Harris Co. DA called to launch investigation against METRO

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The Harris County District Attorney is being called to launch an investigation against METRO Transit Authority.  It stems from a conversation one of their lobbyist had with a judge during a pending court case.

It’s a typical morning on South Post Oak Boulevard in the Galleria.  But construction you see sparked a legal battle between METRO and attorneys representing Uptown Property Owners.

“The basis for that lawsuit is you have to have an election and voter approval before you can tear up that street,” Attorney Andy Taylor said.

The case has been going on since June but the focus has taken quite a detour.  It involves Judge Debra Ibarra Mayfield, who was presiding over that case involving METRO’s controversial bus project, and Fred Zeidman, who is a lobbyist on METRO’s payroll.

“We want to know why it is that he thought it was appropriate to have an ex parte conversation with the judge in the very case whose metro's conduct is at issue. That’s called ex parte,” Taylor said, “It's inappropriate, It's illegal, It's unethical...we want to know why?”

Taylor held up an invoice which he says is proof of the violation.  It shows $10,000 going to Zeidman and on it states a conversation with Judge Debra Ibarra Mayfield.  She recused herself from the case.

“Now we're in front of another judge we had to start from scratch which cost tens of thousands of dollars,” Taylor said.

They say this warrants both an internal investigation from METRO and criminal investigation by the D.A. 

Metro’s Chairman says they will cooperate if it comes down to that and admits somehow the ball was dropped.

“Fred Zeidman was never directed or authorized to speak to the judge and I just want to say I'm going to be announcing to the board today that we will be taking action. We're going to be docking him an invoice,” METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

Zeidman’s pay will be cut but METRO says because of his work on a federal level he won’t be fired.  But in regards to the invoice.

“I don't know why it wasn't caught. I think METRO processes lots of bills but we're obviously going to look at that to tighten up so that doesn't happen again,” Garcia said.