Civil trial begins in case of Travis County DA


Associated Press

Posted on December 10, 2013 at 6:33 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg is unfit to stay in office after her drunken-driving arrest earlier this year because she has failed to follow a treatment plan and probably won't succeed in staying sober, a county prosecutor argued Monday in a civil trial.

But Dan Richards, Lehmberg's attorney, said the district attorney is more than capable and has stayed in office out of a sense of responsibility to the public that overwhelmingly re-elected her to a second four-year term last year.

The trial to decide whether Lehmberg keeps her job, being heard by David Peeples, a visiting judge from San Antonio, stems from her 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, 64, 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.

At the start of Monday's trial, various witnesses testified that Lehmberg was scowling, shouting and threatening corrections officers on the night of her arrest, the Austin American-Statesman reported ( ) Monday.

In a videotaped deposition, Nia Sipp, a Tucson, Ariz., psychiatrist who had treated Lehmberg, said the district attorney was willing to try therapy outside her comfort zone and showed an "excellent" prognosis for recovery.

State lawyers said Lehmberg had not found a local psychiatrist as of September and had not explored Alcoholics Anonymous or other options that have been stressed as being integral to her treatment.

Sipp said she believed the treatment center staff in Arizona had started Lehmberg on a path toward smarter physical and mental health choices.

Before testimony ended for the day, Peeples questioned state lawyers on their case.

James Collins, the executive assistant Travis County attorney who is prosecuting the case for the state, has said Lehmberg is unfit for office and could harm the public interest if she remains in her position. But Peeples said the testimony they put on is similar to what judges see all the time in DWI cases.

"You are basically asking me to make a prediction about what will happen in the future," Peeples said.

Collins said their stance was that damage had already been done and could be worse if Lehmberg was not removed. Richards said his client had followed the after-care guidelines as best as she could.

Testimony was to resume Tuesday, with Lehmberg expected to testify.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman,