Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg
(Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Kim Ogg: DA Under Fire

Harris County had big plans to reform its criminal justice system. What went wrong?


Jolie McCullough

A version of this story ran in the March / April 2024 issue.

(Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

This story was produced in partnership with the Garrison Project, an independent, nonpartisan organization addressing the crisis of mass incarceration and policing.

Update: Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg was resoundingly defeated by challenger Sean Teare in the March 5 Democratic primary.

It was 2016, and history was being made in Houston. For the first time in 40 years, a rapidly changing Harris County had elected a Democrat as its top prosecutor—arguably the most influential role over criminal justice policy in the state’s most populous county. The sheriff would also be a Democrat, as would several new folks wearing black robes in the courthouse. 

Standing on her victory stage surrounded by progressives, soon-to-be District Attorney Kim Ogg declared that her office would reject the “heavy-handed” system of her predecessors that earned the county the title of “death penalty capital of the nation.”

“It’s a new day of justice in Harris County. It’s a new day for the people,” Ogg called out to supporters packed into a chic restaurant in the Heights.

Those who had long combated practices that led to mass incarceration rejoiced: Now was the time for meaningful reforms in a county already embroiled in a federal court battle over its routine jailing of poor defendants facing low-level criminal charges.

Tarsha Jackson, the county’s director of the progressive advocacy group Texas Organizing Project, stood just behind Ogg on stage with a wide smile. Brimming with hope for Ogg’s new leadership, Jackson had been pushing for this moment for years. 

“We were on a great path,” Jackson, now a Houston City Council member, told the Texas Observer. “And then politics got involved.”

Change happened fast. Within months of Ogg taking office, she swiftly let go of dozens of prosecutors and stopped pursuing most low-level marijuana cases. And a federal court ruling transformed the misdemeanor bail system, requiring release from jail for most people accused of relatively minor nonviolent crimes, including crimes associated with poverty, like trespassing and theft.

“No one person or office can be blamed for the problems in the criminal justice system in a place as massive as Harris County. But politically, that doesn’t always matter.”

The quick evolution faced opposition from conservative politicians, police groups, and politically connected private bail bonds companies, which stood to lose millions when bonds were radically reduced. Before the justice system could adapt, Hurricane Harvey devastated Harris County in August 2017, flooding the courthouse and creating chaos that would last years.

Then came 2020, when the nation experienced a global pandemic, a reckoning connected to the police murder in Minnesota of Houston’s own George Floyd, and a spike in violent crime. The political winds turned, and Ogg, up for reelection, went with them. 

In February 2024, as Ogg fights to remain in office and early voting is about to begin, she’s in a war in Houston politics—not against police groups and conservative activists who have defied and even removed, reform-minded prosecutors in other major cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia, but against her own party. 

She lost much of the support that swept her into office, with the county’s progress having fallen far short of where some initial supporters hoped it would be.

Despite the significant reforms implemented under Ogg and a new swath of Democratic judges, complex problems old and new retain a strong hold over the Harris County criminal justice system. The county jail remains overcrowded and has repeatedly failed state safety inspections. Dozens of incarcerated people have died in recent years, with 27 deaths in 2022 alone—the highest death toll in at least 15 years. And a case backlog that erupted after Harvey and COVID-19 has left presumably innocent people to languish behind bars longer while other defendants post cash bail and remain free for years before facing trial.

Much of the blame for the failures has been placed at Ogg’s feet, with critics faulting her for pursuing bad cases and clogging the jails and courts.

Ahead of a March 5 primary, Ogg had been admonished by the Harris County Democratic Party and out-fundraised by challenger Sean Teare, a former employee. Part of Ogg’s support comes from the bail bonds industry, which profits off of pretrial detention, money that Teare has refused to accept. 

“No one person or office can be blamed for the problems in the criminal justice system in a place as massive as Harris County,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor. “But politically, that doesn’t always matter … she’s made enemies.”

