Tag Archives: Travis County DA

Politics keeps coming around


Rick Perry quite famously — at least was in Texas — declared that a Travis County grand jury indicted him only for political reasons.

The former governor faced charges of abuse of power and coercion of a public official after a Travis County jury charged him with those two felonies.

Perry would have none of it. He blamed it on Travis County Democrats who comprise the bulk of the voting population in the county where the state’s capital city of Austin is located.

Hey, he had demanded that the district attorney, also a Democrat, resign after she got caught driving drunk. Rosemary Lehmberg didn’t quit. So Perry vetoed money appropriated for her office to run the Public Integrity Unit.

Politics, politics, politics.

So, Perry played the politics game while condemning the indictments that came down.

What happened next might deserve a bit of scrutiny.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today dismissed the remaining indictment against Perry, the one accusing him of abuse of power. He acted within the law when he vetoed the money for the DA’s office, the court said.

Did politics determine that decision? Well, I don’t know.

The state’s highest criminal appellate court comprises all Republicans. The same party to which Perry belongs.

Was the CCA decision to dismiss the indictment as politically motivated as the grand jury’s decision to indict the governor?

Perry said so when the grand jury returned the indictment. He’s not going to say the same thing about his political brethren on the state’s top criminal court.

Still, isn’t it a question worth pondering?



Respect this opinion … while disagreeing with it


Rick Perry is free at last!

Free of the indictment that he said was politically motivated. Free of the cloud that threatened to rain buckets of trouble all over him. Free of the snickering from his foes.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal appellate court, has dismissed the indictment that charged the former governor with abuse of power. A lower court had tossed out another indictment that charged Perry with coercion of a public official.

This is one of the decisions that one can respect while disagreeing with the findings.

Texas Tribune story.

The system did its job.

A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry on charges of abuse of power over his veto of money for the Public Integrity Unit run out of the Travis County district attorney’s office. The DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, had pleaded guilty to drunken driving and served some time in jail. Perry said she should resign and if she didn’t he would veto money for the Public Integrity Unit, which is charged with investigating wrongdoing among public officials.

Lehmberg should have quit. But she didn’t. So Perry followed through on his threat and vetoed the money. I must add here that Lehmberg is a Democrat, while Perry is a Republican.

So, the grand jury indicted him — while Perry was finishing up his stint as governor and preparing to run for president of the United States. Perry accused the grand jury of playing politics. Travis County is a Democratic bastion; Perry, of course, is a Republican. I’ll point out, too, that the special prosecutor who presented the case to the grand jury also is a Republican.

I actually thought the lesser of the charges — the coercion part — had more staying power. Silly me. I didn’t expect a lower court to toss that one first.

I never liked the idea of a governor telling an elected county official to quit. That wasn’t his call to make, given that the district attorney is answerable only to the people who elected her. Gov. Perry tried to bully Lehmberg into doing his bidding and that — to my way of thinking — is fundamentally wrong.

As for the veto itself, the governor could have — should have — simply vetoed the money appropriated for the integrity unit without the fanfare he attached to it. That’s not the Perry modus operandi, however. He sought to make a show of it, which also is wrong — but not illegal, according to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

As for the politics of this case … if the governor alleged that the grand jury indictment was motivated by politics because Travis County comprises mostly Democrats, is it fair to wonder whether the top appellate court dismissal occurred because all its members are Republicans?

Hey, I’m just thinking out loud.

So, the case is over.

Now we can all turn our attention to the Greatest Show on Earth, which would be the Republican Party presidential primary campaign. Let’s bring out the clowns!

Is Austin a ‘thorn’ in the Republicans’ side?

An interesting back story is profiled by an Associated Press story about how Texas Republicans are trying — finally — to remove what some have called a “thorn” in the GOP side.

The city of Austin is just a pain in the Republicans’ rear end.

This liberal bastion — nicknamed by some as The People’s Republic of Austin — keeps electing progressive politicians, which of course is the city’s prerogative. Why not? The Texas capital city is thriving. Its population is booming with high-tech employees, educators and learned professionals moving there.

Someone is doing something right there. About the most serious gripe one hears about Austin is the traffic, worsened by the fact that it’s the largest city in the country with just a single interstate highway coursing through it.

