With Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg poised to leave jail after a drunken-driving conviction, a state lawmaker promised to continue his quest to strip her office of funding as Texas’ ethics watchdog.
State Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican, tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to amend a bill and cut off money to the state-funded Public Integrity Unit until Lehmberg resigns. King said he “has several other bills the amendment can be put on to” before the legislative session ends May 27.
“This is not a Republican or a Democrat amendment,” King said Wednesday. “It’s about the fact that her behavior during and after her arrest demonstrates an attitude and a lack of character that a district attorney — probably the most powerful district attorney in Texas — should not have.”
“How can she prosecute DWIs now, after she has shown a disrespect for that law? How can she be involved in plea-bargaining cases, where she offers to let an elected official resign from office? How can she do her job?”
“District attorneys should be held to higher standards.”
The comments came as Lehmberg, sentenced to 45 days behind bars on April 19 after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated, was scheduled to be released from jail Thursday.
Lehmberg was able to serve about half that time under a law giving two days credit for good behavior for every day served, said Roger Wade, a spokesman for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.
Although some inmates are able to to earn three days credit for each day served if they work while incarcerated, Wade said Lehmberg didn’t qualify. He declined to elaborate.
Lehmberg also was fined $4,000 and her driver’s license was suspended for 180 days under a plea agreement.
Travis County sheriff’s deputies arrested Lehmberg, 63, on April 12 after a witness called 911 to report seeing a car driving for about a mile in a bike lane, swerving and veering into oncoming traffic, according to an arrest affidavit.
Deputies found a bottle of vodka on the passenger seat of her car, the affidavit says.
An analysis of a blood sample later showed her blood-alcohol level was .239 — nearly three times the legal limit for driving.
Wade said he didn’t know what time Lehmberg would be released, but that it could be any time after midnight Wednesday.
Lehmberg’s office didn’t respond to questions Thursday about whether she continued to be paid while she was in jail and when she will return to work.
An online petition at Change.org on Wednesday sought to convince Lehmberg to stay in office.
Lehmberg faces a lawsuit that seeks to determine whether her drunken driving was habitual or if the recent arrest was the result of a one-time event. If the case proceeds, a jury could decide her future in the district attorney’s office.
King, an attorney, former justice of the peace and 15-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department, said he plans to continue trying to attach his amendment to cut off state funding for the Public Integrity Unit until Lehmberg resigns.
The unit is the state’s primary ethics enforcer of wrongdoing by state public officials. Funded by the state, the unit by law is part of the Travis County district attorney’s office.
King said he believes he has the votes to attach the amendment to one of several other bills before the legislative session ends.
If his amendment were to become law, King said it would take effect in September and affect about $3.7 million in funding from the state — which Travis County officials could pay themselves if they wanted to keep the unit in operation.