Judge testifies that San Antonio DA threatened defense lawyers in her chambers
Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
A Texas district judge testified Wednesday that Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood threatened to destroy defense lawyers’ practices for raising issues of prosecutorial misconduct.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Judge Lori Valenzuela said on the witness stand that LaHood, an elected DA, threatened to “shut down” the practices of defense lawyers Joe Gonzales and Christian Henricksen in a dispute during a murder trial. On the stand, LaHood denied making any threats.
The trouble came in a conference in Valenzuela’s chambers about an ethical matter. In a motion to dismiss the underlying murder case, defense attorneys said LaHood made the “shut down” threat to Gonzales and Henricksen and said he would “make sure they never got hired on another case again in Bexar County.”
LaHood testified that he never said that. Assistant district attorney Jason Goss echoed that testimony.
However, Valenzuela testified that LaHood did make the statement, which said could meet the criteria for the crime of “official oppression,” a misdemeanor in Texas. She said the threat had a “chilling effect” on her, and she recused herself from the case after the motion to dismiss was filed.
LaHood had testified that Gonzales had threatened to bring the allegations of misconduct to the media. Valenzuela said this didn’t happen.
The allegations came in a murder trial of Miguel Martinez, 29, who is accused of shooting 33-year-old Laura Carter as she sat in a vehicle in 2015. Witness Gregory Dalton said he could place Martinez at the scene. However, the case was originally assigned to a prosecutor who had had a sexual relationship with Dalton. That prosecutor, who was not named, disclosed the relationship and was removed from the case after one day. However, she had access to the case file for that day.
LaHood testified that he brought this up to ethics and appellate attorneys in his office, and they agreed that it didn’t need to be disclosed to the defense but could be disclosed to Valenzuela, the judge. When Valenzuela learned of the matter, she ordered it disclosed. At the time, the parties were choosing a jury. There was one day of testimony in the trial, but a mistrial was ultimately declared. The motion to dismiss the case against Martinez says a retrial would be double jeopardy.
The Express-News noted that the ABA Canons of Professional Ethics urge lawyers to avoid “personal colloquies between counsel which cause delay and promote unseemly wrangling.” Standards from the National District Attorneys Association suggest that prosecutors refrain from expressing personal animosity for opposing counsel.
LaHood has been in the national news in the past for asserting that vaccines “can and do” cause autism, in a promotion for a documentary making the same claim, which was filmed in his county office. The 1998 study that helped spread this belief has been retracted and called “an elaborate fraud” by the medical journal that published it. UK medical regulators revoked study author Andrew Wakefield’s license to practice medicine in 2010 because of misconduct related to the study, Time reported at the time.