HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Back in August, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was downright combative in defending the integrity of an $11 million Covid communication contract awarded to a one-woman firm with a short track record and little financial backing.
"Let's go at it! Let's go at it! Bring it on, bring it on, because there is nothing here," said Hidalgo.
Hidalgo's tone was tempered Tuesday after word broke that she and every member of Commissioners Court have been served with subpoenas by the Harris County District Attorney's office regarding the controversial contract, which was abruptly canceled following an outpouring of public protest.
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"The only thing I can say is we have always followed the law, we always follow the law, and we will continue to follow the law," said Hidalgo who told the media her lawyer has barred her from further comment.
As FOX 26 was the first to report, that one-woman company, Elevate Strategies, actually finished behind the University of Texas Health Science Center proposal in the competitive ranking process - an outcome which was later upended by a selection committee dominated by Hidalgo staffers, who orchestrated the weakening of experience and financial fitness standards to Elevate’s benefit.
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Critics called it "bid-rigging" and a lucrative "pass-through" to Hidalgo's political allies.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who also received a subpoena, offered this response.
"I have Rusty Hardin who will represent me. I will cooperate. I'm sure the judge will cooperate and anyone else," said Ellis who was recently cleared in a separate grand jury probe involving the storage of mysterious African art at a county warehouse he controls.
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FOX 26 Legal Analyst Chris Tritico says the DA's request for documents is to be taken seriously, but still a far cry from a finding of criminality.
"It's been my experience that the issuance of grand jury subpoenas typically tends to humble a lot of people. We can say it's moving forward because they want to get those documents, look over those documents, and then we will see where it goes from there," said Tritico.
Tritico contends that review could potentially require months and result in at least some Harris County leaders and their staff being called to give "in-person" testimony before a grand jury.