Chuck Rosenthal's resignation last week came in response to a straightforward offer from the Texas Attorney General's Office, his lawyer said Monday: Step down, and we'll stop investigating you.
Defense lawyer Ron Woods, a former U.S. attorney, said the now-former Harris County district attorney accepted the offer on Thursday, a day before Rosenthal rival Lloyd Kelley filed a lawsuit seeking to force him out of office for incompetence, misconduct or intoxication.
Woods said the investigation into improper computer use by Rosenthal was disruptive, and Rosenthal decided he'd had enough.
"I relayed the attorney general's position that they would end the removal investigation if he resigned, and he made the decision to resign on Thursday," Woods said.
Woods criticized media reports that Rosenthal resigned because of the lawsuit filed by Kelley, who unsuccessfully challenged Rosenthal for the county's chief prosecutorial post in 2000.
Kelley is a friend and former law partner of former Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford, the Democrat running for district attorney.
Kelley filed his lawsuit Friday morning; Rosenthal notified his staff and reporters that he was quitting hours later.
The scope of the attorney general's investigation included talking to computer technicians at the office. County Attorney Mike Stafford requested the inquiry last month after e-mails that included campaigning, racist jokes, sexually explicit images and lovelorn notes to Rosenthal's executive assistant surfaced.
"It was very disruptive to the office, and Chuck did not want to continue disrupting the office," Woods said.
Stafford specifically asked the Attorney General's Office to consider whether Rosenthal's use of a county computer for work on his re-election campaign amounted to a violation of the law. Had investigators reached such a conclusion, state lawyers could have filed a removal lawsuit similar to Kelley's.
The civil trial of four Harris County sheriff's deputies accused of violating the civil rights of two brothers in 2002 was cleared to resume after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday denied the officers' request to change judges and lifted the stay it imposed last week.
"By this ruling, we do not condone the intemperate remarks by the district judge," the court's ruling stated, referring to statements made by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in a Feb. 8 pre-trial conference that was not open to the public.
Attorneys for the deputies used Hoyt's comments, which have not been disclosed, as the basis of a last-minute effort to recuse him. They reportedly also cited past rulings and conduct in the case, which led Hoyt to scold them from the bench for going beyond the scope of the recusal motion. The motion was filed under seal, meaning its exact contents are not available to the public.
"It was basically a frivolous motion, designed to get time," said Lloyd Kelley, the lawyer for Sean Carlos Ibarra and Erik Adam Ibarra. "They got the record on Friday. By this afternoon they had a decision. It was a quick read and then an agreement."