DA Joe Gonzales attempting to block release of communications with D.C. law firm recommended by Wren Collective

Texts: founder of the Wren Collective encouraged Gonzales to use firm if sued under new ‘rogue prosecutor’ law

SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office this week asked the state attorney general to allow it to withhold all communications between District Attorney Joe Gonzales, his first assistant and a Washington, D.C. law firm recommended to Gonzales by the founder of the Wren Collective.

Late last month, KSAT revealed hundreds of pages of text message communications between Gonzales, first assistant Christian Henricksen and Jessica Brand, the founder of Wren, an Austin-based criminal justice reform group.

The records show the sides discussing several high-profile cases in San Antonio, including the October 2022 shooting of Erik Cantu by an on-duty San Antonio police officer.

Gonzales told KSAT and his staff that the outside group has helped with messaging to the media and press releases during his time in office, but has not influenced any of his decisions in the handling of cases.

In several pages of messages sent between the two sides last year, Brand repeatedly encouraged Gonzales to make contact with the Washington, D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, in anticipation of Gonzales being sued under House Bill 17.

HB 17, also called the “rogue” prosecutor law, was passed by the Texas Legislature and then signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott last year.

It allows courts to remove district attorneys for official misconduct if it is shown that they have declined to prosecute certain crimes.

Brand told Gonzales via text message in September that she would like to put Arnold & Porter “on bexar if we get there. let me know if you have any objections. if they agree, i’ll set up a follow up meeting.”

That same month, Brand texted Gonzales, “i am on with arnold and porter and they are good to take you on if a petition comes.”

Days later, on Sept. 20, Brand wrote, “hey guys can you PIEASE [please] respond to arnold and porter” and “they have an amazing legal team and are awaiting your response.”

Gonzales responded, “So sorry, I meant to, but have been preoccupied with other issues that you can imagine. Will do it right now.”

Brand responded via text message, “i just went out on a limb to get these guys and you are basically getting the smartest guys in dc.”

On Feb. 1, KSAT Investigates filed a public records request asking for all communications between Gonzales, Henricksen, the Wren Collective and the D.C. law firm.

The DA’s office on Wednesday sent a letter to the Texas Attorney General, stating that they believe the communications are exempt from being disclosed.

The letter states that the communications are protected from being released due to attorney-client privilege.

Arnold & Porter practices in at least 48 areas of law, including Labor & Employment and Legislative & Public Policy, according to its website.

The DA’s office did not respond to a request for comment sent Thursday on its communications with the firm.

KSAT can find no record that any petitions have been filed against Gonzales under HB 17.

In June, months before the law took effect, Gonzales dialed back some of his policies on whether to prosecute certain criminal charges.

“We’re going to change the way we operate,” Gonzales said last summer. “We’re going to phase out these declination policies so there’s no question that we are following the law.”

“My strategy is to let the public know that we are making it clear that, although I don’t believe my declination policies were against the law, we are going to make necessary adjustments as a result of HB 17. (All this is in an effort to avoid potential removal petitions. I did not say that but obviously that’s part of my thinking.),” Gonzales texted Brand.

Gonzales had been criticized in the past for his decision to reject felony drug possession cases for less than .25 grams and publicly said in 2022, after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, that he didn’t plan to prosecute abortion cases.

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

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