Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 Fort Worth Reporter
Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon and his wife Rebecca Lucas were the focus of a day-long hearing to determine if the DA's office had a conflict of interest in a fraud case.
Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, his wife and his office were under fire on Wednesday in an all-day hearing at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center.
Shannon himself didn't make an appearance, but defense attorneys in a fraud case want the DA and his office to be removed from trying a case of tampering with a government record.
Mario X. Perez faces six counts of tampering with a government record in relation to campaign finance filings for Arlington school district board seats.
Perez's attorneys, Joetta Keene and Greg Westfall, argue that the district attorney's office only learned of the alleged crimes when Shannon's partner at the time, Rebecca Lucas, now his wife, informed him about possible criminal behavior.
In a filing with the court from Feb. 21, Perez's attorneys say that Lucas and Shannon have a financial stake to see Perez prosecuted because Lucas was the divorce attorney of Perez's former wife. The proceedings were not completed when Lucas passed this information on to Shannon, they said.
But when Lucas took the stand, she countered all of the defense attorneys' claims. She said divorce proceedings were closed with 40 days of her being hired by Azzah Perez, Mario Perez's now former wife.
Lucas said she is no longer Azzah Perez's attorney and therefore would not benefit from Mario Perez's prosecution. She also made it clear that her husband wouldn't do her or her client any favors.
"You know what, I would like to answer that question," Lucas said. "That's just like saying you know a judge and a judge is going to throw something for you. It's highly offensive to me that your question implies that Joe would do something for me that Joe wouldn't do for another citizen regarding his job."
Lucas said she did tell Shannon that she had a client who was concerned her husband was involved in some kind of election fraud. But she said that was mostly in passing and that she didn't give Shannon any specifics or details. It only came up because Mario Perez's attorney had left a nasty note for Lucas on the couple's front porch, she said.
Lucas said she eventually met with a district attorney investigator to pass along a seven-page memo she'd written based on the information she'd received from her client, Azzah Perez. The DA investigator testified that he met with Azzah Perez at Lucas' office. He also inadvertently let it slip that Azzah would not testify during Mario's trial.
Throughout what was at times testimony filled with minutiae and legalese, Lucas held steady that her husband would not do her any favors and that he isn't very involved in Mario Perez's prosecution.
"He has 165 lawyers that work for him," Lucas said. "I do not believe that that man's divorce and the things that were at issue in their marriage has anything to do with what's going on here today."
Lucas said she passed the information on because she felt she had. She compared her actions to that of a neighbor witnessing a neighbor murdering his wife and burying her in the backyard.
"If I've satisfied my duty as a citizen to turn over a criminal, I don't think he has to recuse himself, no," she said.
Azzah Perez briefly testified in the morning portion of trial, but after denying she sent e-mails to her ex-husband bragging about how he was under indictment, Judge George Gallagher stopped her testimony. Gallagher determined that she need legal representation and appointed her an attorney who was merely observing the case. After an extended break, Perez returned to the stand choosing her right not to incriminate herself and took the Fifth Amendment.
Gallagher will decide whether the district attorney's office can continue with the prosecution or if a special prosecutor will be needed.
The hearing resumes Thursday at 9 a.m. in 396th District Court.