Harris County government chief Ed Emmett today called for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's staff to conduct an independent investigation of local District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal in the wake of the disclosure of e-mails on Rosenthal's county government account containing racist jokes, campaign activity and sexually explicit videos.
Such an investigation apparently could turn Rosenthal, who is in charge of prosecuting Harris County crimes ranging from capital murder to bicycle theft, into a criminal suspect.
Emmett, the county judge, announced that the Harris County attorney is making the request to the state's top law enforcement officer a few hours after Emmett's opponent in the March 4 Republican primary, former district clerk Charles Bacarisse, said Rosenthal should resign and that an independent investigation of him is needed.
"I believe we have a situation here where laws have been broken," by Rosenthal, Bacarisse said.
Emmett announced the letter to the attorney general at a press conference that was previewed in a notice to the media as a discussion about "reports of possible wrongdoing" at the district attorney's office.
Earlier, Emmett told KTRK Channel 13 he will seek to have Rosenthal removed from office if the DA can't give him an acceptable answer about how he and others in his office are spending time funded by the taxpayers.
County Attorney Mike Stafford's staff normally might conduct an independent investigation of the district attorney, Emmett said, but that agency already represents Rosenthal in the federal case that led to the disclosure of the e-mails. The lawsuit against the county was brought by two Houston brothers who were arrested in 2002 after one of them photographed sheriff's deputies carrying out a drug raid at a neighbor's home.
Rosenthal and Abbott were not immediately available for comment.
Rosenthal told top county officials Wednesday he would not resign despite admitted poor judgment.
"Thankfully stupidity is not a ground (for removal)," Rosenthal said in a Wednesday morning e-mail to Ed Emmett, the county's chief executive, who released the note to reporters.
Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford asked the Texas Attorney General's office to investigate Rosenthal's actions and pursue his removal if warranted.
Under Texas law, district judges may remove district attorneys from office for incompetency, official misconduct or intoxication on or off the job. Official misconduct is defined as "intentional, unlawful behavior" relating to official duties.
Emmett, like Rosenthal a Republican, said the e-mails were disgusting and Rosenthal should step down to spare the county and his own staff the embarrassment of a lengthy investigation.
"If I had the ability to fire him ... yes, I would have," Emmett said.
Finally, in the Still Just Doesn't Get It department, here's Kelly Siegler explaining her husband.
"I told Sam, my husband, a long time ago to stop sending them, that he was stupid to send them and not to send them to me," said Siegler.
She remains candid about her husband of 20 years and Wednesday she was perhaps a bit more contrite.
"He cusses horribly. He has very crude humor," she said. "I'm not his boss, much as I would like to be. He feels terrible about this. I wanted to knock him upside the head when I heard about it."
Siegler, a veteran prosecutor with a hard nose and hard edge reputation, says that she is also offended.
Siegler regrets that the scandal has upstaged her two decades of admirable performance inside the DA's office. "To put it real bluntly, Mr. Bradford, Judge Lykos, Mr. Lietner, they don't know where the bathrooms are."