Commissioners consider giving money to DA Public Integrity Unit



Posted on June 17, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 17 at 6:41 PM

TRAVIS COUNTY -- Friday evening Governor Rick Perry vetoed funding to the Travis County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit. Now the office, as well as District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, are looking for alternate ways to get money.

Texans for Public Justice filed a criminal complaint against Gov. Perry for threatening to veto $7 million in funding for the PIU. They claim Perry is guilty of coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.

Perry warned he would exercise the veto if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not step down. Perry says Lehmberg lacks integrity and should have resigned immediately after her DWI arrest.

"Many of us have lost confidence in her ability to run that office given her extreme disrespect she shows," said State Rep. Phil King (R- Weatherford).  
Rep. King supports Perry's line item veto. He says Lehmberg was warned in advance about the governor's threat.

"I think it's an incredible display of selfishness to put her own career interests above the unit and above the employees," he said.

The PIU is currently investigating more than 400 cases, including one involving the alleged misuse of $56 million intended for cancer research that is suspected of going into companies with investors who support Gov. Perry.

The unit employs 35 people, including 10 assistant district attorneys, seven investigators, and six forensic accountants.

Democrat Sylvester Turner of Houston has filed a resolution, hoping to override Perry's veto.

"No one should be fooled. The attention that's being brought to this agency didn't just start with the DWI. That started 10 years ago. That didn't start with her. People may be using the DWI, that's a subterfuge,"  Rep. Turner said.

Now Lehmberg is looking for alternate ways to get money. They've asked Travis County commissioners if they can cover absorb the $4 million each year to keep the unit running.

Travis County commissioners will discuss the legislation and the governor's actions on their agenda around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

"We likely will not take action tomorrow, rather just discuss this issue," County Judge Sam Biscoe told KVUE. "There are a lot of unanswered questions. I have sent a list of questions to the county attorney to understand our authority and limitations on this matter. I also want to know whether the governor's decision can be reversed by himself or the Legislature before September 1, 2013."

Biscoe says the commissioners will address the item and then go into executive session. They will likely take action on June 25.

"From my understanding, the revenue from that unit goes to residents of Texas as well as the state and federal government. I personally don't see the benefit of fully funding the unit if the money goes to outside agencies. We will explore the issue," said Biscoe.

A spokesman from rosemary Lehmberg's office said they had no comment Monday but will release one Tuesday after the commissioner's court meeting.

Governor Perry's Veto:

Article IV - The Judiciary

Judiciary Section, Comptroller's Department

D.1.4 Strategy: PUBLIC INTEGRITY UNIT, $3,742,829 $3,830,597
Public Integrity Unit, 53rd Judicial District.

Despite the otherwise good work 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.





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