AUSTIN (KXAN) — An assistant attorney at the Travis County District Attorney’s office has resigned over claims she was directed to delete emails out of the office’s case management system.
According to a court document filed last week, the attorney claims she was instructed to “delete emails and work product notes on this case between myself and [a] Victim Witness Counselor.” She went on to say, in part, “I was uncomfortable deleting any evidence to this case.”
In response, the Travis County First Assistant District Attorney Trudy Strassburger submitted another court filing, saying the email exchange did not contain any evidence or “substantive information about the case” — but rather detailed a scheduling conflict between this attorney and a victim witness counselor.
“A junior attorney with our office got into an interpersonal conflict with a colleague and was asked not to air that grievance in our case management system,” D.A. José Garza said.
“There is nothing that we are hiding.”José Garza, Travis County D.A.
Strassburger attached the emails in question to the public court filing.
In one, a counselor wrote, “I will not be available next week” for meetings involving victims in an ongoing child sexual assault case. After some back and forth, the attorney wrote, “My question remains, are you available to help me trial prep right now, as in this month and next month?”
This second filing explained the emails were posted to to the office’s case management system, Techshare.
In another email chain, the victim services counselor asks if she can file a formal grievance against the assistant prosecutor, writing that this person was “still documenting in the wrong place about my work.”
The documents also reveal another email where Strassburger asks another employee to take the scheduling dispute off of Techshare — asking “if you can please delete them?”
Garza told KXAN the directive to delete emails was in reference to this case management portal, which they use to communicate and share documents or evidence with defense attorneys.
The second court filing from Strassburger states, “It is not the general practice in this office to upload internal scheduling emails into TechShare, and certainly there is no requirement to upload administrative internal scheduling emails.” The filing also clarified that the emails were uploaded to a section for ‘Work Products’ that defense attorneys couldn’t access, rather than the section for ‘Evidence.’
Additionally, while reviewing these emails and the case, Strassburger went on to say she discovered some information from a conversation with a witness in the case that should have been disclosed to the defense attorneys. According to her filing, this information was made available to them over the weekend.
“It’s an important aspect of the criminal justice system is to be able to see the documents that are going to be used against you,” Allen Place with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said.
Under state and constitutional law, Place explained that prosecutors must hand over evidence which could be used at trial, in part so that defense counsel can help their clients make a guilty or not-guilty plea. However, he noted this type of evidence must be directly related to the case itself.
“I certainly think there can be issues within a DA’s office that aren’t in any way tied to that,” he said.
Still, leaders with the political action committee Save Austin Now are calling for a criminal investigation into the matter.
“You never have a fire without there being smoke, and there’s a lot of smoke here.”Matt Mackowiak, Save Austin Now
“We are well beyond the point where citizens should be asked to trust the word of the Travis County District Attorney,” said founding member Matt Mackowiak.
Mackowiak said his group opposes several policies and recent actions from the D.A.’s office, including “doing everything he can to prosecute police offices, including those who were no-billed by the previous district attorney.”
Garza has released regular lists of more than two dozen law enforcement officials with pending misconduct cases in his office’s Civil Rights Division.
In January, Garza told KXAN, “It is so important that our community have faith and trust in our criminal justice system — that they have faith if a law enforcement officer engages in misconduct — that if a law enforcement officer breaks the law — that they will be held accountable. So, that is our goal.”
Mackowiak called this assistant prosecutor a “whistle-blower” and noted that her original complaint indicated corruption at Garza’s office that needs to be investigated.
“If there is an innocent explanation, then a criminal investigation can decide that independently,” he said. “And I’ll be the first one to congratulate the district attorney for not being guilty of what this whistle-blower is alleging.”
Garza told KXAN he believed that independent oversight would come from the criminal district judge, in whose court these documents were filed.
Garza instead called this a “manufactured controversy” by Save Austin Now. He said their organization had “little regard for the truth.”
“No one was asked to delete evidence,” he insisted.
Attempts to reach the assistant prosecutor who resigned were unsuccessful. KXAN will update this article if more information becomes available.