Rosemary Lehmberg

At a press conference Wednesday, former Gov. Rick Perry said he would continue to fight against felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Former Governor Rick Perry said his recent indictment will not derail the possibility of a 2016 presidential campaign. 

Perry discussed his future plans at a press conference Wednesday, which he held after District Judge Bert Richardson refused to drop felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant against Perry. Perry said he will continue to contest his two felony indictments. 

The indictments came as a result of Perry’s decision to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. In June 2013, Perry threatened to veto the funding if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not step down from her position after her drunken driving conviction in April 2013. The former governor and his attorneys claim Perry’s actions because Texas law grants the governor veto power.

Richardson announced Tuesday he would not dismiss Perry’s charges. Richardson acknowledged that the first count against Perry, abuse of official capacity, was vague and needed to include the word “veto.” He said the second count, coercion of a public servant, needed to better explain how Perry coerced a public official outside his duties as governor. Richardson gave the prosecutors the opportunity to amend their case.

Perry’s attorneys, Tony Buzbee and David Botsford, said they will file a motion with Richardson to halt Perry’s trial, as well as file a notice of appeal in Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals.

“We anticipate, due to the gravity of the constitutional issues involved, that the court will move swiftly and expeditiously,” Botsford said. 

At the press conference, Perry said he believes he used his power of veto “lawfully and legally.”

“Under our constitution, every citizen has the right to speak their mind freely without political interference or legal intimidation,” Perry said. “This continued prosecution flies in the face of that protection.”

Lehmberg’s behavior was “embarrassing,” “unethical” and “inappropriate,” according to Perry, who said he stands by his original actions that sparked his indictment.

“Given the choice, I would make the same decision again today,” Perry said.

In a statement regarding Perry’s trials, Gov. Greg Abbott said he believes it is unconstitutional to prosecute Perry for vetoing legislation.

“The continued legal proceedings against
Governor Perry conflict with the authority granted to all governors by the Texas Constitution, and I trust they will be ultimately resolved in a manner consistent with the Constitution,” Abbott said in a written statement.

Attorney General Ken Paxton also released a statement supporting the former governor.“[Perry] has treated his office with dignity and respect … ” Paxton said in a written statement. “The Constitutional veto authority of the governor is an important and necessary tool to balance the powers of state government and must be utilized without undue fear of prosecution.” 

Perry’s presidential campaign will be officially announced in May or June. 

“Standing up for the rule of law and standing up for the Constitution is a good thing, and people across the country are very supportive of that,” Perry said. “We are moving right along as we intended,” Perry said.

Former Gov. Rick Perry, pictured speaking at Gov. Greg Abbott's election night party November 4, is facing abuse of power criminal charges.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Gov. Rick Perry appeared in court Thursday as his lawyers attempted to refute indictments for his abuse of power charges.

A grand jury originally prosecuted Perry in August for abuse of an official capacity and coercion of a public servant — Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Perry vetoed state funding for Lehmberg’s investigative unit after she refused to step down following her drunken driving conviction.

Thursday’s proceedings focused on two issues — whether special prosecutor Michael McCrum was properly sworn in as the case’s prosecutor and whether documents relating to the case were filed correctly. 

McCrum said the defense was not challenging the oath properly because there is no law that requires a written order to be filed about it.

“There’s a procedural bar to what they’re trying to do,” McCrum said. “Mr. Perry and his lawyers can’t invent or create a law that’s not there.” 

Tony Buzbee, Perry’s lawyer, admitted the defense’s argument was based on a technicality, but he said the judge should still follow the letter of the law.

“If you’re going to prosecute someone, you’d better follow the letter of the law,” Buzbee said. “If Mr. McCrum did not properly qualify as attorney pro tem, that means everything he’s done up to this point is absolutely void.”

Buzbee also said McCrum did not follow the correct sequence of events when signing his oath and took the oath before signing his anti-bribery statement.

“It’s very clear that he did it absolutely backwards,” Buzbee said. “That means he failed to qualify. He cannot act. Game over.” 

McCrum repeatedly said the defense team was using red herrings to expand its scope of allegations on the oath and discussing matters not relevant to the issues of the case. He said the oath was properly administered and read from an affidavit about the oath of office document in which Judge Bert Richardson swore him in as attorney pro tem. 

“The point is — I have the authority; I took the oath,” McCrum said. “This is a non-issue. The defense is asking the court to create a new law to suit Mr. Perry’s personal situation.”

Additionally, Buzbee called the case “a comedy of errors” and argued necessary documents relating to the case were not in the correct file.

