Accused lawyer asks judge to take DA's office off his case

Posted Friday, Mar. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- A Fort Worth attorney accused of falsifying campaign finance reports in an Arlington school board race is asking a judge to kick the Tarrant County district attorney's office off his case and appoint a new attorney to pursue the matter.

Mario X. Perez, under a six-count indictment accusing him of tampering with a government document, filed a motion in February stating that District Attorney Joe Shannon has a financial interest in the outcome of Perez's divorce because Shannon's wife represented Perez's now-ex-wife.

The motion, filed by Perez's attorney, Greg Westfall, also states that the criminal case against Perez was built with confidential information provided to the district attorney's office by Shannon's wife, Rebecca Lucas.

Lucas and Shannon were married July 4 after a 15-year relationship. The Perezes divorced in 2011.

In April, a Tarrant County grand jury returned an indictment accusing Perez of making false entries on campaign finance reports filed by Arlington school Trustee Aaron Reich in the May 2009 election. The maximum sentence for tampering with a government record is two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Mario and Azzah Perez's divorce became final July 19, 2011, after they reached a mediated settlement on May 16, 2011, court records show.

Perez's motion against the district attorney's office refers to information from Mario Perez's computers that was examined during the divorce proceedings.

Records from the company that examined the computers were subpoenaed by the district attorney's office on July 18, 2011, one day before the divorce decree was signed. "Lucas delivered this case to the Tarrant County DA's office within a week of the divorce settlement agreement, and the case was being worked on two months before the divorce was final," Westfall said.

The motion says the Perezes have an ongoing child custody issue, which means that Shannon's financial stake in the case continues.

Asked to comment this week, Shannon said, "Under the lawyers' ethical rules, we are precluded from publicly commenting on pending litigation."

Lucas said this week that the district attorney's office became aware of some information after the divorce case was settled but that the information was not confidential.

Her husband has no "financial interest in any dime that I make or expect to make," Lucas said.

"This is happening because Mario wants to divert attention from the issue at hand as to whether he did commit a crime or not," Lucas said. "This is a rabbit trail and a smoke screen to try and create an issue where there is not an issue."

'Fishing expedition'?

In a motion filed during divorce proceedings, Perez said his wife had two of his computers examined by the company Flashback Data. The computers contained confidential information protected by attorney-client privilege, he said.

State District Judge Judith Wells granted a protective order and required that the computer data be returned to Perez by May 6, 2011, according to court documents.

Then, on July 18, a grand jury subpoenaed Flashback Data for any information taken from those computers, court records show.

"It's part of the case," Westfall said. "How big a part of the case this will be will depend on the judge."

Lucas said she has never seen any of the data from the examination of those two computers.

The district attorney's office responded to Westfall's motion Monday, asking state District Judge George Gallagher to deny Perez a hearing because his motion had not provided a good reason for one.

A hearing had been set for Thursday but was postponed. A new date has not been set.

According to the district attorney's office:

Shannon has no financial interest in the outcome of the Perez divorce because Lucas and Shannon were not married at the time.

The divorce was completed when the parties agreed to a mediated settlement on March 16, 2011, and no child custody issues are pending.

Shannon has not had a hand in directing the Perez fraud case.

Just because Shannon is married to Lucas does not mean he is biased.

"Perez should not be permitted to delay the proceedings any further or be allowed a fishing expedition to question witnesses when he has presented no factual or legal theory that would provide the relief he seeks," the state's response to the motion stated.

After being indicted, Perez was suspended from a position as associate municipal judge in Forest Hill and lost his partnership in the law firm Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson and also a consultant's post.

In 2009 and 2010, Perez was in the news for helping persuade the Arlington and Fort Worth school boards to hire Linebarger and dump the firms they had used for years to collect delinquent taxes.

In December 2009, Arlington trustees switched to Linebarger from Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott, a firm the district had used for nearly 30 years.

The Arlington board recently granted the Perdue firm a one-year tax collection contract with an option for three additional one-year terms, according to a school district spokeswoman.

In October 2010, the Fort Worth school board voted to switch to Linebarger from Perdue, Brackett, Flores, Utt and Burns Joint Venture, which had served the district for 17 years.

But in August 2011, the trustees voted to terminate the contract with Linebarger and reopen bidding. That decision followed opinion columns in the Star-Telegram revealing that Perez had had contact with school trustees during a no-lobbying period, including sending text messages with sample questions while trustees were interviewing the competing firms.

The district extended the contract with Linebarger after a tie vote on the termination issue, said Clint Bond, a district spokesman.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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