Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Waco

Grand jury to hear Perry, Lehmberg criminal complaints

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The grand jury tasked with deciding if two top Texas officials--Governor Rick Perry and Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg-- will face criminal trials is set to be seated Oct. 1.

Both cases, to be reviewed separately, stem from the Lehmberg's drunken driving arrest last April.

The DA’s conduct during her arrest and booking sparked Gov. Rick Perry to threaten to veto funding for the state's Public Integrity Unit, citing Lehmberg’s refusal to resign from office. Historically, the Travis County DA heads the unit, which investigates public corruption cases. Perry made good on his threat, which resulted in millions of dollars stripped from the PIU and left 31 county jobs in peril.

Local watchdog group Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint against Perry. The group’s director, Craig McDonald, said Perry’s threat amounts to coercion, bribery, abuse of power and official oppression.

"The governor actually crossed the line from bullying into illegal behavior,” McDonald told YNN last month. “These statutes say the governor cannot use his office in an official capacity to threaten an action or coerce an action of another person."

The 12-member jury panel, currently being selected this week, will also investigate allegations of obstruction of justice against Lehmberg.

Videos of her arrest in booking showed the DA demanding to speak with Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, threatening jail staff and attempting to leverage her position as district attorney for special treatment. Lehmberg pleaded guilty to aggravated drunken driving a few weeks later, and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.

Rick Reed, a former colleague of Lehmberg’s, says her conduct qualifies as official misconduct and is grounds to have her removed from office.

Both cases will be heard in Travis County’s 390th District Court, with visiting judge Robert Richardson of presiding. Richardson has appointed special prosecutor Michael McCrum of San Antonio to the Perry case.

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