McCrum said all documents were filed, stamped and available to the public. 

“Not only do the documents have a file stamp showing they were … filed with the district court, all of the documents were freely open to the public,”
McCrum said. “All anybody ever had to do was ask for them.”

Several witnesses were called to the stand, including Linda Estrada, senior employee in the Travis County district clerk’s office, and Virginia Vasquez, a court coordinator from the 390th district court who removed herself from the case. They were questioned about whether documents relating to Lehmberg’s recusal were filed in the right place. Estrada’s and Vasquez’s testimonies revealed that oath-related documents were in the courthouse in two different places because no case file was created before the indictment. 

Richardson said instead of issuing a simple ruling, he would need to issue findings. He said he would talk with both sides and issue a ruling by next Wednesday or Thursday.

After the hearing, Perry said he stood by his decision to veto the funding. 

“[The constitution] clearly outlines the authority of any governor to veto items at his or her discretion,” Perry said. “I stand behind that authority, and I would make that veto again. Exercising proper jurisprudence is not a technicality. It is a requirement essential for the rule of law.” 

Perry said the proceeding would not affect his duties as governor. 

“I’m able to multitask pretty good, so the question is, ‘Am I able to get my work done?’ which I am,” Perry said. “Over the last six months, we’ve had multiple issues of pretty major size and scope to deal with. … I think we’ve handled all those pretty well.”

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: On Aug. 15, a Travis County grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, entered into political fisticuffs with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg last summer when she refused to step down after her much-publicized arrest for drunk driving. Perry had made it clear that he would not allow state financial support to continue flowing to the Public Integrity Unit — which prosecutes political misconduct across the state and is overseen by Lehmberg — if she did not heed his calls for her resignation. In the face of her disobedience, Perry made good on his threat and vetoed $7.5 million of state funding for the PIU. At the time, the unit was investigating misconduct at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, but not by Perry himself, according to a Travis County prosecutor. Perry entered a plea of “not guilty” to both charges on Aug. 22. On Aug. 24, Democrat Mindy Montford, an Austin defense attorney, confirmed that Perry had offered her the job. Below, we have sought the opinions of key leaders of College Republicans on the matter. This is part of a Point/Counterpoint. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here

We have to admit, we are not law students. However, it doesn’t take much legal know-how to understand the recent charges against Gov. Rick Perry are nothing more than political theatrics caused by a scorned district attorney’s office. But as a history major, Amy recognizes that this DA’s office is notorious for unsuccessfully attacking major Republican politicians, from former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to former Congressman Tom DeLay. This is another desperate attempt for Democrats to maintain power in Travis County while taxpayers foot the bill. 

When Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg — who’s ironically the head of the state’s Public Integrity Unit — was arrested for drunk driving, she completely tarnished her office. Not only was Lehmberg driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, she berated police officers, had to be restrained and was forced to wear a “spit shield” to stop her from spitting on the jail staff. Soon after this occurred, footage of Lehmberg’s erratic behavior during her booking was made public on YouTube. 

Anyone with an ounce of integrity would have apologetically stepped down from the office after an incident like this. Lehmberg selfishly continued to run the Public Integrity Unit even though she had previously endangered the lives of Texas residents and verbally abused policemen. Naturally, Perry asked Lehmberg to resign from her office. When she remained defiant, Perry said he’d defund her unit, which would result in the loss of her position. Again, Lehmberg defied Perry’s request and, unsurprisingly, he vetoed the spending bill to the Public Integrity Unit. 

The exchange between Perry and Lehmberg is a classic example of shrewd political bargaining. It is seen in all levels of government. If this qualifies as coercion, then it could be applied to almost any political power struggle. There is no need to create a legal precedent that allows common political squabbles to be criminally prosecuted. However, given the history of the Travis County DA’s office, we all know this is a purely political prosecution, most likely initiated out of a fear that Perry would appoint a Republican DA. Even liberals outside of Texas agree this is a shoddy indictment. From The New York Times to David Axelrod, there is national public criticism from the left.

Texas Democrats can claim Perry used bad judgment or that he should have sought another route to remove Lehmberg, but to pin him as a felon is childish. They don’t care if this lengthy case will be paid by taxpayers, or that our governor could spend the rest of his life in prison, as long as they control their blue dot in a deeply red state. 

