Gov. Rick Perry issued a line-item veto striking $7.57 million in funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney's Office.
"I cannot in good conscience support continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public's confidence. This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the State budgetary process," says a statement on Perry’s website.
Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg pleaded guilty to class A misdemeanor DWI on April 19. Two suits attempting to remove her from office — one for “intoxication” and another for “official misconduct” — are pending in Travis County district courts.
Public Integrity Unit director Gregg Cox didn't immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. He previously told Texas Lawyer that the unit prosecutes offenses by public officials committed in Travis County, which includes the state capitol and encompasses many elected officials. The unit also prosecutes statewide insurance fraud and motor-fuels tax offenses.
Cox noted that the unit relies on state funding to pay employees and handle its responsibilities and losing the funding "could potentially gut the Public Integrity Unit, and we would no longer have one."
No one from the Governor's press office immediately returned a telephone call seeking comment about the potential implications to the state of losing the unit.
Perry also vetoed Senate Bill 219, which included a provision requiring a study of whether the Public Integrity Unit's "law enforcement functions" should be moved to a law enforcement agency "to maintain separation of powers . . . prevent conflicts of interest, and ensure the administration of justice."
Lehmberg didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment. Travis County DA's Office spokesman Rudy Magallanes writes in an email, "We will have a comment regarding the Public Integrity Unit tomorrow."