UPDATE: Lehmberg Trial Day Three: No One Sees You Drunk
BREAKING: Removal petition denied; Lehmberg keeps office
By Jordan Smith, 4:17PM, Wed. Dec. 11, 2013
UPDATE: Judge David Peeples just ruled that Rosemary Lehmberg will not be removed from office, denying the County Attorney's bid to see that happen.
After passionate closing arguments from both Assistant County Attorney Jim Collins and from Lehmberg's attorney Dan Richards, Peeples, a visiting judge tasked with handling the case, ruled that Lehmberg would not be removed. He did speak sternly to her about her behavior, however. "Ms. Lehmberg, I want to say something to you, but I'm not going to lecture you," he said. "The extent of intoxication was enormous and behavior that night was beyond the pale." Indeed, he suggested that she should hold onto the DVD of her arrest so that she can see exactly what a bad decision she made. But, he said, he declined to remove her from office as the county had asked him to do.
After the verdict Lehmberg made her way into the hall where she was surrounded by reporters. "I want to apologize again," she said, for her "inexcusable" behavior. "I just want to thank this community for giving me another chance," she continued. "I will work diligently to do the right thing, as I always have."
EARLIER: Morning three in the state's suit to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office was taken up by a string of well-respected veteran attorneys who each said they had never seen Lehmberg intoxicated and thought it would be bad for the county and its residents if she were removed from office.
Indeed, current district Judge David Wahlberg – a defense attorney elected to the bench last November (he replaced veteran Judge Mike Lynch who also testified for Lehmberg's defense) – testified that should Lehmberg be removed from office it would cause "almost incalculable harm" to the county's criminal justice system.
Nonetheless, the county is seeking to remove Lehmberg pursuant to an obscure provision of the Local Government Code that allows for the removal of certain public officials for a single incident of public drunkenness. Lehmberg was arrested April 12 for DWI, pled guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail (and a $4,000 fine), before going into in-patient alcohol treatment at Arizona's Sierra Tucson facility.
None of the witnesses called by the defense – each of them attorneys with years of experience and years of working with Lehmberg under their belts – said they'd ever seen Lehmberg intoxicated or in any way impaired. And each said they found her to be the best D.A. they'd ever worked with – Lehmberg makes decisions carefully, and with "sound legal support," Travis County First Assistant D.A. John Neal testified. "I cannot see a benefit to the citizens of Travis County, the the defense bar and their clients" if Lehmberg was removed, he said.
Apparently County Attorney David Escamilla doesn't know a particularly good reason for Lehmberg's removal either – at least not one that he could articulate during painful-to-watch portions of a videotaped deposition played in court early Wednesday afternoon. He declined to answer questions about his personal opinions, which is understandable, but also had a hard time answering questions in his capacity as "relator" – the person responsible for filing the removal suit. He said, for example, that he has no evidence that Lehmberg can't continue to perform the duties of her office. Still, he said that when he filed the suit, as relator, he felt he had the legal basis to seek removal.
Lehmberg's attorneys peppered Escamilla with questions about why his office hasn't filed for removal of other elected officials popped for alcohol offenses – including for the removal of County Judge Sam Biscoe. Among the reasons Escamilla cited were that Biscoe didn't plead guilty and there was no evidence – no blood test or breathalyzer results – that he was actually drunk.
Closing arguments are about to begin in the case.