Pursuing this case against Perry is more than just reckless with taxpayer money. It sets a terrible precedent of interfering with how officeholders carry out their duties. Perry fully explains the reasoning for his veto of the Public Integrity Unit’s funding, which has become the focus of the indictment. The governor states that “despite the otherwise good work [of] the Public Integrity Unit’s employees, I cannot in good conscience support continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence. This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the State budgetary process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.” Perry has simply used his constitutionally-mandated power of a veto to shape policy. He even replaced the old district attorney with another Democrat, demonstrating this wasn’t even about politics for Perry. If the governor can be charged for ensuring through legal means that the Public Integrity Unit has a leader with integrity, what is an appropriate use of constitutionally-mandated powers? No politician — Republican or Democrat — benefits from an environment where a use of legal power becomes illegal simply because it makes the other side unhappy. 

Laws concerning coercion and abuse of power by public officials were never meant to stop actions sanctioned by one’s office. They were meant to combat outright violations of an officeholder’s duties like bribery and embezzlement. These laws should never be weaponized to fight in political disputes. Let debates and elections decide the merits of legal acts by our public servants. A fear of indictment and even punishment for performing legal actions only hinders officeholders from carrying out the duties of their office.

The indictment of Perry is reckless for many reasons. The governor never should have been prosecuted for using powers sanctioned by his office to remove an official who had so obviously failed in her duties. The case against Perry is largely frivolous and sets a dangerous precedent of using courts as a battleground for political disputes.     

Nabozny is the president of College Republicans. She is a history junior from Farmington Hills, Michigan. Parker is the communications director of College Republicans. He is a Plan II and Business Honors sophomore from Plano.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: On Aug. 15, a Travis County grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, entered into political fisticuffs with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg last summer when she refused to step down after her much-publicized arrest for drunk driving. Perry had made it clear that he would not allow state financial support to continue flowing to the Public Integrity Unit which prosecutes political misconduct across the state and is overseen by Lehmberg if she did not heed his calls for her resignation. In the face of her disobedience, Perry made good on his threat and vetoed $7.5 million of state funding for the PIU. At the time, the unit was investigating misconduct at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, but not by Perry himself, according to a Travis County prosecutor. Perry entered a plea of “not guilty” to both charges on Aug. 22. On Aug. 24, Democrat Mindy Montford, an Austin defense attorney, confirmed that Perry had offered her the job. Below, we have sought the opinions of key leaders of University Democrats on the matter. This is part of a Point/Counterpoint. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here

Texas hasn’t indicted a sitting governor in 97 years. On Aug. 15, Gov. Rick Perry broke that streak with his two-count felony indictment for abuse of power and coercion.

Though the indictment does not paint a pretty picture of Texas politics, it would be far worse to sweep corruption under the rug in the interest of saving face. As embarrassing as this process is, the indictment proceedings demonstrate a judicial process devoted to uncovering truths Perry’s office would rather keep hidden.

Fundamentally, this case illuminates the investigation the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) was conducting into a scandal involving the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Accusations that CPRIT was funneling funds intended for life-saving cancer research toward Republican donors prompted an investigation. In December, a former CPRIT official was indicted for improperly handing grants to a company backed by a wealthy Perry donor.

Naturally, this must have made Perry extremely nervous. It has been said that God helps three kinds of people: fools, children and drunkards. It was certainly a stroke of luck for Perry that the elected official responsible for the PIU, Rosemary Lehmberg, picked this time to drive drunk. Providence helped her from hurting anyone other than herself. With this providential windfall, Perry immediately began calling for her resignation — a win-win situation. Either she resigned or he would veto PIU’s funding, and either way the CPRIT investigation would halt.

Yet an odor of mendacity permeated the good governor’s self-righteous demand. Two other district attorneys — curiously, both Republicans — have been convicted of DWIs during his administration. The governor made no demands that they step down. Of course, neither DA was investigating the shady financial dealings of organizations closely tied to the governor’s office.

Governor Perry offered a quid pro quo — DA Lehmberg’s resignation in exchange for continued funding of the PIU. Without question, Perry has the constitutional power to veto legislation. What the constitution does not grant him is the power to coerce the resignation of a public official. The indictment was never about the veto. It was about Perry threatening to defund the PIU unless DA Lehmberg resigned and offering to restore funding only if she resigned.

Texans deserve a high standard of behavior from their publicly-elected officials. Expecting the executive branch not to stoop to coercion and abuse of power isn’t a terribly stringent standard; it is the bare minimum we should demand from our public servants. Ultimately, we have rules in our democracy and instead of respecting those rules, Perry, apparently too long in office)decided they didn’t apply to him.

