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Lehmberg Sentenced to 45 Days in Jail

BAC almost three times legal limit
Jordan Smith, 10:30am, Fri. Apr. 19, 2013

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg this morning pleaded guilty to drunk driving and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. After being sentenced she was cuffed and led to booking by a Travis County Sheriff's deputy.

Lehmberg smiled to her co-workers and friends who gathered in the first two rows of seats in Judge Carlos Barrera's County Court-at-Law No. 8 just after 9:30am. Standing with her attorney David Sheppard, Lehmberg pleaded guilty after Barrera read the charge against her. Barrera then sentenced Lehmberg to 45 days in jail and a $4,000 fine – the maximum monetary fine for the Class A misdemeanor DWI charge. Lehmberg will also lose her driver's license for 180 days beginning May 23.

Lehmberg was arrested last Friday, April 12, and charged with drunken driving after a motorist called 911 shortly before 11pm to report an erratic driver on FM 620 near Comanche Trail. The driver of the car in question was Lehmberg, who told a sheriff's deputy that she'd had two vodka drinks earlier in the evening; an open container of vodka was found in the passenger compartment of the car, according to an arrest affidavit.

According to Sheppard, Lehmberg's first-time DWI charge was enhanced from what would have been a class B misdemeanor (punishable by up to six months in jail) to a class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to a year in jail) because her blood-alcohol content was .23 – nearly three times the legal limit. The charge is upped to a class A when BAC is greater than .15.

Lehmberg was released from jail early last Saturday, April 13, and the following day wrote a letter to County Attorney David Escamilla, whose office handles misdemeanor crimes, and to the county bench, saying that she would plead guilty to the crime and that she expected no leniency. Indeed, Sheppard said she was afforded no special treatment. "This is without a doubt the harshest sentence" a person would receive for a first-time DWI, Sheppard said.

Importantly, Sheppard said that stories about Lehmberg kicking and spitting at jailers last weekend are completely untrue. "She did not attempt to spit … that did not happen," he said. The story about Lehmberg being out of control at the jail – requiring restraints and a so-called "spit restraint" to be affixed to her face – was made public in a lawsuit that seeks Lehmberg's removal from office, under provisions of the Local Government Code, that was filed by employment and labor attorney Kerry O'Brien. Sheppard said that the jailers did attach the restraint to her face but that she was told it was being done to protect her identity at the jail.

Still, O'Brien said he felt a "moral duty" to file the suit. The county needs to take drunk driving far more seriously than it does now, he said, and if the city's top law enforcer is allowed to simply do her time without any real consequence it would signal that the county isn't taking seriously the problem of drinking and driving.

O'Brien said that he filed the lawsuit regardless of whether the accusations about what happened at the jail are accurate – and he said he believes his sources were accurate. The truth of the matter will likely be revealed when Escamilla's office releases video of Lehmberg's arrest, which is expected to happen next week. If he is wrong, O'Brien said, "then I owe her an apology."

By law, a district judge will be tasked with determining whether to allow the suit seeking Lehmberg's removal to go forward or whether to dismiss the filing &nash; a move that is not subject to appeal.

Sheppard reiterated Lehmberg's apology to her colleagues and to the community and said that she has no intention of leaving office. What happened was "a terrible mistake on her part," he said, but should not be allowed to overshadow her more than three decades of dedicated public service.

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