Travis County DA facing civil suit; could be fired

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Associated Press

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 11:32 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg heads to court this week as a defendant in a civil trial that could result in her ouster from office.

The trial, set to start Monday in Austin before a visiting judge from San Antonio, stems from Lehmberg's drunken driving arrest in April. She pleaded guilty within days, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and took a leave of absence to check into rehab. Lehmberg, who a year ago had been elected overwhelmingly to a second four-year term, then returned to her job.

But a petition seeking her removal was filed by Austin attorney Kerry O'Brien under a state law that allows the removal of elected officials for "incompetency," ''official misconduct" or "intoxication on or off duty caused by drinking an alcoholic beverage." Anyone living in a county for six months can file a petition there.

"I think the integrity of the office is compromised as long as she is there," O'Brien told the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1jAC93L ).

He and others, including Gov. Rick Perry, have questioned whether the public can have confidence in Lehmberg, particularly in how her office prosecutes drunken driving cases.

Lehmberg, 64, who announced she won't run again, has repeatedly apologized for her arrest but said little about her actions.

Deputies pulled her over on a Friday night in April for driving erratically, then found an open bottle of vodka in her Lexus. At the jail, a video shows her shouting orders to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out at deputies videotaping her.

That video led to an investigation by a grand jury, which decided she should not be removed for official misconduct.

The newspaper reported the trial will focus on whether she's emotionally able to continue in office, whether she has an addiction and whether the public's interest is better served by having someone other her as the county's chief felony prosecutor.

Perry got involved by threatening to withhold nearly $4 million earmarked for Lehmberg's office unless she quit. She refused and in June he carried through with the threat.

That triggered a complaint and subsequent grand jury probe of Perry, with an ethics watchdog group alleging the governor violated state laws prohibiting coercion.

State District Court Judge David Peeples, who has handled several removal cases in South Texas, will rule in Lehmberg's case after she waived her right to a jury trial. His decision could come by the end of the week.

Lehmberg could appeal a finding against her, and Peeples also would have to decide if she could remain in office while appealing.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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