Criminal Justice

Texas governor faces grand jury probe for vetoing unit's funding after DA's drunken-driving arrest


No one, including a Texas district attorney, questions that she made a mistake by drinking and driving last year.

But now grand jurors in Austin are being asked to determine whether the state’s governor, Rick Perry, violated the law, too. Their probe focuses on whether Perry, by vetoing funding to the public corruption division overseen by Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, violated state law by pressuring her—after her arrest—to quit her job, according to the San Antonio Express-News and the Volokh Conspiracy.

Specifically, Perry reduced to zero the two-year, $7.5 million budget of the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, headed by Lehmberg, which serves as a watchdog over government misconduct statewide. At issue is whether Perry, a Republican, did so to pressure the Democrat DA, who underwent alcohol treatment and publicly apologized after her arrest, into giving up her elected post. Some contend that such conduct by the governor, if proven, would amount to illegal bribery and/or coercion.

“We were convinced that Perry stepped over the line,” Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice told Time Warner Cable. “He went from bullying to law-breaking.”

Perry, through a spokesman, has said he appropriately exercised his powers under the state constitution and did nothing wrong. “The person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence,” he said at the time he exercised his line-item budget veto.

Attorney Michael McCrum of San Antonio is serving as special prosecutor in the case. He declined a request for comment in what observers describe as a highly unusual case, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A number of observers are dubious that Perry’s conduct could have violated the law. “It would be a novel use of the bribery statute,” law professor Susan Klein of the University of Texas told the WSJ. The governor’s didn’t appear to offer the sort of direct benefit to Lehmberg that would be required to prove a bribery case, Klein explained.

A spokeswoman for the governor declined to say Friday whether he has been subpoenaed in the case, citing grand jury confidentiality, but promised his cooperation, the Associated Press reports.

Earlier last week, Lehmberg told reporters that a personal attorney for Perry had been inquiring about whether the governor’s aides could enter the grand jury room privately through the DA’s offices.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “‘Friends of Rosemary’ file amicus brief seeking to keep DA in office after 45-day DWI sentence”

KTBC: “Dash cam video of Travis Co. DA’s arrest released”

KVUE: “Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg allowed to keep job “

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