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Lehmberg to stay in office, judge denies petition for removal

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TWC News: Lehmberg to stay in office, judge denies petition for removal
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Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg will remain in office, visiting judge David Peeples ruled Wednesday.

In April, Lehmberg was arrested for driving while intoxicated after her Lexus was spotted swerving along RR 620 in northwest Austin. A rare Texas statute cites intoxication alone as grounds for removal from office on the county level. But after three days of trial in civil court, Peeples denied that petition.

After the verdict, Lehmberg hugged her attorneys and apologized again for her arrest.

“I am relieved. This has been a long eight months,” Lehmberg said. “I want to apologize again for my behavior. I think I have said over and over again it was inexcusable and I have tried to do everything I can to fix it and I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure I will never repeat of that kind of conduct.”

Before the ruling Wednesday afternoon, judges and attorneys who work with Lehmberg took the stand to vouch for her vitality as a district attorney and community leader.

Many witnesses, such as Judge Davis Wahlberg, told the court they had never seen Lehmberg impaired, calling Lehmberg an “an outstanding public servant.”

Attorney Wayne Meissner said Lehmberg had been a dedicated district attorney and maintained professionalism in the office after her arrest. He told the court it would be a “catastrophe” if she were removed from office.

After similar testimony from the first four witnesses of the day, visiting Judge David Peeples told Lehmberg’s defense team that they had all “pretty well reinforced each other.”

That is until Travis County Attorney David Escamilla took the stand, who formally filed the petition against Lehmberg.

Escamilla said he had never seen the district attorney impaired or drinking, but when asked if he thought she should be removed, he said, "I believed that the legal standard had been met and by signing, I was asking for her to be removed.”

The defense called Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo to the stand, but he was traveling at the time and the judge refused to wait for his return. Lehmberg’s attorney said if the chief was in court, he would have testified that Lehmberg’s removal from office would be a disservice to the community.

During closing arguments, Executive Assistant County Attorney James Collins detailed the amount of alcohol Lehmberg drank on the night of her arrest. Early testimony revealed Lehmberg had two drinks at home before driving to a movie theater in northwest Austin where she had two glasses of wine.

After the movie, she drove to a liquor store for a bottle of vodka and stopped at a nearby convenience store for sparkling water. In the parking lot of that store, she had two more vodka sodas in her car and then began to drive. She was pulled over later that evening after a driver observed her erratic driving on RR 620.

Calculating Lehmberg’s receipts from Twin Liquors submitted into evidence, Collins said Lehmberg spent $1,183 on vodka, averaging seven ounces a day.

Collins pointed to the district attorney's behavior the night of the arrest. Testimony and video footage revealed Lehmberg was combative with authorities, kicking, cursing and threatening the jobs of law enforcement officials. During Tuesday’s testimony, Lehmberg admitted she lied to sheriff deputies and jail officials about how much she drank that night.

“The question is whether it's okay to know we have a DA that lies,” Collins said.

If the district attorney did not leave her office, Collins said, it would “injure the public interest.”

But Lehmberg’s attorney, Dan Richards, said the statute the petition was filed on is expired and created during the Prohibition era. He told the judge Lehmberg had taken responsibility for her actions.

“The elected official I want is the one that's made the mistake and took responsibility for it,” Richards said. “I'm a believer in redemption, I'm a believer in Miss Lehmberg and I'm a believer in recovery.”

Lehmberg's released this statement after the ruling:

"I appreciate the thoughtful attention Judge Peeples gave my case. I am relieved and thankful that the process is over.

I was fortunate to have the highly professional assistance of Dan and Clark Richards, Karina Esparza, Catherine Mauzy and Chuck Herring. I will be forever grateful to them.

I appreciate the many supporters, particularly within my office, who encouraged me along the way.

I deeply regret my actions on April 12th and have taken full responsibility. I am committed to carrying out my responsibilities as District Attorney and to continue serving the voters of Travis County."

Watch Lehmberg's full address after the ruling in the video below.

TWC News: Lehmberg to stay in office, judge denies petition for removal
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