June 27, 2022



Harris Co. judge recuses herself from cases against indicted Lina Hidalgo staff members

2 min read

A Harris County judge has voluntarily recused herself from presiding over the criminal cases against two current and one former aide of Judge Lina Hidalgo. Hidalgo chief of staff Alex Triantaphyllis, deputy policy director Wallis Nader and former aide Aaron Dunn were indicted in relation to a vaccine outreach contract investigation, according to court documents. 

Democratic Judge Natalia Cornelio of the 351st Criminal Court signed an order of voluntary recusal Tuesday. Cornelio states in the document that she made the decision so that the public would “maintain trust in the judiciary” and to “avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

Dunn, Nader and Triantaphyllis were indicted last week by a grand jury on charges of misuse of official information and tampering with a government record. They are being investigated for allegedly steering a near $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract to Houston-based Elevate Strategies. 

Cornelio was randomly assigned to the cases on April 11. She maintained that she would have been “able to render a fair and impartial judgment” despite the decision, according to court documents. The Administrative Judge of the Felony Division will assign a judge to replace Cornelio. 

Cornelio’s recusal follows an article published by The Texan on April 13 pointing to the judge’s connections to Hidalgo and others related to the investigation. The article alleges Cornelio previously received a $100 donation from Elevate Strategies owner Felicity Pereyra as well as a $1,000 donation from one of the vendors Pereyra subcontracted to manage the vaccine outreach contract. 

Hidalgo has issued statements defending her staff following their indictments. Last week, the Democratic leader in an interview dismissed any concerns about the “flimsy, unsubstantiated” case, saying that it was going forward with a “fundamental misunderstanding of the facts.”

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In a statement shared on Twitter, Hidalgo said she does not plan on firing the staff members involved. “I’ve held myself to the highest ethical standards and that’s reflected in my unprecedented commitment not to accept money from anybody who does business with the county,” Hidalgo wrote. “The people I choose to serve in my office understand that code of ethics.”

Hidalgo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the time of this writing. 


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