Rosemary Lehmberg

Perry aides testify before grand jury

The grand jury investigating Gov. Rick Perry returned to work Friday. Four of Perry’s top aides headed into the grand jury room through the public entrance, despite a request to enter through a private door. The aides included spokesman Rich Parsons, general counsel Mary Anne Wiley, and deputy chief of staff Mike Morrissey.

The grand jury is investigating whether Perry illegally withheld money from the Travis County District Attorney’s office. Perry vetoed funding last year for the public integrity unit, which is overseen by the District Attorney’s office. Perry had threatened to slash the funding if DA Rosemary Lehmberg refused to step down after a drunk driving arrest. He followed through with that threat when she refused.

It is not clear when Perry will testify and his aides did not comment Friday.

Judge rules Lehmberg will keep district attorney job

A judge has denied a petition to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office, meaning she will keep her job.

The ruling came Wednesday afternoon after three days of testimony. Multiple judges and attorneys testified on Lehmberg’s behalf, saying they have never seen her under the influence at work, and that removing her from office would harm the county’s justice system. The prosecution argued that Lehmberg had a drinking problem that prohibited her from performing her duties. They also asked the judge to consider how intoxicated the D.A. was and the way she treated law enforcement officers during her arrest.

The civil suit stemmed from Lehmberg’s drunken driving arrest last spring, after her Lexus was spotted swerving along RR 620 in northwest Austin. A rare Texas statute cites intoxication alone as grounds for removal from office on the county level.

Lehmberg spoke to reporters immediately after the decision and apologized for her behavior.

“I promise you I will work diligently to do the right thing, as I always have done,” Lehmberg said.

 

Special prosecutor named to investigate Perry criminal complaint

A special prosecutor has been assigned to handle the criminal complaint filed against Governor Rick Perry. District Judge Robert Richardson today appointed San Antonio attorney Michael McCrum as the attorney Pro Tem.

The watchdog group Texans for Public Justice claims Perry abused his power and broke several laws when he threatened to veto funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. Perry hoped his threat would force Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after her drunk driving arrest and conviction. Lehmberg refused, and Perry ultimately used a line item veto to strip more than $7 million from the unit.

As District Attorney, Lehmberg oversees that department. Texans for Public Justice says Perry used the power of his office in an attempt to coerce the District Attorney’s office. Lehmberg herself has accused Perry of playing politics with his threat. If Lehmberg, who is a Democrat, did step down, Republican Gov. Perry would appoint her replacement.

McCrum is a San Antonio based trial lawyer. According to his website, he has focused on white collar crimes as well as federal and state government investigations. He will lead an investigation into the complaint to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward. His findings could ultimately lead to a trial.


Capital Tonight: Lawmakers hit the road after passing transportation funding

The final piece of a plan to increase funding for the state’s roads and bridges passed shortly after 9:30 Monday night, by a vote of 124-2. Minutes later, House lawmakers adjourned Sine Die, pending administrative duties.

The complete package will divert half of the money earmarked for the state’s Rainy Day Fund toward the State Highway Fund instead. Estimated at nearly a billion dollars per year, the money would go toward construction and maintenance for non-tolled roads, and would fill almost a quarter of the $4 billion in funding Texas Department of Transportation officials say they need.

The two-part plan includes a funding mechanism, known as Senate Joint Resolution 1, which will go before voters as a ballot measure in 2014. The second part of the funding plan, known as House Bill 1, details the way lawmakers decide how much money gets left in the Rainy Day Fund. It also directs TxDOT to find cost-cutting measures without reducing funding for transportation projects.

Lawmakers failed to get a similar plan passed during the previous special session after falling short of the 100 votes needed.

In our special, 11 p.m. broadcast, we checked in with Rep. Joe Pickett shortly before the final vote, and talked to the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg about the latest on funding for the Public Integrity Unit.