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is one of the nation’s largest prosecutorial offices, employing around 400 attorneys to represent the state of Texas in tens of thousands of misdemeanor and felony cases every year. The prosecution decides which criminal cases to pursue and how to pursue them—from bail suggestions to plea offers and sentence recommendations, including whether to seek the death penalty. 

At age 57, Ogg came to the helm in 2017 with decades of experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and director of the Crime Stoppers of Houston. Once in office, she made quick moves toward her election night promises: Her office would spend less time pursuing low-level marijuana cases and put fewer minors and mentally ill, nonviolent people into the criminal system. 

Within a few months, she launched her misdemeanor marijuana diversion program, sending people caught with pot to drug classes instead of jail. New low-level possession charges dropped from nearly 7,500 in 2016 to under 3,000 in Ogg’s first year, according to the state’s Office of Court Administration. By 2020, that number dropped to nearly zero. 

Meanwhile, a mental health center, launched in 2018 with collaboration from Ogg, the sheriff, and misdemeanor judges, has diverted mentally ill people arrested for misdemeanors from jail nearly 10,000 times, the center reports. Many of those arrestees are homeless, picked up for illegally being on private property.

Soon after, her office began pursuing fewer nonviolent juvenile cases, which dropped from about 3,500 new misdemeanor cases filed in 2016 to fewer than 500 last year.

“We took what some call low-hanging fruit, and we developed a more humane way of dealing with those individuals in our system that didn’t incarcerate and reincarcerate them,” Ogg told the Observer in January.

They were big wins for Ogg, who had touted herself as a “progressive prosecutor,” a relatively new buzzword in 2017 used to signify a district attorney’s willingness to fight back against mass incarceration. 

Perhaps Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner most famously fits this mold. He was elected a year after Ogg in a fast rise to stardom, coupled with a fierce backlash from the right that has included an impeachment attempt and a limiting of his powers by Republican legislators. Still, Krasner retains broad support from his own party, which includes a large majority of the city’s voters. 

Ogg may have faced more conservative ire had she not adapted to the political backswing in Houston and nationwide that followed rising homicides and a push to reenvision American policing in 2020.

Instead, Ogg would face condemnation from her own.

Being the first Democrat in the office in decades, it was inevitable Ogg would ruffle feathers. But the firing of dozens of veteran prosecutors before her first day shook Houston’s legal community.

It’s a common move with a change of administration—Krasner did the same thing in Philadelphia when he was elected the year after Ogg. 

Some of the lawyers Ogg dismissed seemed likely targets, those tied to overzealous prosecutions, scandals, or tightly connected to Ogg’s predecessor and opponent. But Ogg also axed some who were well-respected for their work in specialized areas like innocence review and public integrity. 

She also called a press conference—again before her job had officially started—and blasted some of the soon-to-be unemployed lawyers. She said they’d tried to sabotage criminal cases by telling victims their cases were in jeopardy under her leadership, an accusation which all denied.

The move left a bad taste in the mouths of many Houston attorneys. Some would later reflect on this moment as the start of a pattern of Ogg starting public political spats. 

But for Ogg, it was a necessary, albeit uncomfortable, restructuring after more than a generation of Republicans being in charge. “I came in and instituted a massive culture change,” she said. “This was the biggest battleship in Texas, and it was a much more conservative group.”

“The job of the prosecutor is not to be people’s friend. It’s to be the consistent arbitrator and the person who seeks justice for the community.”

Ogg found even more detractors when she changed how the office decided whether to pursue criminal charges. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has long used a rare, well-loved system for accepting cases: Instead of first reviewing a police file sometime after a person has been arrested and taken to jail, local law enforcement agencies often consult a prosecutor by phone who decides on the spot whether to accept the case as it stands. 

The system is meant both to eliminate needless arrests and help police. When prosecutors know the evidence isn’t strong enough for a conviction, they can reject the filing. They can also tell police what else is needed to bolster their case while it’s fresh. The intake lawyer, for example, might suggest talking to a certain witness again or gathering more evidence that could be gone by the time the case is later reviewed by the assigned prosecutor.

