Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg pleaded guilty Friday to driving while intoxicated and went to jail in handcuffs a week after authorities say she was driving dangerously with an open bottle of vodka in her car.
At jail in the early morning hours after her arrest, she was uncooperative and aggressive and had to be restrained with handcuffs and leg irons, according to jail records. Video footage from the morning she was booked shows her asking for Sheriff Greg Hamilton.
“He’s not going to let me sit in jail all night,” she said. “That’s crazy.”
She left the packed courtroom quietly on Friday to start serving her sentence: 45 days in jail and a $4,000 fine under a plea agreement.
Beginning May 23, her license will also be suspended for 180 days. She waived her right to appeal.
Though the county attorney’s office said her punishment was among the highest for a first-time DWI offense, it also described her behavior in custody last week as “deplorable.” Lehmberg, who has worked for the district attorney’s office since 1976, says she will not step down from office. But her political future is cloudy as critics attack her arrest and her behavior in jail, and as the video and audio footage of her booking circulate.
The recordings show her resisting officers, complaining that they’re ruining her political career and repeatedly asking if they had called “Greg.” At one point, as officers are trying to remove Lehmberg’s jewelry, she says, “Y’all are gonna be in jail, not me.”
After she left the courtroom Friday, Lehmberg’s attorney, David Sheppard, said she will “absolutely not” resign.
“She runs probably the best district attorney’s office in the state of Texas, if not the nation,” he said. “This is a terrible mistake on her part, but it really should not override the fact that she has served the citizens of this county so well for so long.”
In a statement, the district attorney’s office said the senior staff would run the office in Lehmberg’s absence. Nearly 90 assistant attorneys work there.
Though she was sentenced to 45 days in jail, she could serve half of that under a law that gives credit for good behavior, a sheriff’s spokesman said.
Late April 12, Travis County sheriff’s deputies arrested Lehmberg, 63, 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 the bottle of vodka on the passenger seat of her four-door Lexus, 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.
After the deputies placed her in restraints at the jail, she stayed in them from about 1:30 until about 3:45 a.m., according to jail records.
In video footage, Lehmberg can also be seen wearing what’s called a “spit mask,” but the reports don’t suggest that she tried to spit or kick at officers, as a petition filed in Travis County district court to remove her from office alleges. Sheppard denied that she assaulted officers in that way, and in video footage one officer can be heard explaining that they’re putting the mask on her so no one will recognize her as they wheel her down the hallway in a restraint chair.
Though a first-time drunken driving offense is ordinarily a Class B misdemeanor, the charge was enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor because of her high blood alcohol level. The charge carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Sheppard said Lehmberg’s punishment is “without doubt” the harshest anybody has received for a first-offense DWI in Travis County history.
The guilty plea comes as no surprise. In a letter sent to Travis County Attorney David Escamilla on Sunday, Lehmberg said that she was prepared to make an “unconditional” guilty plea and that she would accept any jail time.
But unless she gets in a fight, violates jail rules or misbehaves in another way, sheriff’s spokesman Roger Wade said Lehmberg will get two days’ credit for every day served, cutting her jail time in half. Wade said he didn’t know if Lehmberg is eligible to work at the jail, in which case she could get three days’ credit for every day served.
Sheppard wouldn’t answer questions about the case Friday evening.
In a statement, Escamilla said Lehmberg’s punishment shows that “justice is blind in Travis County.”
“We treat all defendants equally and no one is above the law,” he said.