Texas is among the reddest of red states in the union. Most counties in the state are controlled by Republicans. One of particular importance is controlled by the Democrats -- Travis County, home of the state capital of Austin. Because of that quirk of geography, this means that a prosecutor elected by a constituency completely out of step with the bulk of Texans gets to investigate anything he/she sees fit to investigate and prosecute anything he/she chooses to -- using state money to do so.
This has become quite important in recent years. The prosecution of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after then DA Ronnie Earle submitted the same evidence to multiple grand juries in a matter of weeks until he found one willing to indict is one example of how Texas Democrats have used the power of one local prosecutor to attack a political nemesis who was unbeatable at the polls is a classic example. Today's indictment of Governor Tom Delay at the behest of a special prosecutor is another example, given that it relates to Perry's effort to get a prosecutor whose actions were demonstrate her to be unfit for office to resign by using one of the few tools granted him by the state constitution -- the veto power.
Yeah, that's right -- Rick Perry has been indicted for vetoing the appropriation for the Public Accountability Office following Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg's arrest on drunk driving charges and her effort to use her position as DA to avoid that arrest.
A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two counts Friday, accusing him of abusing his veto power by threatening to withhold funding from the Travis County's public corruption unit if the district attorney did not resign following her drunken driving arrest.
The Travis County grand jury, led by special prosecutor Mike McCrum, indicted Perry on one count of abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony.
The punishment range for the first count is 5 to 99 years in prison and on the second count, 2 to 10 years in prison, McCrum said.
"I'm ready to go forward," McCrum said. Asked about the effect on Perry carrying out his duties or eyeing higher office, McCrum said, "I took into account we're talking about the governor of a state... When it gets down to it, the law is the law."
McCrum said he will meet with Perry's lawyer and the judge to set up a time for Perry to come before a court to be arraigned and be given notice of the charges against him. The date has not been set.
Calls to Perry's office and his lawyer were not immediately returned Friday evening.
Grand jurors for months have been looking into whether Perry violated the law last year when he said he'd kill funding for the Travis County district attorney's public corruption division unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned after a messy drunken-driving arrest.
Perry carried through on the veto threat when Lehmberg stayed on the job.
Now let's talk about Lehmberg's arrest.
On another spring night nearly two years later, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg found herself being pulled over around 10:45 p.m. by a Travis County deputy, who had been alerted that a vehicle was swerving erratically on FM 620. Glancing at the open bottle of vodka on the front seat, the officer asked her to step out of her car. Preserved for posterity on the dashboard video cam, Lehmberg’s slurred and surly response to the deputy’s field sobriety tests went viral immediately: “Oh, that’s cool. You have just ruined my career.”
* * *
As a prominent public figure responsible for prosecuting alleged wrongdoings by state officials, Lehmberg was subjected to a singularly harsh spotlight in the wake of her DWI arrest. Her field sobriety test was beamed from every TV newscast in Texas, and the police surveillance video of her being forcibly restrained in her cell became an overnight YouTube sensation. “The media wants good, meaty, juicy stories,” says Alan Bennett, chairman of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. In the instance of Rosemary Lehmberg, they got a banquet.
Bennett, who worked with Lehmberg at the DA’s office for several years, is sympathetic. “The only reason Rosemary’s case got all the attention is because she’s the elected DA. If she were just Jane Q. Citizen, it wouldn’t make the news at all.”
Lehmberg was lucky. She harmed no one but herself, the victim of a self-inflicted bullet of bad judgment. To many, her most serious offense was simply First Degree Irony. Others, though, insisted that she resign her office—including Gov. Rick Perry, who vetoed funding for the Public Integrity Unit, which is based in Lehmberg’s office, because she did not step down. Lehmberg served 20 days of her sentence, voluntarily sought treatment and announced she would not seek re-election. We reached out to Lehmberg in June, and she responded to questions via email in her first statements since undergoing rehabilitation. “I felt then, and do now, that I needed to answer for my mistake,” she says. “From my own personal experience, I can tell you that going to jail and serving the toughest sentence ever for a DWI was a difficult decision to make.”
“Jail is an unpleasant place,” she adds, “and I had 20 days to think about what I did. I learned a lot from going to jail and having gone through the system—I believe it will make me a better prosecutor. My time in treatment was a blessing.”
Now let's think about it -- the person in charge of DUI prosecutions was jailed for her own DUI. She refused to resign, but recognizes that the stench of hypocrisy and corruption here is such that she has no place serving another term. But now we see the governor charged with felonies because he called for her to step down from her position and used his constitutional authority to ensure that $7.5 million dollars of taxpayer money were not put into the hands of a dangerous drunk. The theory here is nuts!
Now please understand -- I am not a big Rick Perry fan. I didn't back him in the 2010 gubernatorial race after he tried to play doctor with the little girls of Texas via an Obamaesque abuse of his executive order power. I refused to back his presidential race in 2012 for that same reason, and because I considered him unprepared for job. While he has done a reasonably good job as governor in his current term, I still find his 2007 executive order to be a disqualifier for the presidency. But on this matter, I am firmly in Rick Perry's corner, and hope that the charges are dismissed with extreme prejudice by the judge in the case.
UPDATE: I was challenged on the drugged part of the title and a reference to Percocet in an earlier draft of this piece. I have been unable to locate my source on that material, so I have corrected the piece and make this acknowledgement of it.
UPDATE 2: Noah from Texpatriate sent me this message -- "Lehmberg is not in charge of prosecuting non-repeat DWIs such as hers. In Travis, all misdemeanors are actually by the COUNTY Attorney. It's an odd little quirk."
Of course, that still means she is in charge of prosecuting some DWI cases. But even if she were in charge of none of them, that still does not deal with the fact that t she attempted to use her position and connections to get out of the charges when arrested.