Texas judge Lori Valenzuela testified on the witness stand Wednesday that Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, an elected District Attorney (DA), told her he would destroy two defense lawyers’ practices for raising issues of prosecutorial misconduct during the murder trial of 29-year-old Miguel Martinez. The attorneys he allegedly targeted were opposing counsel members on a murder case, Joe Gonzales and Christian Henricksen. The judge who was originally handling the murder trial before recusing herself said LaHood words had a “chilling effect.” Asked if she considered his statement a direct threat by LaHood against Gonzales, the judge said: “Yes, I did.”
The incident allegedly occurred during a discussion between LaHood and opposing counsel in Valenzuela’s chambers in a motion to dismiss the murder case against Miguel Martinez. Martinez was accused of shooting 33-year-old Laura Carter five times in the head while she sat in her vehicle on January 11th, 2015. One of the prosecutor’s witnesses, Gregory Dalton, pinned Martinez for the crime, indicating he could place the suspect at the scene. However, the original prosecuting attorney for the case had had an intimate relationship with Dalton. Valenzuela ordered the matter be disclosed while both parties were choosing jury members, and after disclosure, the attorney was removed from the case. A mistrial was declared on February 8th and due to laws related to double jeopardy, the defense motioned for the court to drop the case altogether.
Defense attorneys said LaHood made the threat to opposing counsel Gonzales and Henricksen, stating he would “make sure they never got hired again in a case in Bexar County.” LaHood denied this, and assistant district attorney Jason Goss back him up. Goss prosecuted Martinez in February along with LaHood.
If it is proven LaHood made such a threat against counsel, he could be facing a Class A misdemeanor charge for the crime of official oppression, which carries fines up to $4000 and a one year jail sentence. This behavior directly violates National District Attorneys Association standards, which outline what prosecutors can and cannot do. The American Bar Association’s Canons of Professional Ethics also urges against “personal colloquies between counsel which cause delay and promote unseemly wrangling.”
Attorney Mark Stevens put LaHood on the stand for more than two hours, interrogating the man before drawing testimony from the judge. LaHood held fast to his claim he never made such a threat. However, he testified that Gonzales had threatened to bring the allegations of misconduct to the news media, which Gonzales denies. “He made a bad faith threat, sir,” LaHood said. Valenzuela also denied that Gonzales threatened to go to the media, and stated such an incident was fabricated. Specifically asked if Gonzales appeared to be threatening to LaHood, the judge said: “In my opinion, no.”
LaHood has been widely promoting his work related to vaccines and autism, a hot topic in recent years. The attorney has asserted there is a linkage between the two, and has been promoting a documentary based on his views in the national media for some time.