Former Brazos County District Attorney Bill Turner will investigate a criminal complaint that alleges that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg committed third-degree felony obstruction by threatening jailers after her arrest for driving while intoxicated.
Austin solo Rick Reed sent the criminal complaint to Lehmberg's office on May 30. Reed, who ran in the Travis County Democratic Primary against Lehmberg in 2008, also has filed a civil suit seeking to remove Lehmberg from office for "official misconduct."
Visiting Judge David Peeples on June 27 granted Lehmberg's request to recuse herself from handling the criminal complaint. Peeples assigned Turner to be attorney pro tem in the matter "and in any subsequent proceedings arising from it," according to an Order Appointing Attorney Pro Tem in In Re Sworn Complaint Against Rosemary Lehmberg.
Reed says, "Judge Peeples acted as the law required, and based on the information available to me, he made an appointment that was appropriate. He appointed somebody who has a strong reputation for calling it as he sees it, somebody with integrity."
The appointment procedure is "standard," explains Turner, who was the Brazos County DA from 1983 to 2012.
"It doesn't speak to the merits of or lack of merits of the case," says Turner, of counsel at Brockett & McNeel in Midland. "It just speaks to standard procedure when a prosecutor is exposed to a potential conflict."
Turner notes he'll take as long as he needs to investigate the case, first by identifying and talking with witnesses. If he determines it's appropriate, Turner says he'll present the case to a Travis County grand jury; if the case were to proceed, he would represent the state through trial.
"I'm acting with all the authority of a sitting prosecutor in making decisions about the case," he explains.
David Sheppard, Lehmberg's criminal-defense attorney, didn't return a telephone call seeking comment.
Lehmberg was arrested late at night on April 12 and released from the Travis County Jail on the morning of April 13. Lehmberg's blood was drawn at the jail, and her blood alcohol content was 0.239, according to an April 17 lab report by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
On April 19, she pleaded guilty to class A misdemeanor DWI. She's already served her 45-day jail sentence, and she voluntarily completed a treatment program.
In addition to Reed's removal suit, Lehmberg faces another suit seeking to remove her for "intoxication." [See "DA Rosemary Lehmberg Faces Second Removal Suit," Texas Lawyer, June 17, 2013, page 4]
According to the sworn complaint, Reed believes that, on April 13, Lehmberg committed six criminal counts of the third-degree felony offense of obstruction.
It allegesthat, while two senior corrections officers and a sheriff's deputy searched Lehmberg and removed her jewelry, she said, "Y'all better do somethin' quick, because y'all are going to be in jail, not me, if you don't do something pretty quick."
Reed alleges that Lehmberg was threatening to file a criminal complaint against the officers and deputy, which would result in them "being unlawfully arrested and incarcerated."
The complaint says that the sheriff's deputy understood the threat because she said to Lehmberg, "You just threatened that they were going to be in jail."
Reed's complaint also alleges Lehmberg threatened the officers and deputy with incarceration when she allegedly said, "Oh, y'all are so screwed. … You know I'll — I'll remember this, probably. So this is how it feels. I'll remember this."
Reed says in an interview, "I expect that Mr. Turner will conduct a thorough investigation, and I hope that once he has completed his investigation, that he will present the evidence to a grand jury."