Before Ogg, a rotation of lawyers whose main job was to prosecute incoming cases worked overtime to man the intake desk. That meant the same people who were deciding whether a robbery or murder arrest carried enough weight had often tried similar cases in court, according to multiple former prosecutors. They knew what was needed to prove guilt.

“[Before,] they didn’t take any junk because it was going to end up in their court, and they had the gravitas to tell police, ‘Go away, this isn’t good,’” said Alex Bunin, Harris County’s chief public defender.

Ogg overhauled the division, eliminating the rotation and instead staffing intake positions with people whose full-time job was deciding whether or not to accept cases. She argues it’s a more consistent and cost-effective system.  

But many lawyers and police groups loathe the change. They argue that too many rookie prosecutors with little courtroom experience are deciding whether or not a charge has what it takes to secure a conviction. 

“Intake is often staffed with new hires, and there are people who don’t have any courtroom experience. They don’t have any context about what the jury would do with that case,” said Bill Exley, a Houston criminal defense attorney and one of the veteran prosecutors Ogg dismissed.

Teare, Ogg’s primary challenger, called the change “the worst thing that has happened in [Harris County’s] criminal justice system in the last 20 years.”

Bunin and Teare say that change has increased the number of people being unnecessarily jailed and boosted case dismissals and courtroom losses for prosecutors. In 2022, more than 4,500 criminal charges were dismissed, after judges found the case lacked probable cause, the lowest burden of proof needed to justify an arrest, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The number of felonies dismissed after being filed rose steadily in Ogg’s first term, according to state court data, and shot up starting in 2021. In the four years before Ogg took office, about 6,800 felony cases were dismissed each year. The last two years, more than 40,000 cases have been dismissed. And though the number of felony jury trials dropped during Ogg’s tenure, the conviction rate fell as well.

“Yes, Harvey made it worse, COVID made it worse, but they’re taking all kinds of cases they shouldn’t, so now we’re getting murder cases dismissed the day of [trial],” Bunin said.

Kim Ogg debates primary challenger Sean Teare
Kim Ogg debates primary challenger Sean Teare (Courtesy ACLU of Texas)

Ogg told the Observer that the outrage against the new intake system is based on fiction disseminated by people who don’t like her and don’t know how the system works. She denied that her office places “rookie” prosecutors in the division, arguing the chief prosecutor on duty usually has at least five years of experience.

“The big change is that I stopped paying overtime to full-time prosecutors [for intake] and instead hired full-time prosecutors,” she said. “What that did was it angered the old guard: The old guard wanted overtime.”

As for felony dismissals rising, Ogg said that’s primarily due to defendants being convicted in other cases—especially as there has been a rise in people arrested for new crimes while on bond as the court backlog grows. And when cases get tossed just before trial, she blames related delays at the crime labs, which in 2024 still took about five months to get drug reports back and more than a year to get weapons tested.

“Evidence is suppressed because we can’t comply with discovery because our labs are so far behind,” she said.

Police disliked the change to the intake system, though often for the opposite reason as many defense attorneys. Douglas Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said the new intake division is failing because it doesn’t take enough cases. “These young [assistant] district attorneys don’t understand the law,” he said. “Their initial stance is hesitance.”

It’s not the only time Ogg would be targeted on two fronts. In her first term, Ogg began to lose support from progressives for moves out of line with the reform movement, while police groups also knocked her

She was still pursuing the death penalty; since Ogg has been in office, four people have been sent to death row, the same number as under her Republican predecessor’s short term of more than three years.

But she also pushed to take several people off of death row, including the high-profile cases of Duane Buck—whose trial was tainted by allegations of racist testimony, and of Bobby Moore, who Ogg agreed had an intellectual disability and therefore should not be executed.