Texas Republicans, though — who control every statewide office in Texas and comprise a super-majority in the Legislature — have had enough of those liberals who populate public offices in Austin and Travis County.


As the story notes, the “last straw” was the Travis County grand jury’s indictment of then-Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts: abuse of power and coercion of a public official.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s office runs the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates allegations of wrong doing by state officials. Lehmberg, though, got herself into a jam in 2013 when she pleaded guilty to drunken driving. She should have quit, but didn’t. Perry then insisted that she quit. Still, she didn’t. Then he threatened to withhold money appropriated by the Legislature for the Public Integrity Unit if she didn’t step down. She stayed. Then he vetoed the money.

The grand jury said he shouldn’t have done it that way. Thus, the indictment.

The 2015 Legislature has taken action against Austin. The Public Integrity Unit has been moved out of the DA’s office and put under the authority of the Texas Rangers, an arm of the Department of Public Safety, whose head is appointed by, um, the governor, who now happens to be Republican Greg Abbott.

Oh, but hey. They’re going to take politics out of it, isn’t that right?

Sure thing.

Meanwhile, Austin and Travis County voters will get to continue electing politicians more to their liking.

Keep it up, folks.


Perry faces big hurdles

Ross Ramsey is about as smart a Texas political analyst as there is, and he’s laid out three things Rick Perry must do to wage an effective campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Ramsey, writing for the Texas Tribune, listed them in this order: (1) stay the course while the field thins out; (2) get rid of the prosecutor who’s trying to convict him of abuse of power; (3) do well in the debates.

If Ramsey was listing them in order of importance, I’d flip the first and second points.


Those “pesky prosecutors” represent every possible stumbling block for the former Texas governor.

Perry, who today went to Addison to announce his candidacy, appears to the be the first major candidate ever to run for president while facing felony indictment. A Travis County grand jury indicted him for abuse of power and coercion of a public official in 2014.

The history is out there. Ramsey goes through it in the link attached here.

If Perry cannot shake those prosecutors, then it’s game over.

And by “shaking” them, he must get the indictments tossed out.

As Ramsey notes: “Perry and his legal team have argued that the case is a political one brought by liberal prosecutors in a liberal county to a liberal grand jury, that his veto was legal, and that the whole thing was designed to spoil his political future.”

The veto might have been legal, but it also was done with considerable public-relations fanfare, which is why — in my view — the coercion charge might be the one that sticks more stubbornly than the abuse of power allegation.

All the then-governor had to do was veto the money appropriated to the Public Integrity Unit without making such a public case about the district attorney’s arrest for drunken driving and his public threat to veto the money if she didn’t quit her job as Travis County DA.

Was it legal? Sure. Was it a matter of coercion? Yes to that, too … allegedly.

Ramsey is correct on this other point: “The better (Perry) does, the bigger the indictment obstacle becomes. It’s a bother now. It’s a potential deal-breaker if he becomes a real contender.”


Here we go again, Gov. Perry

Rachel Maddow is no fan of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

There. I’ve stipulated what many folks know already about the liberal commentator for MSNBC.

That all said, she noted Friday night that Perry is about to break another “glass ceiling” for Republican presidential candidates. He’s about to become the first candidate under felony indictment to seek his party’s presidential nomination. He’ll make his announcement on June 4.

The Texas Tribune has posted a fascinating analysis on the pluses and minuses of a Perry presidential campaign.


You remember the indictment, yes? A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry in 2014 on charges of abuse of power and coercion when he tried to get the Democratic Travis County district attorney to resign after she pleaded guilty to drunken driving; if she quit, he’d then let the DA’s Public Integrity Unit have the money appropriated by the Legislature. She didn’t quit. So Perry vetoed the money.

The grand jury said that sequence constituted an indictable offense.

Hey, that doesn’t matter. He’s going to run for the presidency a second time, hoping that all will be forgiven from his first — and disastrous — run for the White House in 2012; he actually lasted only a few days into 2012, as he dropped out of the race in January of that year.

Will the indictment hold him back? Will it matter to GOP voters who are looking for a right-wing darling to embrace as an alternative to squishy moderates such as Jeb Bush, Rob Portmand, John Kasich, Lindsey Graham or Chris Christie? All of those guys — and the others who already have declared their intentions to run or are about to declare them — will seek to paint themselves as hard-core conservatives.

