Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responded to reporter questions Wednesday for the first time since the news broke that the District Attorney's Office is investigating his press secretary Darian Ward.
The Mayor's Office suspended Ward for two weeks without pay in December for failing to turn over thousands of public emails to a journalist who had requested them. The emails were related, in part, to Ward's work on personal business projects while using city time and resources.
Ward was present at the press conference Wednesday, standing behind Mayor Turner as he answered questions about the D.A.'s review of evidence in her case.
"Whatever the process will be, the process will be," said Turner. "If anyone is asking for any information, we will certainly comply with that and legal will handle it. I'm very confident in it."
Turner stood by his previous statement that the two week suspension handed to Ward went above and beyond what was recommended as consequence for failing to comply with a Texas Public Information Act request and misusing city time and resources.
At the press conference he speculated on why District Attorney Kim Ogg chose to take up a review of the case.
"The question is: Did someone go to the D.A. and say, will you look at it? And she said, yes I will?" said Turner. "That may have been the way she chose to deal with it, but whatever it is--whatever the D.A. needs--we will comply and be responsive."
Reporters at the press conference asked the mayor whether they could speak with Darian Ward directly, since she was standing right behind him.
"This is my press conference, okay," Turner responded. "This is my press conference. This is my press conference, and please bare in mind, it is my press conference."
The D.A.'s review of Ward's case could result in criminal penalties, said former Harris County Attorney Michael P. Fleming after reviewing the evidence listed in the city's letter to Ward about her suspension.
"I would expect that the District Attorney's Office is looking at several violations of the law, primarily there's the possible violations of the Texas Public Information Act, which as you know, guarantees open access to records that are part of the government," said Fleming. "...but also there's some questions raised in the mayor's letter about the possible misuse of city equipment, and I think that the D.A.'s office may be taking a look at that as well."
Fleming says repercussions for intentionally violating the Texas Public Information Act include up to six months in jail and a thousand dollar fine. He says discipline for using city resources for private use depends on the value of the use, but it can range anywhere from a misdemeanor to a serious felony.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office declined Fox 26's request for an interview, instead issuing a one-sentence statement:
“We will review the evidence and apply the law once the evidence is received from the City of Houston’s Office of Inspector General.” - Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.