The legal proceedings in the most notorious DWI case in the history of Travis County took yet another turn last week, as the first stage of a civil jury trial of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, scheduled to begin on Oct. 21, was rendered moot. The trial had been intended to determine whether 1) Lehmberg had been guilty of public intoxication and 2) that drunkenness would constitute sufficient grounds for her removal from office. After a pre-trial phone conference, appointed Judge David Peeples ruled that – since Lehmberg had already pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while intoxicated and served her sentence in the county jail – there was no issue for the jury to hear, and that the judge himself would determine in a bifurcated proceeding whether her impairment constitutes grounds for removal from office. As the law reads, Peeples "may" rule that she should be removed, but he is not required to do so.
Although Lehmberg's defense stipulated that she had indeed been intoxicated, she had been prepared to present testimony that she has continued to perform well as district attorney, and that "alcohol has never had any adverse impact" on her work as D.A. Among her intended witnesses were her predecessor Ronnie Earle, District Judge Brenda Kennedy, Asst. D.A. John Neal, and District Judge David Wahlberg. The lawsuit itself was brought by Travis County Attorney David Escamilla; both parties agreed to waive the right to a jury trial, but Lehmberg reserved certain appeal rights on the judge's rulings. Specifically, should a higher court overrule Peeples on the question of a jury trial for removal, both sides agreed to a remand for a jury trial.
Peeples is expected to hear evidence in December on the question of grounds for removal; based on documents filed with the court, Escamilla's office may intend to argue that Lehmberg's DWI may be evidence of "habitual drunkenness," also cited as grounds for removal in case law.
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