Though right-wing pundits would have people believe otherwise, this felony indictment showcases the impartiality of our judicial system. The initial complaint was the result of an independent investigation by a nonpartisan group of citizens. The presiding judge, Republican Bert Richardson, is a George W. Bush appointee. Judge Richardson appointed Michael McCrum as the special prosecutor to oversee the investigation. Every Travis County Democratic official has recused themselves from the case. And it would be a trifle ridiculous to claim that the randomly selected grand jury is a group with a partisan agenda. It is difficult to discern the pattern of partisan abuse in this case.

This is how our judicial system is supposed to work. A grand jury reviewed witness testimony and evidence for months before they decided that there was enough to issue a two-count felony indictment. Perry will now avail himself of our judicial system, though at least he has been publicly shamed into paying his lawyers out of pocket, rather than with the tax dollars he had been using.

CPRIT officials engaged in questionable financial dealings. When the government office responsible for investigating became involved, Rick Perry panicked and responded with threats and intimidation. Now his only recourse is to shift blame from his own questionable actions onto a DA who has already paid her debt to society. Texans are smart enough to see this for what it is — the last resort of a man backed into a corner.

Regrettably, the entire situation is embarrassing for Texans. Our state’s highest office is held by a man who has clearly demonstrated flagrant disregard for the rule of law. The felony indictments are just the latest example of corruption from Texas’ longest-serving governor. Perhaps it is time for Texans to show our governor that we will not stand by while he reduces our office of the governor to the level of a playground bully hopelessly mired in partisan squabbles. Let us take a page from his playbook and call for his resignation and cross our fingers that he doesn’t further embarrass us with yet another run for president.

Adams is the communications director for the University Democrats. She is a mechanical engineering senior from Dripping Springs.

Gov. Rick Perry makes a public statement defending his actions after being booked at the Travis County Justice Complex Tuesday. The booking occurred after Perry was indicted on Aug. 15 for incidences of fraud and government corruption.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Gov. Rick Perry pled “not guilty” to felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant after being indicted by a grand jury Aug. 15.

The charges are related to Perry’s attempts to force the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after her April 2013 drunken driving arrest.

According to the indictments, Perry vetoed legislation June 2013 awarding $7.5 million in state funds to the Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit, which investigates incidences of fraud and government corruption. Perry threatened the veto when Lehmberg refused to step down. After being booked at the Travis County Justice Complex on Tuesday, Perry made a statement defending his actions.

“The actions that I took were lawful, they were legal, and they were proper,” Perry said. “This indictment is fundamentally a political act that seeks to achieve at the courthouse what could not be achieved at the ballot box.”

University law professor Jennifer Laurin spoke with The Daily Texan about the case and shed some light on the challenges both the prosecution and defense might face. 

“[The First Amendment] requires the legislature to give adequate notice about what is criminal and what isn’t, so that people don’t refrain from speaking out of fear,” Laurin said.

The prosecution will most likely have to prove that Perry knew the veto threat was criminal at the time he made it, as well as show the $7.5 million appropriation was the governor’s property, according to Texas Penal Code 39.02. 

“There is some question whether the governor had custody over a legislative appropriation at the time of the veto,” Laurin said. “That’s going to be a novel legal question that’s going to have to be resolved.”

Laurin said it appears the prosecution will argue Perry’s motivations — whether political or for self-protection — distinguish this from an ordinary veto threat, but that waits to be seen with the evidence.

The public integrity unit was investigating the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which awarded $11 million to a private company without the required review process. Perry has been accused of attempting to halt the investigation by defunding the unit. 

At the time of the veto, Perry stated he believed Lehmberg had lost public confidence. After the indictment, Perry’s super PAC released videos on its site of Lehmberg’s arrest, including her field sobriety test and subsequent videos of her being restrained by officers at the Travis County jail.

Perry waived his scheduled Friday arraignment and traveled to New Hampshire to address Republican voters in the country’s first primary state, lending to speculations about a possible 2016 bid for the White House.

Perry’s attorneys were present at the hearing and stated they intend to file a motion to have the case dismissed.

“The governor has yet to talk about a real solution to these indictments,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, who filed the original complaint that led to the indictments. “Someday, when it gets to trial — if it does, and I think it will — he will have to address the real issues here.”

Don't call it "Briberygate"

(The Associated Press)
(The Associated Press)

Last Friday, a grand jury in Travis County indicted Governor Rick Perry on two felony charges: abuse of political office and coercion of a public servant. The controversy stemmed from the threat made to Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, giving her an ultimatum of resigning or facing severe budget cuts as blowback. Lehmberg's controversy started when she was arrested for drunk driving.