Perhaps the most vocal outrage from police groups came after her office conducted its own investigation and announced in 2019 that former death row prisoner Alfred Dewayne Brown was innocent. Brown’s conviction in the 2003 murder of Houston police officer Charles Clark had already been tossed in 2015, and then-District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican, had dismissed the case, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to retry Brown. Ogg declared that Brown was eligible for state compensation for years of wrongful imprisonment. Police union leaders revolted, calling Ogg a “disgrace” and her office “a bunch of clowns.”

By then Ogg already expected that kind of pushback, though it would later be stronger from her own party than from police. 

She told the Observer decisions like those made in the Brown case aren’t easy, but necessary.

“The job of the prosecutor is not to be people’s friend,” she said. “It’s to be the consistent arbitrator and the person who seeks justice for the community.”

Bail was the biggest motivator for Harris County’s reform movement the year Ogg took office. A reliance on cash bail for low-level offenses had come under intense scrutiny nationwide, most notably with New Jersey effectively eliminating the practice in 2017 under then-Governor Chris Christie.

In Houston, a bitter court battle began after Maranda O’Donnell, a 22-year-old mother struggling to make ends meet, was arrested in 2016 for allegedly driving with an invalid license on her way to pick up her 4-year-old daughter. Her bail was set automatically at $2,500, an amount she could not afford. With even $250, she likely would have been able to pay a bondsman to post bail, but instead, she remained in jail because she was poor.

As a candidate and early into her tenure, Ogg pushed for bail reform and urged a federal judge to force changes upon the county in O’Donnell’s class-action lawsuit.

“Holding un-adjudicated misdemeanor offenders in the Harris County Jail solely because they lack the money or other means of posting bail is counterproductive to the goal of seeing that justice is done,” she said in a statement filed in her third month in office.

A month later, in April 2017, the federal judge found the county’s misdemeanor bail practices to be unconstitutional and discriminatory against the poor. It was a landmark court ruling that one Harris County official deemed “as big as Brown v. Board of Education.” It led to similar litigation and changes to bail practices across Texas and the country.

The ruling ordered the county to begin releasing many misdemeanor defendants regardless of their ability to post cash bail. By 2018, when 15 new Democratic judges swept Republicans off the misdemeanor bench, a new policy was ready to go—created by the one Democratic judge who landed his spot earlier and a lone Republican colleague who supported the changes.

“We don’t believe anyone should be in jail just because they’re poor. But they’ve taken it a little too far when they take bond offenders and give them really low bonds or no bond at all.”

In January 2019, within three weeks of the new judges being sworn in, they presented a plan to release almost all misdemeanor defendants within 24 hours of arrest without cash, save for specific categories like those accused of domestic violence or who had already been on bond.

Ogg was still on board, though she had begun to express concerns with a “disturbingly high rate” of people not showing up in court after being released. 

When the county later moved to settle the lawsuit that year using the new plan as a foundation, it became strikingly obvious just how much her support had waned. Ogg broke ranks with her Democratic colleagues, calling for police officers to pack the federal courthouse hearing to show their opposition. The new proposals went too far, she said in a filing, allowing judges to let people continue to miss court dates without consequence. 

Houston Republicans, police union leaders, and crime victims’ advocates also attacked the reforms, claiming they were more focused on the rights of defendants than of crime victims. Fear began to simmer that the city was becoming less safe. 

(Reports from academics assigned by the courts to track the settlement’s outcome indicate that people were just as likely to be picked up on a new case within a year of a misdemeanor arrest before and after the reforms took effect.)

Under the new system, people are less likely to be kept in jail for days, weeks, or months while waiting for a trial for things like trespassing. Or for allegedly stealing diapers and baby supplies, as a 24-year-old Black mother found in January 2024 when a judge allowed her to stay out of jail on a no-cash bond after she showed up to court with her toddler to explain why she’d missed a court date just after Christmas.

Still, dramatic instances of violence have more impact than statistics. A month before the bail settlement was signed, Alex Guajardo, 22, was accused of stabbing his pregnant wife, Caitlynne Rose Guajardo, to death. He had been let out of jail on a no-cash bond only days before on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge after allegedly punching her in the face.

