Harris County prosecutor hands criminal case into Lina Hidalgo’s staffers over to state attorney general

Kim Ogg at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 23, 2017. (Kelly West For The Texas Tribune, Kelly West For The Texas Tribune)

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Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said she will hand the criminal case into Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s former staffers over to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office — in a bid to keep the case alive after she leaves office at the end of the year.

Ogg, a fellow Democrat who has long feuded with Hidalgo, is on her way out of office after losing her March primary to Sean Teare, a Hidalgo-backed opponent who has said he would recuse the district attorney’s office from the case against Hidalgo’s staffers. Ogg said she engaged Paxton’s office to take the case over because she wanted to ensure the evidence was one day presented at trial and she worried about “the specter of fixing cases for political support.”

"The reason I'm taking this action is to safeguard the public's interest and trust in our government," Ogg said. "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."

A Harris County grand jury indicted the trio two years ago on felony charges related to how they allegedly helped award an $11 million contract for a COVID-19 vaccine outreach campaign to a political consulting firm headed by a Democratic strategist. The contract was later canceled, but Hidalgo has defended the staffers and criticized the indictments as politically motivated.

"In her parting days, DA Ogg has sealed her legacy by sending this vendetta to somebody who is constantly engaged in political attacks against me and Harris County," Hidalgo wrote Thursday on the social media site X. "I've said from the beginning that this is political in nature and what she did just underscores the point."

Ogg’s move places the case in the hands of Republican state officials who have sought often to undercut Harris County’s authority during Hidalgo’s tenure as the county morphed into a Democratic stronghold.

"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."

Republicans in Austin curtailed the county’s efforts aimed at boosting ballot access during the 2020 elections and have tussled with county officials over public safety spending. Recently, they’ve sought to kill the county’s guaranteed income pilot program, which aims to give some of the county’s poorest families monthly financial assistance using federal dollars.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a Hidalgo ally, blasted Ogg's move as a "new low."

"The future of three young public servants, which were already derailed by this political witch-hunt, has now been handed over to a hyper-partisan office with an axe to grind," Ellis wrote on X. "Giving Ken Paxton the opportunity to undermine Harris County, yet again, is just another feather in Ken Paxton's cap and red meat for his MAGA base."

Ogg drew criticism from county Democrats during her tenure for going back on promises on criminal justice reform, investigating members of her own party and making supposed ties with Republicans. A Houston Chronicle investigation also found that Ogg had baselessly filed charges in thousands of misdemeanor and felony cases. Ogg also hired a GOP operative, who now serves as the Republican Party of Texas' general counsel, to work on the probe into Hidalgo's aides.

Ogg has defended her loyalty to Democrats and pushed back against notions that she reneged on criminal justice reform.

Zach Despart contributed to this report.

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