DOWN THE BALLOT

Questions about voting law in Texas aren’t going away anytime soon, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling and a vote on redistricting maps by Texas lawmakers. To find out where the issue is headed from here, we spoke to Michael Li of the Texas Redistricting & Election Law blog.

BACK IN WASHINGTON

Plus, State Sen. Wendy Davis was back in Washington Monday, this time headlining a luncheon at the National Press Club. Speaking in front of journalists and Democratic supporters, the woman who made headlines with a nearly 11-hour filibuster didn’t shy away from her rising profile. Click the YNN logo below to see the full episode.

Capital Tonight: Controversial committee hearings overshadow redistricting vote

Busy Thursday

Minutes after capping off a nearly six-hour debate on redistricting, many House lawmakers marched off to tackle even more contentious issues.

The House State Affairs Committee saw more than 400 people line up to testify on a list of abortion bills, including one that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. At the same time, the House Appropriations Committee considered Rep. Sylvester Turner’s plan to override the governor’s veto of Public Integrity Unit funding.

Regent Impeachment?

A high-ranking House member is making a move to impeach one of the UT regents, and it appears to have some support. Our Capital Commentators weighed in on that and more.

New Poll Numbers

Plus, James Henson of the Texas Politics Project joined us to talk about the latest poll numbers on abortion laws in Texas. Click the image below to hear more.

Capital Tonight: Abortion bills trigger fierce Senate debate

Fighting for Funding

Just days after Gov. Rick Perry’s veto stripped state funding for the Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg made her first public appearance since a high-profile DWI arrest.

She’s asking the county to help close the $7.5 million funding gap, and making it clear that she has no plans to resign.

In Tuesday’s show, we heard more from Lehmberg, plus commentary from attorney Kerry O’Brien, who has been a prominent voice in calling for her resignation.

Abortion Debate

The Senate took up the governor’s special session call to pass legislation that would further restrict abortion in the state Tuesday. Among the bill’s most controversial components was a measure known as the fetal pain bill, which would block abortions after 20 weeks. The bill’s author, Sen. Glenn Hegar, eventually agreed to withdraw the measure, saying he believes taking it out is the most practical way lawmakers can enhance the quality of care while protecting life with the amount of time left in the session.

Capital Commentators

Plus, our Capital Commentators weighed in on the ongoing battle over the Public Integrity Unit, along with the rest of the day’s political news.

Commissioners Court considers funding Public Integrity Unit

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg made her first public appearance Tuesday since serving jail time for a DWI. Lehmberg went before the Travis County Commissioners Court asking the county to help restore the $7.5 million dollars in funding that was cut from the Public Integrity Unit.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed that portion of the budget Friday, making good on threats to do so if Lehmberg refused to step down. Perry has taken aim at Lehmberg’s personal integrity after she was arrested and served time for drunk driving in April. Jailhouse video showed Lehmberg acting unruly and repeatedly demanding that the employees “call Greg,” apparently in reference to Sheriff Greg Hamilton. Lehmberg has maintained she has no intention of stepping down.

The Texas Legislature provides a little more than $3 million in funding per year. That money allows the Public Integrity Unit to carry out its three main functions. The unit has statewide authority over cases involving insurance and motor fuel fraud. It also handles public corruption cases, which occur in Travis County. Funding for the Public Integrity Unit will run out September 1.

Critics have criticized Perry’s veto, saying the governor is using his power to shut down investigations into his office and its programs. “I can’t remember a time when there hasn’t been an attempt in the legislature to mess with the Public Integrity Unit,” Lehmberg said.

The court agreed Tuesday to explore ways to include funding in the county budget. ”We have to make decisions on unfunded mandates all the time,” Commissioner Ron Davis said. “We’ll do the best we can.”

The commissioners requested that the District Attorney’s office provide a breakdown of the Public Integrity Unit’s expenditures and agreed to explore ways to work it into the next budget without an undue burden on taxpayers. They will meet again, in two weeks.

