AUSTIN (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry vetoed funding for the state's Public Integrity Unit on Friday because the district attorney in charge of it refused to resign after confessing to drunk driving, an ultimatum that a watchdog group complained was a criminal abuse if his official powers.
Texans for Public Justice said in a complaint Friday morning that Perry "potentially committed one or more criminal offenses" by pressuring Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to step down. It says the governor's actions were "intended to allow him to gain the benefit of appointing a new Travis County District Attorney" because he would appoint her replacement.
The ethics-enforcement unit, based in Austin, investigates wrongdoing by public officials and is overseen by Lehmberg.
Perry made good on his threat Friday evening and used a line-item veto to cut the unit's two-year, $7.5 million budget. The unit has more than 30 employees investigating 400-plus active cases, including cases involving the governor's office.
"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," Perry said in a statement. "This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the State budgetary process."
Signed by Texans for Public Justice director Craig McDonald, the complaint sent to Lehmberg and Travis County Attorney David Escamilla asked authorities "to fully investigate and prosecute any violations if justified by the law and the facts."
Gregg Cox, director of the Public Integrity Unit, said his office received the complaint but determined "it would be inappropriate for us to have any role" in it because the matter deals with Lehmberg's arrest. It was not immediately clear if Escamilla's office planned to pursue it.
Lehmberg pleaded guilty after her April 12 arrest, served about half of a 45-day jail sentence, and entered a treatment program. She has faced mounting pressure to quit, including a high-profile, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort by Republicans in the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature to defund the Public Integrity Unit if she stayed put.
The governor has said that if he decides to veto funding, Travis County prosecutors "would have to prioritize whether they think those cases are important enough to go forward with." Perry declined to comment on the criminal complaint against him.
Lehmberg, 63, took office in 2009 and was re-elected last year. Her term expires at the end of 2016.
Among the criminal investigation into the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, the state's $3 billion cancer-fighting agency that has faced accusations of politics trumping science, widespread resignations and a criminal investigation into an $11 million grant that was given to a private company and that completely bypassed the review process.
Glenn Smith, director of the liberal Progress Texas PAC, filed a separate criminal complaint against CPRIT late last year and that helped sparked the case against the agency and said Perry's veto was politically motivated.
"It's a brazen attempt to shut down an investigation that would embarrass him legally and politically," Smith said. "He's broken the law with his threats and now he's followed through on those threats like a thug blackmailer."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Austin City Council is set to vote Thursday on design changes for the Auditorium Shores Dog Park.
Bryce Petty threw touchdown passes on the first two drives of the second half for No. 9 Baylor and the Bears won their first Big 12 title and a Fiesta Bowl berth with a 30-10 victory over No. 23 Texas on Saturday.
Light snow flurries were reported early Saturday just north of the KXAN viewing area. Sub-freezing temperatures along with a slight chance of light snow, sleet and freezing rain will continue through Sunday morning.
Phase 2 of the 3rd Street construction began Saturday, despite sub-freezing temperatures.
The long-awaited Thinkery Children's Museum opened Saturday in the Mueller Development.
Two people are dead in Lee County following a one car rollover crash on FM 696 Saturday morning, DPS confirmed.