Harris County

DA Kim Ogg Responds To Controversy Over Leaked Volunteer Email

Ogg said the email was a draft sent out by mistake, and was not meant to threaten punishment for those who did not volunteer.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in an interview airing Friday that an email from her office asking staff to volunteer at a community event was sent out as a mistake, in response to critics who said she was pressuring employees to volunteer for her campaign.

In the office-wide message leaked to the public on Tuesday, Ogg appears to ask members of her staff to volunteer to help at a Saturday food giveaway and voter registration drive, where the DA was set to speak. Ogg is currently running for reelection.

Critics accused the DA of using coercive language to pressure staff members into participating in a campaign event.

“Part of every employee’s performance evaluation includes a grade for personal development,” the email said. “This includes community activities and volunteering for projects like this.”

Houston Matters Airs At 3 p.m.

Ogg told Houston Matters Special Edition host Ernie Manouse this week that the email was sent out accidentally, and insisted there would be no retaliation for anyone who decided not to join Saturday.

“Our community outreach team was working with the church and it was simply an invitation for people to come and volunteer,” Ogg said. “But because a draft got sent out and under my name instead of under the writer’s name, a fellow in my community outreach group, there’s a kerfuffle. So I would say it’s much ado about nothing, we do not punish people for non-volunteerism.”

The interview, in which the DA addresses COVID-19 in the criminal justice system, airs at 3 p.m. Friday. You can listen on News 88.7 FM or on HoustonPublicMedia.org.

It’s not the first time an internal message from Ogg’s office has caused controversy.

In March, an internal document from Ogg’s office leaked onto social media, showing an Excel spreadsheet intended to keep track of “Employees Seriously Ill or who have Passed Away due to COVID-19.” Ogg later allegedly investigated employees to see who leaked the document, leading to at least one suspension and confiscated equipment, according to a blog post from attorney Murray Newman, who this week made the volunteer email public.

At least one person appears to have resigned over the two incidents. On Wednesday, a letter made public by reporter Keri Blakinger that was allegedly written by Assistant District Attorney Cheryl Williamson Chapell cited both the investigation into the COVID-19 document and the recent call for volunteers as reasons for her departure.

In her interview on Houston Matters Special Edition, Ogg appeared to confirm the resignation.

“Any time employees leave in a huff there’s sometimes a story when it deals with the DA,” Ogg said. “I’m not sure exactly why our employee matters are so interesting to others, but I will tell you that the focus was volunteerism, and whether our prosecutors should get any credit or be lauded for volunteer efforts at a food drive where food was being given away and a voter registration.”

Ogg also defended what she said was the importance of volunteering in professional development.

“In this day and time I do think leadership through service in our community, representing ourselves and our organization is important, and I think that the reason it was included in the memo and the reason that we look at it in terms of professional development is because we don’t want to just judge our lawyers and employees on how many trials they win or scalps on their belt,” she said.

To hear the entire interview, in which the DA also addresses criminal justice in the time of COVID-19, listen to Houston Matters Special Edition Friday at 3 p.m., on News 88.7 FM or on HoustonPublicMedia.org.

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Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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