A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two charges related to his effort last year to force District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after her drunken driving arrest.
Grand jurors charged Perry, 63, with abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public official.
The indictments stemmed from Perry’s threat last summer to withhold $7.2 million in state money from Lehmberg’s office unless she step down – a threat he later carried out by vetoing an appropriation in the state budget. The money was earmarked for the state’s Public Integrity Unit, which is housed in Lehmberg’s office. Perry’s veto forced Travis County taxpayers to partially fund the office, but several prosecutors and staff lost their jobs or had to be reassigned.
Lehmberg supporters said Perry’s actions constituted political retribution; Many Republicans have said the Public Integrity Unit has unfairly targeted their party for prosecutions. The Travis County District Attorney’s office has for decades been led by Democrats, including Lehmberg.
Had Lehmberg resigned, Perry would have named her replacement.
Travis County deputies arrested and charged Lehmberg with DWI in April 2013. She later pled guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail – an usually harsh sentence for a first-time drunken driving charge. She later prevailed in a civil lawsuit to remove her from office.
After his veto, Perry said, “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.”