Former city press secretary criminally indicted for denying public records

Image 1 of 2

When former City of Houston Press Secretary Darian Ward was admonished for failing to release thousands of her personal e-mails written on her taxpayer funded computer, Mayor Sylvester Turner said a two-week suspension was sufficient punishment and no laws were broken.

"The matter is closed. It was looked at by legal as well as HR. I went over and above the recommendation," said Turner back in January.

But today a Harris County Grand Jury saw the issue much differently, indicting Ward on a criminal charge of refusing to provide access to public information.

It was Texas Monitor reporter Trent Seibert who first requested Darian Ward's e-mails, a majority of which involved the press Secretary's private TV production company Joy In Motion.

"I've got to tell you I was heartened, I mean indictments like this are so rare. They almost never happen and I think the message needs to be sent to public officials who hide documents, regularly, all the time," said Seibert.

While Ward's indictment is publicly daunting, it does not guarantee a criminal conviction.

So says, FOX 26's legal analyst Chris Tritico, who in this very high profile case is also serving as Darian's lawyer.

"All of these e-mails that they are talking about, Joy in Motion Productions, that was her private business and all of those are exempt from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act and her failure to disclose them is not a crime," said Tritico.

In other words, Darian Ward broke city policy in undeniable fashion, but didn't break Texas law.

"Mayor Turner was the only person in the City of Houston who knew what the Texas Public Information Act said, because he was exactly right," said Tritico.

And Turner ought to know because as a state legislator, he actually helped write the law.

But Reporter Seibert believes given the mountain of ugly facts that have emerged in this case, Ward shouldn't get to walk away.

"She was hiding the fact that she was working on a side business during work hours and using your taxpayer funded city e-mail to do the work. I mean its wrong on almost every level," said Seibert.

Traveling on city business, Turner relayed a brief statement through his spokesperson.

"Mayor Turner expects every city of Houston employee to comply with the Texas Public Information Act."

Tritico says he is fully prepared to push the case to a jury trial and prove Ward's innocence of the charge.