Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, the subject of a city inspector general investigation, has filed a Texas State Bar grievance against City Attorney David Feldman.
Jones's spokeswoman, Kelly Cripe, would not provide a copy of the grievance, but she said the complaint relates to how Feldman has handled the investigative and panel-review process that has put Jones in the hot seat. Among the concerns:
-- The Office of Inspector General is still questioning Jones' former staff members, despite the fact that it released supposed conclusive findings of its investigation in June. The findings said Jones used city resources for her private law practice and did not cooperate with investigators. For the last two weeks, Jones, Mayor Annise Parker, and council members Sue Lovell and C.O. Bradford have been embroiled in meetings over those findings. So we're not sure how they can hold a review if the OIG is still questioning witnesses.
-- The investigation's "smoking gun" proving that Jones used city resources to further her private practice is a three-page fax that was not part of the OIG's original findings and did not materialize until last week. Cripe says the fax was an emergency motion for continuance for a client of Jones' who had been hospitalized with a stroke and would not be able to make a scheduled court hearing. Although investigators are now questioning staffers from as far back as 2008, this emergency motion is the only evidence Jones has been confronted with.
-- For the first two months of the investigation, Jones was not made aware of the nature of the allegations, or who brought them, yet she and her staffers were still asked to give sworn statements. Jones' attorney had to file an open records request to find out why she was being investigated; only after the city's lawyers sought a State Attorney General's opinion that they provided Jones with a copy of the complaint.
"I need to run outside real quick and check to see if there's an American flag flying anywhere," Cripe says. "From my understanding of the U.S....justice system...a person should know what they are being accused of and who is accusing them."
Cripe says that although the initial complaint stemmed from an informational card bearing Jones's City Hall number that was distributed at a community meeting on police brutality, the investigation at some point "became an investigation of her entire tenure as a council member. So I think that a relevant point to make [is] that from 2008 to 2011, all they have is a three-page fax."
She continues: "The council member was at City Hall and working at city business when she was made aware of the client's medical condition. As his attorney, she is ethically obligated to notify the court as soon as she finds out about this -- and before 5 p.m. [the filing deadline] because if he would have missed his court date, he would have been sitting in bed at the hospital with a stroke and a warrant." (She says the fax was sent at 4:47 pm).
Alleging that the smoking-fax has been a sticking point with investigators, Cripe adds, "I think that it would be a fascinating study...to see how many other city employees have ever used a city fax machine to send a document to their child's school, to a doctor, to a mortgage company, to an attorney. Or equally fascinating, would be for an investigation to see if any city employee -- and I'm talking about from top to bottom...has ever sent an e-mail from their city computer using their city e-mail address for personal reasons." Cripe also told us that, if necessary, "I will find the nicest box and biggest box of copy paper that Office Depot has to offer and personally deliver it to the city if we can stop wasting taxpayer time and money on this pettiness."
"I'm concerned about the amount of time that the Mayor has on her hands," Cripe says. "Can you imagine if this amount of time went into meetings about BARC or any other...relevant city issue?"
The whole ordeal could have been easily avoided, Cripe says, because Jones agreed to take her City Hall phone number off the police brutality informational card as soon as Feldman raised concern last February. (Cripe points out that Jones is a criminal defense attorney and does not sue on behalf of plaintiffs alleging police brutality; she says that anyone who used the card to call her City Hall number would have been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice to file a complaint).
Cripe accuses Feldman of acting on behalf of parties who objected to the nature of the informational card, saying, "They didn't like the advice [on the card]. Unfortunately for Feldman, the First Amendment protects [Jones] and allows her to dispense whatever advice she wants to dispense, whether or not an individual likes it or doesn't like it. And so when the First Amendment became a roadblock to the fishing expedition, Feldman pursued these other issues...."
Feldman, Lovell and Parker were in another panel review meeting (ostensibly discussing the three-page fax) and were unavailable for comment.
Update: Feldman says he's not aware of any grievance filed with the Texas State Bar, and suggests that Jones violated Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure by merely saying she filed a grievance. However, a State Bar spokeswoman says that's not the case.
"I'm the one person in the world who's entitled to know about this thing," he says. "This is more than a little troubling....[It's] specifically provided for in our disciplinary rules that the filing of a grievance is confidential by law....You expect me to tilt at windmill? I've received nothing, I know of nothing. This is not how the process is supposed to be, this is not how attorneys are supposed to conduct themselves."
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But a State Bar spokesperson told us that while the Bar's Office of Disciplinary Counsel cannot confirm or deny the filing or status of a grievance unless and until there's a public sanction, it's not a violation for anyone to say they've filed a grievance or plan to file a grievance.
"Step back for a second and think...If anytime a lawyer wanted to gain advantage with another lawyer, they could go off and file a grievance and then use that as a sword. Imagine what kind of process we'd have," he says.
Feldman said he couldn't comment on any of Jones's allegations because he's bound by confidentiality.
Man, we're really glad everything is confidential. It's totally protecting the sanctity and dignity of this panel review process, and the public is way better off not knowing what the Mayor, city attorney, and two council members have been discussing in private meetings over the last two weeks.