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Lehmberg takes stand, details night of drinking before arrest

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"I was more intoxicated than I could believe. Very intoxicated," is how Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg described her level of impairment on the night of her April drunken driving arrest.

Tuesday marks the second day of the civil trial that could force Lehmberg from office, ending a criminal justice career spanning more than three decades.

Lehmberg told the court that on the afternoon of April 13, she left work at 4:30 to go home and work on her taxes. She had at least two vodka sodas at home before driving to the Alamo Drafthouse in northwest Austin to see a movie. At the movie, she had two glasses of wine.

After that, Lehmberg drove to a liquor store off Highway 183 to buy a bottle of vodka, and a nearby convenience store to buy some sparkling water. She sat in her vehicle in the convenience store parking lot, drank two more vodka sodas and began to drive.

Lehmberg was stopped by Travis County Sheriff's deputies after a citizen called 911 to report that the driver of a Lexus driving down FM 620 was riding the brakes and swerving onto the shoulder of the road.

"I did not think I was too impaired to drive," Lehmberg told the court.

But when Lehmberg was arrested in the parking lot of a Steiner Ranch area church, she was combative with the deputies, using her position to threaten the deputies and cursing for her handcuffs to be removed.

Lehmberg said she doesn’t remember those details, but after reviewing the dash cam footage she realizes her behavior was “inappropriate and unacceptable.”

When asked repeatedly why the DA gave different stories to authorities during the night of the arrest about how much she had to drink and where she had been, Lehmberg just replied “because I was intoxicated.”

Much of Tuesday’s testimony revolved around how much alcohol Lehmberg consumes on a daily basis. The judge is only allowing evidence of alcohol consumption after her re-election as district attorney in November 2012.

Lehmberg said she didn’t have the coping skills to deal with a variety of issues going on in her life, including the death of one of her investigators the Sunday before her arrest, and she turned to alcohol.

She pleaded guilty to aggravated drunken driving two weeks after her arrest and served half of her 45-day jail sentence. On the stand, the DA called her time in jail a “degrading experience.

After her release Lehmberg stayed a treatment facility in Arizona. She said on the stand the last drink she had was on the plane to the rehabilitation center.

Addiction specialist Dr. Herbert Munden also testified to Lehmberg’s history of alcohol abuse. He told the court the DA had alcohol dependency without any physical dependence.
When Dr. Munden visited Lehmberg in jail, she told him she usually had two to three vodka drinks a day, but in the past five years, alcohol caused her to feel more irritable than relaxed.

After her arrest, Lehmberg faced mounting pressure from the community and some of her colleagues to resign. The DA’s repeated refusal to step down, however, had a statewide political impact. Gov. Rick Perry said if she did not forfeit her position, he would slash funding for the Public Integrity Unit -- a state agency operated through Lehmberg’s office that investigates white collar crime and political corruption.

Perry made good on his threat, and Lehmberg's refusal to step down laid the burden funding the PIU on Travis County Commissioners and the budget crunch and put some county employees out of a job.

When asked on the stand about the PIU, Lehmberg said the agency was much different this year due to the funding changes.

Lehmberg told the court that resigning would be the easy way out, and she would like to finish out her term. She began crying as she read her written public apology to the court.

Testimony continues Wednesday. When the trial is finished it will be up to visiting San Antonio judge David Peeples to rule in the case. If he removes the DA from her position, she can still file an appeal and receive a jury trial.

Click here to get caught up on what happened in the court room Monday.

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