Perspectives on that are colored by politics right now.
While Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg sought to put her weekend drunken driving arrest behind her, debate over her political future reached the State Capitol on Monday, where lawmakers weighed in on whether she should resign and how a replacement might be chosen.
Some officials pointed to an obscure provision in state law that allows a district attorney to be removed from office for being drunk. The provision also says that a single county resident could start such a removal.
If Lehmberg, a Democrat, were to resign or be removed from office, Republican Gov. Rick Perry would appoint a replacement who would be subject to confirmation by the GOP-controlled state Senate.
Chapter 87 of the state’s Local Government Code lists among the “general grounds for removal” of a district attorney and other county officials “intoxication on or off duty caused by drinking an alcoholic beverage.”
Under that law, a removal petition could be filed by anyone who has lived in Travis County for six months and is “not currently under indictment” for a crime here. The petition would be filed with a district judge, and a trial would be held on the charge — with a jury to determine the official’s fate, according to the law.
While there was no indication Monday that such a petition was being contemplated, an unofficial online petition to Gov. Rick Perry seeking Lehmberg’s removal was gathering signatures at Change.org. The petition by “Beth S” in Cedar Park said Lehmberg, as a result of her arrest, “is not a person to lead this county in delivering justice.”
That petition has now been filed, though Lehmberg has said that she has no intention of resigning. She has also said that she will not contest the charges against her and will accept whatever punishment she receives, which will depend in part on the result of her blood alcohol test, which is still pending. If her BAC was less than 0.15, she will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, for which the maximum sentence is a $2000 fine and six months in jail. More than that is a Class A, for which the max is a $4000 fine and a year in the pokey.
I’m curious about two things. One is how often District Attorneys get into legal trouble of their own, and how often they resign as a result. Surely Lehmberg isn’t the first DA in Texas to be arrested for drunk driving. What are the precedents here? We in Harris County saw Chuck Rosenthal resign in 2008, though that was a far different situation than Lehmberg’s, not least of which was that the pressure on Rosenthal came largely from his fellow Republicans, who correctly saw him as a major liability for them heading into that fall’s election. How often have DAs been arrested for something, and how often have DAs resigned for whatever the reason? It would be nice to know so we could have some context to evaluate Lehmberg’s case.
Also, while the max sentences Lehmberg can receive include jail time, it seems highly unlikely to me that a first time offender such as she will see the inside of a jail cell. What is the typical range of punishment for a first time DUI offense, in Travis County and across the state? I’m hardly an expert on this, but if you made me guess I’d assume that things like a fine, probation, alcohol counseling, and a suspension of her license would be in the mix, but not jail time. Those of you who do know more about this, please speak up in the comments. Does one’s perception of Lehmberg’s position change if that’s the actual punishment she’s likely to face? If she were County Attorney or Tax Assessor or some other office – I’m sorry, but that obscure law about drunk DAs needs to stay obscure – would that change your perception? These are the things I’d like to hear more about.
Finally, on the matter of the petition to remove Lehmberg, BOR has a good analysis of what it means and what the procedures are, as well as a copy of the petition itself. It’s not quite as straightforward as news reports have made it sound. Interestingly, there’s a connection between the law being cited to remove Lehmberg and the attempt by the HCDE to oust Michael Wolfe. Which didn’t work, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, if nothing else this has the potential to be some entertaining political theater, so keep an eye on it.