Ogg, along with Republicans, police leaders, and her former shop, Crime Stoppers of Houston (which became more involved in antireform politics), heralded tragedies as clear failings of the new judges and their bail practices. The pushback quickly shifted beyond the misdemeanor judges involved in the lawsuit, moving toward the felony courts, where more people also began getting more jail bonds under new Democratic judges.

“We were on board with the fact that we don’t believe anyone should be in jail just because they’re poor,” said Griffith with the police union. “But they’ve taken it a little too far when they take bond offenders and give them really low bonds or no bond at all.”

The new judges, however, were not the only ones changing the game. After the misdemeanor policy closed the door on easy money for bail bonds companies in 2017, bondsmen were charging fees as low as 1 percent to post bonds, even for violent felony defendants. 

Previously, defendants could expect to pay around 10 percent of the total bail amount as a fee to a bond company; if a judge set bail at $50,000, they would have to pony up $5,000. But by 2021, bail bonds companies were accepting smaller fees for that same size of bond and allowing some to be released on payment plans—which authorities believe led some released defendants to commit more crimes to make payments.

“You have these judges setting what five, 10 years ago would have been astronomical bonds, but defendants were making them,” said Murray Newman, a former prosecutor and now president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

With more felony defendants being able to cash out of jail with lower bail bond fees, the judges began pumping up bail amounts, according to Houston attorneys and county data. In 2018, about half of all bonds in homicide cases were set above $50,000; by 2022, 69 percent of homicide bonds were over that mark. For bonds above $150,000, the percentage jumped from 5 to 22.

Newman said when he was a prosecutor in the 2000s, the standard bond for a murder case was $50,000. He quipped that a bond set at that amount now would lead to calls for the judge’s execution.

Still, judges remained the hot target politically for years after the bail reform settlement. But recently, Ogg has taken more heat. 

By 2019, Harris County budgets were overseen by a county commission controlled by Democrats—which could have helped Ogg, who for years had been begging for funds to hire new lawyers (and waiting for them to fix the flood-damaged courthouse, which had only reopened four of its 20 floors by mid-2018). 

The district attorney went to a budget meeting in January 2019 with a big ask: She wanted $20 million to hire about 100 new prosecutors to help reduce her employees’ caseloads. Ogg argued that more staff could better review cases earlier for potential dismissals or diversion into programming, like with DWI arrests. 

Harris County has long staffed a relatively small office compared with the country’s other major cities. Though Chicago’s Cook County is home to only about 300,000 more people than Harris County, the Cook County district attorney’s office had nearly 630 prosecutors on staff last year, around 250 more than Harris County. 

But Ogg’s push fell flat with newly elected County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who’d supported criminal justice reforms during his 26 years as a state senator. Hidalgo and other budget leaders said in the meeting they worried more prosecutors would simply lead to more incarceration. They rejected her request on the same day they nearly doubled the budget for the public defender’s office.

Other progressive advocates lined up to condemn the district attorney’s request, including Tarsha Jackson’s organization, which had helped Ogg rise to power.

“In four short years, the reform efforts went from hopeful and promising to perpetually politically difficult.”

“We are about shrinking the amount of people that are incarcerated,” Texas Organizing Project Deputy Director Brianna Brown told the Houston Chronicle. “That doesn’t look like asking for more prosecutors … that doesn’t mean turning up the death penalty in Harris County. That doesn’t mean coming out against bail reform.”

Ogg’s failed budget request was the beginning of a spiral of public fights between her and Democratic leaders, eerily similar to the dividing line previously drawn between the district attorney and the Democratic judges. In the years to come, she would pursue public integrity investigations that involved both Hidalgo and Ellis, though neither were indicted. 

Though Ogg was already in rough waters with progressives, she still easily won reelection in 2020 as concerns over violent crime and the newly minted bail reform settlement began to soar. Then the pandemic began and the world changed.

“In four short years, the reform efforts went from hopeful and promising to perpetually politically difficult,” said Rottinghaus, the political science professor.

The coronavirus pandemic closed courthouses across the country and intensified debates over who should stay in jail or prison, where the risk of contracting or dying from the deadly disease was greater. In May 2020, George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, one of several police killings caught on video, sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality. 

As calls for change erupted and policymakers reimagined or defended police responsibilities, Houston commemorated Floyd’s life with marches, a mural, and a service organized by his family, who brought him home to Texas for burial.

Again, Ogg was struggling to straddle the line between law enforcement support and progressive policy ideas. 

The number of murders in Houston had shot up from 280 in 2019 to a staggering 400 in 2020, similar to other big cities nationwide. And following the increasing calls to “defund the police” after Floyd’s murder, Governor Greg Abbott and his fellow Texas Republicans sought to crush reform. When Austin’s City Council voted to cut $150 million from its police department in August 2020, mostly by shifting police duties to other city departments, the GOP-led Legislature quickly passed laws to punish cities for reducing police budgets and to increase penalties for protestors.

In Harris County, Ogg continued fighting with county budget leaders for an increase to her own law enforcement office. But she also dropped hundreds of charges against protesters in the aftermath of Floyd’s death and supported a posthumous pardon for Floyd in an old drug conviction case tied to a later disgraced police officer. She agreed with the release of some low-level defendants from jail due to COVID-19, but far fewer than county leaders and jail rights advocates wanted.

Jail rights advocates and a report commissioned by the county at the beginning of the pandemic had urged Ogg to dismiss all nonviolent felonies older than nine months, with some exceptions, and to redirect resources to newer violent felony cases. “Widespread dismissal of nonviolent felonies may seem unfathomable, but in reality, only 42 percent of all disposed felony cases in 2019 were due to a conviction, excluding probation violations,” wrote Elaine Borakove of the Justice Management Institute.

Ogg called the recommendation “unrealistic.”

Weeks after Texas announced its first case of the Coronavirus in March 2020, Ogg gathered—outside with many in face masks—with about 20 local police chiefs, constables, and other law enforcement representatives to slam Democratic judges for releasing people on low bonds.

The problems in the system were only exacerbated as the pandemic brought the court process to a grinding halt.

Coming out of 2020, Harris County’s court system was a mess. In the five years before the pandemic, there was an average of around 320 felony jury trials a year. In 2020, there were 81. 

The courts trudged slowly through their dockets—moving far fewer cases than were coming in. The backlog of felonies swelled to over 50,000 by 2021. More than a third of them had been pending for over a year.

While cases stagnated, a huge influx of new felonies poured in. In 2021, Ogg’s office accepted more than 46,000 felony cases—about 14,000 more than her first year in office.

The jail population, which had fallen at the start of the pandemic, began rising to levels that by 2022 would surpass any seen since the bail system had been overhauled. With cases taking longer to wrap up, violent crime rising, and judges ramping up bond amounts, the jail often housed more murder suspects than misdemeanor defendants.

County officials used disaster funding to open new emergency courts starting in January 2021. Pretrial hearings and trials would be heard by a rotation of retired judges, including Republicans who had lost their jobs when Democrats swept into office. 

Progress was slow but steady. The emergency dockets handled older files or more difficult cases, like repeat child sexual assault cases. (And the state Legislature approved three new criminal district courts in Harris County to open in 2023, with three more to come online this year.) Without a constant stream of new cases as main courts have, the temporary judges, who don’t worry about winning reelection, say they are able to devote more time to individual cases and hold both defense lawyers and prosecutors to the fire to get a case moving. 

“You can be the mean dad,” smiled Judge Marc Brown on a January morning, after resolving the cases of five people who had long been held in jail. Brown, a Republican, lost his appellate judgeship in the 2018 election.

