Charlie Baird vs. Rosemary Lehmberg
If the federal courts ever resolve the redistricting disputes delaying the Texas primaries, Travis County Democratic voters will be nominating a district attorney (no Republicans have filed). Retired District Judge Charlie Baird is challenging incumbent Rosemary Lehmberg, seeking her second four-year term, in what already has the makings of a fiery contest. Both candidates are richly experienced and qualified, and neither one minces words on the campaign trail. In his career, Baird has been a district judge, a visiting justice on state appeals courts, and a professor of law. Beginning in 1990, most importantly, he served two terms on the Court of Criminal Appeals, where he was a strong and independent voice for both reason and justice. Lehmberg joined the District Attorney's Office in 1976, where she has served as director of the career criminal, major crimes, public integrity, and family justice divisions, and was a founder of the county's Center for Child Protection. She became first assistant D.A. in 1997 and was elected to her current position in 2008, assuming the office in January 2009.
Baird says that Lehmberg's long experience has made her an institutional defender of an office needing fundamental change; Lehmberg responds that most of Baird's proposals are both impractical and misdirected.
In December, we sat down with Baird and then Lehmberg for lengthy conversations about criminal justice, their records, the District Attorney's Office and their competing perspectives about its future, and how each would approach the job going forward. The conversations addressed arrest intake review, diversion programs, conviction integrity matters, racial imbalance in the criminal justice system, the death penalty, and much more. Published here is the full versions of the interviews, where they provide a more complete picture of the major issues facing the D.A.'s Office. (For more on the race, see "Point Austin.")