Perry, though, is the real thing … he says.

He’s got this chink in his conservative armor, however. It’s immigration. You see, as the governor of a border state for a bazillion years, he has this idea that we really ought to have immigration reform. He also favors something akin to President Obama’s DREAM Act, which grants amnesty to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents, when they were children. And … he also favors granting in-state college tuition waivers to those very illegal immigrants.

That area is where I happen to agree with the former governor.

The rest of it? No thanks.

Plus, he’s got that indictment matter to settle before he thinks about taking the presidential oath on Jan. 20, 2017.

Something tells me it won’t come to that.


Democrats backing embattled GOP Gov. Perry

A most interesting turn of events has occurred in the case involving whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry abused the powers of his office when he bullied a Travis County prosecutor who got arrested for drunken driving.

Several prominent Democratic lawyers and politicians have signed an amicus brief asking that the indictments against the Republican governor be tossed. They contend the indictments don’t hold up under the state’s separation of powers doctrine spelled out in the state constitution.


The Texas Tribune reported the brief today and lays out the issue as presented by this high-powered team of legal eagles.

The Democrats include former Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez, former state Sen. (and former Texas Tech Chancellor) John Montford and the founder of the Innocence Project, one Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo.

The big hitters also include a couple of well-known former U.S. solicitors general, Ted Olson and Kenneth Starr, who served Republican presidents George W. and George H.W. Bush.

My own take is that the second indictment, the lesser felony, is the one that holds up.

At issue are the twin indictments by the Travis County grand jury. They allege that the governor abused his power by threatening to veto money appropriated for the Public Integrity Unit run by the Travis County district attorney’s office. The DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, pleaded guilty to DUI, served her jail time, but didn’t quit her office, as Perry had demanded. Thus, the veto threat. Lehmberg, a Democrat, is still in office.

Perry vetoed the money.

The second indictment accuses the governor of coercion, which by my reckoning is the stronger count. He bullied the DA, using his influence to seek her resignation. She was elected by the voters of Travis County and one has to wonder why the governor took such an interest in this particular DUI case.

Well, the answer is pure politics; Lehmberg is a Democrat, Perry is a Republican.

The governor can take heart in the bipartisan support he’s acquired in fighting this case.

I look forward to seeing how the court rules on this amicus brief.

Stay tuned. The fur is going to fly.

Perry needs to settle this indictment thing quickly

Rick Perry will be out of a job in January.

It’s becoming clear he wants to keep working. In the White House. As president of the United States.

First things first for the lame-duck Texas Republican governor. He’s got this indictment thing hanging over his head. As Politico reports, time is not his friend as he prepares — possibly? — to run for president in 2016.


A Travis County grand jury has indicted him on two counts of abuse of power and coercion of a public official, who happens to be a Democratic district attorney who runs the public integrity unit and who, by the way, got busted for drunk driving. Perry demanded her resignation, threatened to veto money for her office. She didn’t quit and Perry carried out his threat.

The grand jury said he tried to coerce the DA into quitting and bullied her with his public demands for her resignation.

Politico reports that Perry has been buoyed by conservative support for him since the indictment. And that’s a surprise?

There’s also been bipartisan skepticism about the indictment, which also has lifted the governor’s spirits. That’s a real surprise.

Perry’s lawyers have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit. Good luck with that.

Absent a summary dismissal, this case could drag on for a bit, perhaps into the early-onset of the 2016 presidential primary campaign.

Would a leading politician under indictment be the kind of individual you’d want to lead your presidential ticket?

I think not.

Governor had no business demanding resignation

Dave Kemp is a friend of mine who happens to be a lawyer who works in the public sector.

He knows Texas law better than most folks, including me. He put something on Facebook today about Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment that is worth sharing here.

Kemp writes: “There is a lot of spin going on involving the Governor’s felony indictments. Here are my observations: 1. Whether or not the Travis County DA should have resigned is not the question. The question is did the governor violate the Texas Penal Code by trying to force her to resign. Therefore, Perry should stop trashing Ms. Lehmberg, who has paid the price for her own criminal conduct – she pled guilty and served jail time. And a removal suit against her was unsuccessful. So focus on your own conduct, Governor. 2. What business it is of the governor if the DA doesn’t resign? That’s what elections and removal suits are for. The governor had no responsibility for the DA’s conduct. We must conclude that at best he was using bullying tactics that he would condemn if a Washington politician tried using. 3. What collateral damage did the governor do by cutting the funding for the Public Integrity Unit? It certainly didn’t harm the DA. But it could have harmed other criminal investigations. The veto was an irresponsible act.”

