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Investigations all around

There’s a second grand jury looking into Harris County DA Pat Lykos.

Sources close to the investigation said a special prosecutor was appointed last week to look into claims by Shirley Cornelius, a 27-year-veteran of the office, that she was asked to change her time cards to delete accrued compensatory time.

Cornelius would not comment Wednesday on the new development.

In her August 2010 resignation letter, she alleged that a supervisor, acting on orders from the administration, asked her to change a time sheet. Harris County employees do not get overtime. Rather, any overtime they work is added to a pool of time they can take off later.

Cornelius, who became a licensed attorney in 1983, wrote in her resignation letter that she refused to change the official record because it would have been a criminal offense.

Instead, she said, supervisors in the office should be prosecuted for coercion.

Murray Newman wrote about that at the time. Meanwhile, the first grand jury ran into some resistance from other members of Lykos’ office.

Rachel Palmer, a high-ranking assistant Harris County district attorney who oversees the prosecution of hundreds of cases, stunned Houston’s criminal courthouse Thursday by pleading the Fifth Amendment instead of answering questions about evidence gathered by HPD’s beleaguered breath alcohol testing vehicles.

For months, a grand jury has been investigating issues surrounding the Houston Police Department’s BAT vans and possibly the DA’s office’s involvement.

On Thursday, Palmer was told she is not the target of that investigation when she was subpoenaed by the grand jury, according to court records.

She refused to answer questions, citing her constitutional rights, according to court records. It is unusual for a witness who is not being targeted to say that her answers could incriminate her.

Palmer’s actions prompted the grand jury’s special prosecutors to haul her before state District Judge Susan Brown and file a motion to compel her to testify.

Brown said she would hear arguments from both sides in a full hearing Monday. She could compel Palmer to answer specific questions the special prosecutors gave the judge.

Feels like a plot from a David Kelly show, doesn’t it? As far as we know, Lykos has not professed a desire to kiss one of her employees behind the right ear, so she has that going for her. Mark Bennett has more.

Elsewhere in county government, as I noted yesterday, the FBI is taking a look at some personnel files belonging to Constable Jack Abercia. Not clear what that’s about, but any time the words “FBI investigatin” are used in proximity to your name, it’s never a good thing. The Harris County Attorney’s office is also looking at some things Constables do.

First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said his office is examining all the nonprofit charitable organizations being run by constables to ensure their activities meet the law. The county attorney is also reviewing a widely used program that allows neighborhood groups and homeowners associations to hire constables for security services. Officials want to check if the time the deputies spend on patrol are consistent with the terms of their security contract.

“This is the backbone of security in much of the city, and in a lot of the unincorporated area,” O’Rourke said. “This is serious stuff, and we are looking into it.”

The third area of the county’s inquiry is the lawful practice of constables pocketing fees for serving notices to vacate, the first step in a eviction ordered by a Justice of the Peace, O’Rourke said.

According to state law, eviction notices may only be delivered when not in conflict with the constable’s official duties, and the deputies cannot be wearing a uniform or driving a county vehicle or county equipment while delivering them.

O’Rourke said each of the eight constables handles serving eviction notices differently. He added that one allegation his office is examining is whether the notices are being served by county employees while on duty.

He said his office will complete a comprehensive report on constable operations by late January.

On top of all that, Constables May Walker and Victor Trevino are being investigated separately over allegations that they had county employees perform political fundraising on county time. Walker’s predecessor had his own troubles as well. Grits has often written that the office of Constable is a political anachronism that ought to be eliminated. Without commenting on the merits of any of these investigations, as I know precious little about them, it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from.

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4 Comments

  1. joshua bullard says:

    not that anybody gives a damn- but for those that due- thsi is inner office and not a crime- even if this officially goes to a grand jury-it will be no billed.

    joshua “ben”bullard

  2. [...] due to Campos for catching this before it hit the papers. Abercia’s office has been the subject of scrutiny from the FBI lately, though we don’t know what for. I’m inclined to take him at his [...]

  3. [...] first heard about the FBI looking into Abercia and his office in mid-December. Just before the end of the year, Abercia announced he would not run for re-election, though he had [...]

  4. [...] Attorney Vince Ryan has completed a report his office began in December to examine some of the practices in the Constables’ offices. At that time, the FBI was [...]

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