Commissioners discuss granting money to DA's office


by JESSICA HOLLOWAY / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Posted on June 18, 2013 at 5:20 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 18 at 6:10 PM

TRAVIS COUNTY -- Travis County commissioners are considering whether to help fund the Travis County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit.

The item was originally set to be discussed privately in executive session Tuesday. However, Judge Sam Biscoe says in the interest of transparency and under advisement of the county attorney, the commissioners had the talk openly, so the public could listen in. 

Governor Rick Perry exercised a line item veto June 14, withdrawing $7.5 million in state funding to keep the unit operating. He did so as a threat, challening District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. He said if Lehmberg did not step down after her DWI arrest, the unit would lose state funding. Lehmberg is the head of the PIU.

"He has vetoed. If I resign now, which I'm not gonna do by the way, and I will address that at a later time, I don't think that would solve the problem. I want to solve the problem," said Lehmberg, speaking to media Tuesday for the first time since her arrest.

State money pays for salaries for 35 employees. Currently, the PIU has more than 420 outstanding felony cases pending. Half of those cases happened in Travis County. Travis County operates on a budget of $17 million a year.

Tuesday afternoon Lehmberg's office released a statement detailing the duties of the PIU. It said in part:

The State of Texas first funded the Public Integrity Unit in 1982 in recognition that the responsibility for handling offenses relating to state government lies with the Travis County District Attorney.

The General State section of the Public Integrity Unit handles cases related to state government.  It is important to note that these cases -- theft of state property, the filing of false paperwork with state agencies, corruption by state officials -- are the responsibility of the Travis County District Attorney, whether the State provides funding or not, because the offenses occur in this county, just as they would be the responsibility of other district attorneys for crimes occurring in their county.

The Public Integrity Unit also handles cases involving insurance fraud and various types of tax fraud, primarily motor fuels tax fraud and sales tax fraud.

The Governor’s veto removed the funding for the Public Integrity Unit, but the responsibility for these cases remains with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.

Should tax payers cover the approximate $3.5 million to keep the Public Integrity Unit going? Join the discussion on Facebook on The KVUE Insider.

Watch KVUE News at 5 and 6 p.m. for more on this developing story.