Publication of an email sent to employees of the Harris County District Attorney’s office this week has sparked controversy and allegations of coercion.
The email, a screenshot of which was shared on social media by criminal defense attorney and blogger Murray Newman on Tuesday evening, was addressed to “All Assistant District Attorneys,” and asked for volunteers at a voter registration and food distribution event.
“The Ministers Coalition of Harris County is hosting their first voter registration drive the morning of June 27th. This will also be a food giveaway. DA Kim Ogg will be speaking at this event and is looking for volunteers to join her in assisting this underserved community.”
The second paragraph, however, includes what some employees and observers have called a “veiled threat.”
“Part of every employee’s performance evaluation includes a grade for personal development. This includes community activities and volunteering for projects like this.”
The letter is signed “Thank you, Kim.”
Huffman, a former Montgomery County prosecutor and Houston Police Officers’ Union attorney, was swift to condemn the email, suggesting that Ogg had arguably violated Texas law prohibiting abuse of office.
“Kim Ogg emailed her employees yesterday with a thinly veiled threat – volunteer to support a special interest group’s targeted voter registration drive or suffer the consequences of office reprisal and poor job evaluations,” Huffman stated in a press release Wednesday.
Huffman also pointed out that the email asked employees to reply to Mark Goldberg, who she called Ogg’s “personal political operative and office minion.”
Goldberg, a former Houston City Council Member and defense attorney, was hired by the district attorney’s office as a new, entry-level prosecutor in 2019.
Following the outcry over the initial email, on Wednesday Goldberg sent out a second email with the subject line “Correction and clarification.”
“Late yesterday afternoon an email went out from DA Ogg that should have gone out under my name. What you actually got was a draft form with some misinformation that was inadvertently distributed in that form, and I apologize for any confusion,” Goldberg wrote.
The second email also states, “no one is ever required to volunteer.”
Huffman dismissed Goldberg’s explanation as an attempt to become Ogg’s “fall guy.”
“It’s nice of Goldberg to apologize, but where is Ogg’s apology?”
The district attorney’s office, however, told The Texan that the original email was in fact a draft not meant to be sent.
“Kim was never scheduled to speak to the group, is not now scheduled to speak to the group, and until this incident, was not even familiar with the organization,” said Dane Schiller, Director of Communications for the district attorney’s office.
Schiller says that multiple individuals in the administration have access to Ogg’s email account and often share drafts of potential messages to employees. He also noted that per recommendations from an employee committee several years ago, the D.A.’s office does consider volunteer activity as an aspect of personal development on performance evaluations.
“We have a healthy tradition of encouraging volunteerism.”
The incident has also allegedly prompted at least one resignation. A letter purportedly from Cheryl Williamson Chapell, an Assistant District Attorney, accuses Ogg of conducting an inappropriate internal investigation and exploiting the George Floyd controversy for political gain. Chapell’s letter alleges that Ogg “implicitly threatened” attorneys, but also says the district attorney’s office and employees are being used “as instruments of unwarranted oppression.”
Update: The article has been updated to include Cheryl Williamson Chapell’s full name.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. 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.