By December 2023, the backlog shrunk to around 30,000 felony cases, about what it was in 2019. Murders also dropped significantly from pandemic highs, mirroring national trends

Still, this February, the jail remained overcrowded with a population above 9,200 and remained noncompliant with state safety standards. About 1,000 people were shipped out to other jails, sometimes multiple states away. Those incarcerated had been in jail, on average, more than six months, compared with a national average of about 33 days. A surge in deaths in 2021 and 2022 prompted a federal investigation and high-profile lawsuit

Along with a batch of relatively new judges on the bench, Ogg has been blamed for the case backlog. Though she did eventually win some funding to hire new prosecutors, about 15 percent of prosecutor positions remained vacant in November. Turnover and firings have left her office with far fewer veterans, affecting everything from intake to trials.

“The new prosecutors who were in my court [in 2018] are now the top prosecutors, and they’re losing murder cases left and right,” said Judge Darrell Jordan, the Democratic misdemeanor judge who led the creation of the new bail system and who has been condemned by Ogg. “It speaks for itself when you control which cases you decide to go forward with and then you’re losing at such a high rate.”

Between 2011 and 2018, felony jury trials ended in a conviction around 70 to 80 percent of the time, according to state data. Between 2019 and 2022, the conviction rate dropped into the mid to low 60s, though last year it rebounded to 72 percent. Murder convictions have risen in the last two years, but so have dismissals and jury acquittals, including some high-profile losses

Critics fault Ogg’s management style, saying she has created a hostile work environment and pushed people out of the office. Newman conceded that Ogg needed more prosecutors than she had to do her job well, but argued she needed to be a better manager to “retain good ones.” 

Ogg pushes back on accusations against her, blaming low morale instead on the widespread, loud criticism of her office: “I’m proud of the record we have. Our programs are more progressive than anywhere in the state.”

On a warm December evening in a University of Houston ballroom, hundreds of Democratic Party members gathered to make clear just how far Ogg had veered from her party’s good graces.

Precinct chairs voted overwhelmingly to admonish her, essentially a statement of no confidence, as she headed into the 2024 election year. In the resolution, Democrats alleged that Ogg “abused the power of her office to pursue personal vendettas against her political opponents, sided with Republicans to advance their extremist agenda, and stood in the way of fixing the broken criminal justice system.” 

She was slammed for supporting proposed mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes and for reversing her policy of requiring lab reports before accepting any drug possession charges, given testing backlogs. Democrats also condemned Ogg’s big campaign donations from Republican mega-donors and the bail bonds industry.

In the moment, Ogg reacted calmly with none of the fire and sharp attacks she’s become known for. She wasn’t allowed to use the microphone but cupped her hands together and yelled at the front of the room for anyone who could hear, thanking everyone for being there regardless of how they voted.

“This political infighting is damaging to the process, but this is not representative of the Democratic Party,” she said later.

Ogg blames Teare, her March primary opponent, for what she called a “misinformation campaign” against her. Some of the loudest condemnation came from Ogg’s pursuit of cases that lobbed accusations against Ellis and Hidalgo’s staff. In 2021, a grand jury declined to charge Ellis for storing a cache of African art in a government warehouse without authorization. In 2022, three Hidalgo aides were indicted for allegedly favoring a politically connected vendor in a vaccine outreach contract. Hidalgo called the investigation a “political vendetta.”

Ogg has argued a district attorney must be willing to investigate accusations of illegal activity committed by elected officials, regardless of party affiliations. To do otherwise would be corruption. 

“I intend to keep doing my job regardless of political pressure to drop cases or to show favoritism to certain people,” she said. 

Her political battles, however, have rippled into every aspect of Ogg’s job. Multiple attorneys said fights with county commissioners likely crushed her chances at hiring more prosecutors, and her animosity toward the courts worsened the backlog that devastated every part of Harris County’s criminal justice system.

“The lack of collaboration between the district attorney’s office and the bench played into the pandemic backlog,” said Teare, her primary challenger. “The lack of collaboration between other law enforcement agencies and our office; the lack of collaboration between the district attorney’s office and every other stakeholder played into it.”

“When you think of the DA’s office as a hub with spokes coming out, we are the clearinghouse for every criminal case in the county,” he added. “And if it’s not working right, nothing’s working right.”