy and making false statements.
July 18, 2022
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Prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO) have asked a criminal court judge to sanction attorneys representing three of County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s staffers indicted on felony charges last April.

Hidalgo’s Chief of Staff Alex Triantaphyllis, Policy Director Wallis Nader, and former aide Aaron Dunn all face felony charges of Misuse of Official Information and Tampering with a Record related to steering a controversial $11 million vaccine outreach contract to a firm owned by highly connected Democratic strategist Felicity Pereyra.

In a 14-page filing on behalf of the state, prosecutors allege that attorneys Marla Thompson Poirot, Dan Cogdell, and Brett Podolosky violated Texas’ Criminal Procedure laws that stipulate secrecy for grand jury proceedings.

HCDAO also says that the attorneys for Hidalgo’s staffers violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that state a lawyer shall not knowingly “make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal.”

The allegations stem from the defendants’ 36-page motion filed last month asking the judge to remove Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg from the cases, claiming she was biased and merely engaged in a political feud with Hidalgo.

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In that motion, the defense provided numerous details about the grand jury proceedings and subpoenas and claimed that search warrants sought to obtain communications and documents about the vaccine outreach contract were privileged and should not be divulged.

They also cite articles published in Texas Monthly in which the author said he had reviewed dozens of documents, but HCDAO notes none of that evidence had been made public and so “it is clear that either the defendants and/or their allies provided these documents to a reporter at the publication.”

Additionally, HCDAO cites a Houston Chronicle editorial, for which the editorial board said they had interviewed Hidalgo’s lawyers, that includes quotations from Poirot regarding the grand jury’s procedures.

The motion for sanctions also lists several alleged false statements made by the Hidalgo staffers’ attorneys. These false statements include claims that HCDAO had sought and obtained search warrants when it was actually the Texas Rangers, who were following codes of criminal procedure. Additionally, while the defense attorneys claimed the HCDAO posted the search warrant affidavits on the district clerk’s website inappropriately, Texas law says that once a warrant is executed, officers “shall” return the affidavits and they “shall” be made available for public inspection.

Other alleged false statements include the defense attorneys’ claims that Assistant District Attorney Barbara Armstrong had overseen the group that handled the COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract. The HCDAO filing states, “This is completely false,” noting that Armstrong had never been involved.

“Counsel should be sanctioned for this violation alone as they clearly made an extremely serious allegation with no basis in fact and no due diligence whatsoever, which should be punished,” wrote the HCDAO.

The sanction request also alleges defense attorneys made false statements about a meeting between themselves and members of the HCDAO last February, about a “taint team” to address privileged materials and about the investigation itself.

“For example, Counsel claim that ‘the County Judge’s Office and its staff would have provided the devices had they simply been asked’ and claim that Judge Hidalgo and her staff ‘complied with investigators’ requests from the outset.’” HCDAO claimed these statements were “not truthful” and that “criminal defendants do not get to choose how the elected district attorney and her staff and the Texas Rangers conduct a criminal investigation.”

HCDAO also wrote, “Counsel are permitted to vigorously represent their clients, but they are not allowed to make wholly baseless allegations and air these falsities in a public court filing.”

Judge Hazel Jones of the 174th District Court could impose fines on the defense attorneys under the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that a judge having knowledge of violations “shall inform the Office of the General Counsel of the State Bar of Texas or take other appropriate action.”

On Monday, Judge Jones held a conference regarding the case to once again review the conditions of bond but was not expected to take up the defense’s motion to remove Ogg or the prosecutors’ motion to sanction the defense.

Earlier this year, the prosecution accused the defendants of violating the conditions of bond set by visiting Judge Vanessa Velazquez, but since the county court system had not provided a recording of the bond hearing, there was no record of the conditions. At issue is whether or not the defendants may participate in any contract procurement activities. Although Judge Jones requested job descriptions for Triantaphyllis, Nader, and Dunn, defense counsel had not provided them at the most recent hearing.

A copy of the motion can be found below.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.