The most interesting element in this post is contained smack in the middle of it.

“What business is it of the governor if the DA doesn’t resign? That’s what elections and removal suits are for.”

A grand jury indicted Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power and coercion. He demanded that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg resign after her drunk-driving conviction. If she didn’t do as he demanded, he then threatened to veto money for the public integrity unit her office operates. She didn’t quit; he vetoed the money.

Kemp’s point is a valid one.

Gov. Perry became entangled in what essentially is a local political matter. I agree that Lehmberg behaved badly; she broke the law and should have resigned. I said so, too, at the time. She didn’t listen to me, either.

However, for the governor to then carry this fight further speaks to political bullying.

It’s been reported that other DAs have been accused of drunk driving, but we heard nary a peep out of the governor’s office. This one is different. Lehmberg is a Democrat, Perry is a Republican, and Lehmberg’s office was looking into some allegations against key GOP allies of the governor.

It’s been speculated that Perry’s interest in Lehmberg’s drunk-driving case had everything to do with how he could remove a partisan nemesis.

Yes, politics can be a nasty affair. I’m betting Gov. Perry is going to learn that lesson the hard way.




Judge to Perry: Nix that threat talk, governor

The Rick Perry Story has taken another strange twist.

A judge has warned that the Texas governor might be violating the law by threatening grand jurors who indicted him this past week on charges of abuse of power and coercion.


Judge Julie Kocurek of the 309th District Court, admonished the governor for saying this: “I am confident we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and that those responsible will be held to account.”

The grand jury indicted Perry on felony charges involving his veto of money for the public integrity unit run by Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, who had been convicted of drunk driving. Perry demanded her resignation; she refused to quit; she served her time in jail; Perry vetoed the funds.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the only people Perry could be threatening would be the grand jury, the judge and the prosecutor. Kocurek, a Democrat, says Perry’s statement could be construed as a violation of state law.

As the American-Statesman reports: “The Texas Penal Code that outlaws obstruction and retaliation says that anyone who ‘intentionally or knowingly harms or threatens to harm’ a grand juror faces a second degree felony, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.”

I once served on a grand jury in Randall County. We all took an oath to do our job with due diligence and we promised to be faithful to state law and the state Constitution. Of course, we didn’t have any case that approached the level of interest and controversy as this one in Travis County.

Still, if I were a grand juror who did my job faithfully and diligently, I would take extreme exception to what the governor has threatened.

The grand jury would be “held to account”? For what, doing its job?

The governor ought to heed the judge’s warning … and keep his mouth shut.

Partisan divide develops in Perry case

It took barely an instant for the partisan divide to present itself in the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

A Travis County grand jury has indicted Perry on two felony counts involving abuse of power regarding the drunk-driving arrest of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. As Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune reports, the politics of this matter plays more heavily perhaps than the actual alleged crime.


What’s fascinating to me, though, is how Perry supporters are linking what Perry is accused of doing to what Lehmberg actually did, and served time for doing it.

Perry is accused of coercing Lehmberg to quit after her DWI conviction. He threatened publicly to veto an appropriation for the public integrity unit she runs out of her office in Austin. He blustered and sought to bully the DA, which Ramsey notes is likely what got him into trouble with the grand jury.

Lehmberg did her time, 45 days in jail. She didn’t quit, although she should have left office. By my way of thinking, a prosecutor who sends drunk drivers to jail loses his or her moral authority when he or she is convicted of the very same crime. Lehmberg, though, isn’t running for re-election, so she’ll be gone too.

The two incidents, though, are not related. One relates to bad behavior off the clock; the other involves alleged criminal behavior in the performance of his public duties.

Will this indictment have an impact on Perry’s reported interest in running for president in 2016? Yeah, it will. No doubt about it. Take a gander at Ramsey’s analysis. My hunch is that Perry’s going to give serious thought to ending his political career when he leaves office at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, let’s not confuse the issue by suggesting that the DA’s decision to stay on the job has anything to do with what Perry is accused of doing.