The ramifications of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's driving while intoxicated arrest and conviction continue to ripple outward.
Two civil suits to remove her from office are plodding towards trial; a criminal investigation continues into her conduct in jail; and another criminal investigation will soon launch into Gov. Rick Perry's veto of funding for the Travis County DA's Public Integrity Unit. Meanwhile, efforts in the Legislature to restore the unit's funding will probably fail, passing the funding burden to Travis County.
"It's very difficult for me to answer questions with all this litigation swirling, and with the funding up in the air," says Lehmberg in an interview.
The State of Texas on the relation of David A. Escamilla v. Rosemary Lehmberg, seeking to remove Lehmberg for "public intoxication," was scheduled for trial on July 22.
Dan Richards, co-counsel for Lehmberg, notes that the trial was delayed until Oct. 21 because of the second removal suit, The State of Texas Ex. Rel. Richard D. Reed v. Rosemary Lehmberg.
Lehmberg on July 15 filed an original answer, denying all of the allegations in the second suit, which seeks to remove her for "official misconduct," alleging that while in jail she threatened jailers with incarceration.
James Collins, executive assistant county attorney in the Travis County Attorney's Office — which represents the state in the removal suits — didn't return a telephone call or email seeking comment.
In regards to the "public intoxication" suit, the state on June 27 won an Order for Production and Testing to do toxicology screens on Lehmberg's blood and hair.
Lehmberg's lawyers on July 22 filed an Agreed Motion for Protective Order, seeking to keep certain discovery documents confidential from the general public.
Lehmberg explains in an email, "I am seeking to protect private medical records," which she does not believe, "are relevant to my ability to serve as District Attorney or to the issue he has alleged in his petition."
As the removal suits await trial, attorney pro tem Bill Turner is collecting evidence to determine whether a criminal complaint against Lehmberg — also filed by Austin solo Rick Reed — will move forward.
"I've recovered all the information collected by law enforcement on that night," says Turner, who was the Brazos County DA from 1983 to 2012. He's also met with Reed, staff in the county attorney's office and Lehmberg's criminal-defense lawyer, David Sheppard.
"After I've gathered all the information, I'll sit down and review it and decide if I need to contact any other witnesses," says Turner, of counsel in Brockett & McNeel in Midland.
Sheppard, an Austin solo, didn't return a telephone call or email seeking comment. Lehmberg didn't respond to a question about the criminal investigation.
Based on a Complaint filed by advocacy group Texans for Public Justice, a criminal investigation will launch soon against Gov. Perry for his alleged conduct arising from Lehmberg's DWI.
That Complaint, which was sent to Lehmberg, is regarding Perry's veto of the Public Integrity Unit's funding. The group's director, Craig McDonald, wrote in the Complaint that he believed Perry committed Coercion of a Public Servant or Voter, Bribery, Abuse of Official Capacity and Official Oppression.
"Perry threatened to use the official power of his elected office to veto the legislative budget appropriation for the Travis County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit unless Rosemary Lehmberg . . . resigned her office," alleges the complaint, adding that Perry, "subsequently did use the power of his office . . . to veto the legislative appropriation."
After both Lehmberg and 390th District Judge Julie Kocurek of Austin recused themselves from the matter, Billy Ray Stubblefield, presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region, on July 15 assigned senior judge Bert Richardson.
Richardson, who presided over Bexar County's 379th District Court from 1999 to 2008, says the next step is to assign an attorney pro tem to investigate the complaint.
Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed didn't respond to an email seeking comment about the criminal allegations against Perry.
Lehmberg writes in an email, "Rick Perry's veto of the Public Integrity Unit funding was clearly partisan, misguided and possibly illegal. Whether it was illegal is the subject of a criminal investigation and will be examined by a special prosecutor. Because I will be a witness in that matter, I cannot comment further."
Funding the Public Integrity Unit
Perry's veto also creates consequences for Travis County. Its commissioners hoped the Legislature would restore state funding, but Houston Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner, who filed a resolution to override Perry's veto, says he thinks his effort will fail. He notes another of his efforts, to provide about $2 million for the unit's motor fuels tax fraud prosecutions, already failed.
"The political will is not here, on behalf of many Republicans who simply do not want to go contrary to the governor," says Turner, attorney with Barnes & Turner in Houston.
Lehmberg writes in the email that she's working with Travis County commissioners "to restore full funding."
"The majority of the unit's cases are cases my office would be legally responsible for, whether funded by the County or the State," she writes.
Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe says the commissioners court's Aug. 6 agenda will include an item about funding the unit. There's also a hearing on the DA's Office budget on Aug. 12, which Biscoe says he may cancel if commissioners work through the unit's funding before that.
Although the unit's employees were already notified about job cuts, Biscoe says he thinks that most of them may transfer to other positions in the DA's office, the county attorney's office and other departments. He adds that he especially wants to keep the unit's 10 lawyers because they're highly experienced and skilled.
Lehmberg writes, "I am optimistic that we will be able to retain all current employees by working with the County and other possible funding sources. There are employees in my office who blame me for the current uncertainties but most are supportive of our efforts and are optimistic[.]"