A Travis County grand jury has been convened by the judge overseeing an advocacy group's criminal complaint against Gov. Rick Perry. The complaint by Texans for Public Justice alleges Perry threatened to veto funding for the Travis County district attorney's Public Integrity Unit unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigned. Lehmberg was convicted in April of driving while intoxicated. She faces a citizen's criminal complaint regarding her alleged behavior that night.
When asked if he's convening the grand jury for the Perry and Lehmberg complaints, Senior Judge Bert Richardson of San Antonio, the appointed grand jury judge, declines comment.
Michael McCrum, the attorney pro tem for the Perry complaint, and Bill Turner, the attorney pro tem for the Lehmberg complaint, both say they're still investigating those complaints and have not yet decided whether they'll present their cases to a grand jury to seek an indictment. Both decline comment when asked whether this grand jury will hear the Perry or Lehmberg matters.
"I'm proceeding with investigating this matter and doing everything that's appropriate and necessary," says McCrum, owner of McCrum Law Office in San Antonio. He declines further comment.
Turner, who was the Brazos County DA from 1983 to 2012, says about the decision to seek an indictment, "I would not make that decision until I have talked to all the witnesses."
Perry spokesman Josh Havens says, "We haven't received any official notification this is happening. I can't really comment on something that I've not been notified about."
Lehmberg declines comment, explaining, "It wouldn't be at all appropriate for me to say anything about that."
Grand Jury Process
Richardson explains that, while grand juries do make decisions about whether to indict a criminal suspect, that's not their only function. Generally speaking, prosecutors may use a grand jury for "a number of reasons," he says.
"They can use the grand jury if they need to get information. They can use the grand-jury subpoena as a means of getting information they otherwise would not receive," says Richardson, who was judge of Bexar County's 379th District Court from 1999 to 2008. He's now a full-time senior judge.
Richardson notes that, when chosen, grand jurors aren't informed about the matters they may hear, and they are sworn to secrecy on the cases they investigate.
The process to convene the grand jury began by summoning 80 people from the standard jury pool in Travis County, says Linda Estrada, grand jury court clerk. The process was scheduled to wrap up on Sept. 6 by choosing 12 grand jurors and two alternates, Estrada says.
The Perry complaint alleges the governor committed coercion of a public servant or voter, bribery, abuse of official capacity and official oppression. It alleges Perry "threatened to use the official power of his elected office" to veto the funding unless Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigned. [See " Attorney Pro Tem to Investigate Gov. Perry's Funding Veto," Texas Lawyer Aug. 26, 2013, page 1.]
Perry vetoed about $3.7 million per year for the Public Integrity Unit, explaining in a veto statement that he wouldn't support the funding when the person leading the unit had, "lost the public's confidence."
Turner is investigating Lehmberg after Austin lawyer Rick Reed made a criminal complaint, alleging she committed felony obstruction while in jail on the night of her DWI arrest. Lehmberg also faces a civil suit seeking to remove her from office for "public intoxication" and "official misconduct." [See " Ex-DA Investigating Complaint Against Rosemary Lehmberg," Texas Lawyer, July 8, 2013, page 4.]
Turner says that, eventually, he does plan to present the case to a grand jury, regardless of whether his investigation finds enough evidence to seek an indictment against Lehmberg.
"When you are dealing with a public official, the local community needs to be assured that 12 representatives of the community will have a chance to review the investigation," says Turner, of counsel with Brockett & McNeel in Midland.