There is a great deal to be said about this issue, and it has prompted very different reactions from individuals depending upon their political persuasion. Democrats, thus opponents of Perry, have reacted by saying this indictment is a vindication of what they have claimed all along, that Rick Perry is a nefarious evil-doer. Republicans, who have rallied behind their compatriot in the Governor's mansion, have taken the opportunity to praise Perry as a moral crusader who has defended the public from an irresponsible and drunken prosecutor. Like many other high profile issues, the information gap between the two sides is nearly insurmountable, and this is reflected best in the different names used to describe the scandal.

Democratic activists have settled on the name "Briberygate." If this causes you to scratch your head, you aren't the only one. Their rationale is that Perry attempted to get Lehmberg to resign in exchange for not denying her office funds, which constitutes a quid-pro-quo related to finances. Furthermore, the San Antonio Express-News reported in April that some of Perry's aides allegedly would have offered Lehmberg another job in exchange for resignation.

Accordingly, when the grand jury was seated to consider charges against Perry, one of the allegations was a violation of the bribery statute. Pointedly, the grand jury no-billed Perry on that allegation, though they moved forward on aforementioned two. Still, prominent Democratic organizations have moved forward with the slogan and hashtag. It's hard to find a left-wing Facebook post, be it on Burnt Orange Report or the Travis County Democratic Party, which does not include it.

Such a descriptor is damaging to the case against Perry, which is admittedly tepid at best. While I do believe that Perry violated the coercion statute, and that a fairly well-reasoned case can be made to that point, he did not attempt to bribe anyone. It cheapens all the good arguments in this case to fall back on a catchy, though factually flawed, soundbite.  

Gov. Rick Perry makes a public statement defending his actions after being booked at the Travis County Justice Complex Tuesday. The booking occurred after Perry was indicted on Aug. 15 for incidences of fraud and government corruption.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Gov. Rick Perry was booked on felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant at the Travis County Justice Complex on Tuesday.

The charges are related to Perry’s attempts to force the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after her April 2013 arrest for drunken driving. Perry was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on the two felony charges.

“I’m going to enter this courthouse with my head held high, knowing the actions I took were not only lawful and legal, but right,” Perry said outside the complex Tuesday afternoon. “I’m going to fight this injustice with every fiber of my being.”

After he was fingerprinted and photographed, Perry thanked the sheriff’s deputies for their professionalism. He said he would “prevail,” as his supporters cheered and reporters crowded the entrance to the complex.

Perry's arraignment is scheduled for Friday morning. He is not required to be present in court.

“This indictment is fundamentally a political act that seeks to achieve at the courthouse what could not be achieved at the ballot box,” Perry said. “It is a chilling restraint on the right of free speech.”

Perry vetoed legislation in June 2013 issuing $7.5 million in state funds to the district attorney’s public integrity unit, which prosecutes cases of fraud and government corruption.  He threatened to take such action against Lehmberg when she refused to step down.

At the time, Perry justified the veto by stating that Lehmberg had “lost the public’s confidence.”

RickPAC, Perry's super PAC, released a video on its website Monday documenting Lehmberg’s behavior at the time of her arrest, including her field sobriety test and subsequent videos of her being restrained by officers at the Travis County jail.

“Smearing Rosemary Lehmberg and complaining the indictment was political does not answer the charges of his indictment,” the Travis County Democratic Party said in a statement released Monday.

Perry’s attorneys include Ben Ginsberg, who represented George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips, Washington D.C. lawyer Bobby Burchfield, local Austin defense attorney David Botsford, and Houston trial lawyer Tony Buzbee.

The team, lead by Buzbee, spoke in defense of the governor in a press conference Monday and cited his right to free speech and right to veto legislation.

“The charges leveled against the governor are a really nasty attack, not only on the rule of law but also on the Constitution of the United States and the state of Texas,” Buzbee said.

Perry, who has served as governor since 2000, decided not to seek reelection and will leave the position when his term ends in January. Perry unsuccessfully ran for president in 2012. It is widely speculated he is considering another run for the 2016 election.

The felony counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant carry penalties of five to 99 years and two to 10 years, respectively.

