Daugherty Says Lehmberg Should Resign

But county officials have no power to make that happen

Rosemary Lehmberg
Rosemary Lehmberg (Photo by John Anderson)

Aside from setting her office's budget and deciding whether to supplement her yearly state-set salary, Travis County commissioners have absolutely no authority over District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg – including no power to make her resign or to remove her from office, the court's lawyer said Tuesday morning.

The assessment was provided to the court by Executive Assistant County Attorney Jim Collins, in response to an item posted to this week's agenda by Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, exploring the "authority to respond to call for resignation or removal from office of Travis County District Attorney."

Although the court has no collective power to do anything, Collins said, that doesn't mean they each can't express their own opinion about what Lehmberg, arrested for drunk driving in April, should do to repent. To Daugherty, that means resigning. Although he respects her and likes her personally, Daugherty said it would be for the "betterment of the community" if she were to resign her post.

Lehmberg was arrested April 12 for driving drunk in Northwest Travis County. She pleaded guilty to the crime and did nearly half of a 45-day sentence in the county jail before being released and entering into treatment.

Other than Daugherty, there were just two speakers who suggested the same – including Kerry O'Brien, the civil attorney who was first to file a suit seeking her removal pursuant to an obscure provision of the Local Government Code that allows for the ouster of certain elected officials for incompetence, official misconduct, or "intoxication on or off duty." O'Brien's suit was dismissed and then re-filed by County Attorney David Escamilla who is responsible for representing the county in this matter, though O'Brien has banded together with 39 others in an attempt to intervene in that suit. Escamilla's lawsuit is pending.

O'Brien on Tuesday again said publicly that he is seeking Lehmberg's removal not for political reasons, but for moral reasons. She "forfeited her right" to be D.A., he said, and that he was there to "fight the fight" of the family of Courtney Griffin who was killed after she was hit in May 2011 by a car driven by Gabrielle Nestande, a former Capitol staffer. The allegation in that case was that Nestande was drunk when she hit Griffin and then fled the scene. In the end, however, Nestande was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide. Lehmberg was not in an accident, nor did she injure anyone, but still, he said, "we need a standard of conduct for our elected officials...that our kids can respect."

Although O'Brien claims his opinions are shared by a majority of Travis County voters – evidenced in part, he's previously noted, by the number of "likes" he's gotten on his Remove Rosemary Lehmberg Facebook page (currently, roughly 6,700) – he and another county resident were alone in expressing that opinion during the May 21 meeting. Speaking in support of Lehmberg were a handful of folks – including political consultants David Butts and Katie Naranjo, lawyer Ginny Agnew, former head of APD's victim services Ann Hutchison, and retired FBI Special Agent Chuck McCormick, who spoke passionately about his support for and trust in Lehmberg. He noted that those who work in law enforcement often develop signs of post-traumatic stress and will self-medicate to control symptoms – "we could be seeing that first hand," he suggested. In the end, he said that Lehmberg should be given a second chance to recover from what was clearly a mistake. "Rosemary is no different than any" of the rest of us, in that we all share "human fallibility," he said. Instead of focusing on whether she can be ousted, people should focus on the "restorative justice that Travis County is known internationally for," and on the "warrior ethos: accomplish your mission [of public safety], take care of your wounded, and leave no one behind."

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Courts, Travis County, Travis County Commissioners Court, Rosemary Lehmberg, Gerald Daugherty, DWI, removal suit, Chuck McCormick, Kerry O'Brien, David Escamilla, elections, police, criminal justice

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