UPDATED: Perry facing abuse of power complaint

Updated to add comment from Gov. Perry

Did Gov. Rick Perry abuse his powers when he threatened to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refuses to step down? One watchdog group says yes and has filed a formal complaint with prosecutors.

Texans for Public Justice says Perry may have committed several crimes, including abuse of office, official oppression and coercion. “Governor Perry has no legal authority to remove the Travis Country District Attorney from her job. Threatening to take an official action against her office unless she voluntarily resigns is likely illegal,” said TPJ Director, Craig McDonald.

According to the complaint,

“Governor Perry’s official threats attempt to obtain two things that he can’t achieve through legal
democratic means. First, to remove an elected Democrat and replace her with an appointed
Republican DA. Second, to wipe out the state’s public corruption watchdog, which is currently
investigating corruption in at least one of the governor’s signature corporate subsidy programs.”

According to TPJ, the offenses range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 2 felony.

District Attorney Lehmberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges in April. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail and was released early for good behavior.

Earlier this week, the Austin American-Statesman first reported that Gov. Perry is threatening to use a line item veto to remove money for the Public Integrity Unit if Lehmberg does not step down. The Public Integrity Unit is funded partially by the Texas Legislature and prosecutes ethics and campaign finance violations. As Travis County DA, Lehmberg is the head of that unit.

Gov. Perry hasn’t responded to the complaint directly, but did say this, today:

“My bottom line is this. That we’re going to look at this budget. We’re going to make decisions about this budget, and Travis County is going to have to make a decision about whether or not they keep a district attorney who obviously has some real problems from the standpoint of…I mean people who’ve looked at the video will probably come to the conclusion of most folks. That that was pretty inappropriate activity.”
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Perry threatens to veto Public Integrity Unit funding

Gov. Rick Perry is threatening to strip state funding from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refuses to resign. The Public Integrity Unit is funded partially by the Texas Legislature and prosecutes ethics and campaign finance violations.

According to an Austin American-Statesman exclusive, Perry intends to line-item veto that portion of the state budget. The governor’s office would not go into specifics, but spokesman Rick Parsons told the paper “we’re going through the budget line by line. (The governor) has very deep concerns about the integrity of the Public Integrity Unit.”

Lehmberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges in April. Police records show her blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit. Jailhouse surveillance video also shows Lehmberg acting belligerently toward the jailers. Lehmberg was sentenced to 45 days in jail and was released in early for good behavior.

Despite numerous petitions and lawsuits from attorneys and lawmakers alike, Lehmberg has maintained she will not step down as district attorney and head of the Public Integrity Unit. In court today, a judge determined that Lehmberg will face a jury in two separate lawsuits. One claims Lehmberg violated a code of conduct that states she cannot be intoxicated on or off duty. The other is for official misconduct, based on her actions in jail.

If Lehmberg chooses to step down, or is forced out of office, Gov. Perry would appoint her replacement.

 

 

Rep. Peter King renews call for Lehmberg resignation

Texas Rep. Peter King (R-Weatherford) is renewing his call for Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s resignation. Lehmberg is currently serving jail time after pleading to drunk driving charges earlier this month. Police documents show her blood alcohol limit was nearly three times the legal limit. Video footage taken at the time of Lehmberg’s arrest shows she was combative and uncooperative while in custody. Lehmberg has said she intends to continue as district attorney when she has served her time.

The case has the attention of state lawmakers because the Travis County DA is also responsible for running the Public Integrity Unit. That is the office in charge of investigating government corruption and ethics complaints.

Rep. King adressed the issue on the floor, Friday, calling for Lehmberg to step down. Today, he renewed that call, saying “Anyone can make a mistake, but the belligerence Ms. Lehmberg showed to the police officers and jail personnel was extraordinary. The public should go on-line and review these recordings.”

Not everyone agrees that Lehmberg should lose her job. More than 100 local attorneys, calling themselves “Friends of Rosemary,” signed on to a brief supporting Lehmberg’s decision to stay on as the county’s chief prosecutor.