Horns Down: Perry potentially violated criminal law

According to The Texas Tribune on Tuesday, emissaries of Gov. Rick Perry offered to restore funding to the office of embattled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg if she resigned, even after his veto of the office’s funding was carried out. This, as The Texas Observer points out, clearly strengthens the case against the governor that is currently being considered by a grand jury. Last April, Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. After her arrest and subsequent guilty plea that resulted in a 45-day jail sentence — an extremely harsh punishment for a first-time offender — Perry threatened to veto funding to Lehmberg’s Public Integrity Unit, an agency that prosecutes public corruption cases, if Lehmberg didn’t step down. Somewhat ironically, Perry is now under investigation by a grand jury for having potentially violated the criminal statute against “Bribery and Corrupt Influence.” The veto itself, according to Perry’s accusers, may not have violated law, but the fact that he threatened the veto very well could have. And now that reports have surfaced that Perry’s people may have offered to restore funding if Lehmberg resigns, the possibility that the governor may have violated the law is even stronger. While we certainly don’t condone Lehmberg’s drunk driving, horns down to a situation that is looking increasingly like an abuse of official power to achieve a political end.

Horns Up: UT clinic brings attention to prisoner’s rights

On Tuesday, the UT Human Rights Clinic released a report which identified high summer temperatures inside Texas prisons as a both a human rights violation and a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Currently, 79 of the state’s 109 prisons lack air conditioning, and, although there have been no studies analyzing the potential cost, officials claim that retrofitting the facilities with central air would be extremely expensive — which in no way excuses our prisons’ lack of this crucial utility. Prisoners’ rights are far too often ignored in our discourse, so horns up to the clinic for bringing much-needed attention to this issue.

Horns Down: even more problems for juvenile justice

Another blow was dealt to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department on Wednesday when it was announced that the agency was set to get its third director in a month. As The Texas Tribune reported, Linda Brooke, the agency’s current interim executive director, is leaving for a job in Fort Worth. Brooke could be replaced by David Riley, chief juvenile probation officer for Bexar County. Last month, State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, blasted the agency for its inefficient spending, high re-arrest and re-incarceration rates and a failure to sufficiently segregate violent offenders from nonviolent offenders. Given those problems, the agency is as in need of a strong and consistent leader as ever, making it even more of a disappointment that it doesn’t seem likely to get one anytime soon. Horns down to the revolving door of juvenile justice department directors.

Rick Perry vetoes funding for Public Integrity Unit

Funding for state’s Public Integrity Unit disappeared last week with a wave of Gov. Rick Perry’s hand. Now, some say the only way the unit can survive is if Travis County picks up the $3.5 million yearly tab.

Perry used a line-item veto to kill funding for the unit, housed in Travis County and the prime investigator of corruption by public officials and fraud. State funding for the unit will cease August 31 and not be renewed for at least another two years.

The unit’s jurisdiction is statewide, meaning it has the authority to investigate certain cases in other counties. More than half of its pending cases, 280 out of 400, have a Travis County connection. It currently has 34 employees.

Travis County commissioners heard testimony from the unit’s leadership Monday but did not decide on whether to fund the unit. Commissioners said they would meet in two weeks to take action.

 “It’s a financial surprise to all of the taxpayers that have to foot the bill,” said Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis.

Davis said since the unit investigates corruption cases across the entire state, he wants to look for a way to cost-share funding the unit with other counties. 

By issuing his veto, Perry made true on his promise to cut funding for the unit if Rosemary Lehmberg, the embattled Travis County district attorney, did not resign from her post. Republican lawmakers have hammered Lehmberg, a democrat, for being convicted of a DWI in April and insist she resign.

If she resigns, Perry will appoint her replacement. Lehmberg has said although she will not resign, she will not seek reelection and seek professional help.

Lehmberg made her first public appearance since her DWI conviction at the meeting and upheld the unit’s role to investigate corruption in Texas.

“The work remains. The governor’s veto does not affect responsibility,” Lehmberg said.

It looks like that the main argument against District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s resignation is that if she resigns, Gov. Rick Perry will get to appoint a conservative Republican to serve for the remainder of her term. Therefore we should ignore the fact that she was driving drunk, lied about it, threatened the officers and asked for special privileges by ordering officers arresting her to call the sheriff and the chief of police. 

But a Perry appointment might actually motivate Democrats in 2016 to go and vote, because elections have consequences. The consequence of all those Democratic establishment endorsements for Lehmberg over a real progressive (hint: Charlie Baird) is that we may end up with a Perry appointee. However, in the long term, it might be good for Austin politics. It’ll motivate Austin residents to get educated on local issues and on the people running for office, and, I hope, go vote.

—Hooman Hedayati
UT class of ‘09