February 15, 2008
Rosenthal resigns

After all this time, I figured he'd hang around till the bitter end. But apparently not, and what better time to announce one's resignation than the Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend?

Chuck Rosenthal resigned as Harris County district attorney today amid an e-mail scandal that recently forced him to abandon his re-election campaign and a lawsuit filed today that sought his removal from office.

Bill Delmore, chief of the D.A.'s legal services bureau, which oversees the general counsel's office, confirmed that Rosenthal issued a press release in which he says he contacted the governor's office to tender his resignation.

"Although I have enjoyed excellent medical and pharmacological treatment, I have come to learn that the particular combination of drugs prescribed for me in the past has caused some impairment in my judgment," Rosenthal wrote in his resignation letter.

Well, some of us have been saying for awhile now that his judgment was and is questionable. For the time being, I'll just leave it at that.

His decision to resigns caps several weeks of intense scrutiny of the district attorney's office and follows the filing of a lawsuit today against him and Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas.

That lawsuit, filed by attorney Lloyd Kelley, sought Rosenthal and Thomas' removal from office. State law allows for an elected official to be removed on any of three grounds official misconduct, incompetency or intoxication on or off duty -- and Kelley says Rosenthal is guilty of all three.

The lawsuit accuses Thomas of incompetency and misconduct.

Sheriff's spokesman Capt. John Martin said Sheriff Tommy Thomas is not in the office today. "No one has seen the the petition," he said, "and without knowing the allegations, it's hard to comment."

Rosenthal's decision to step down came just a short time after the filing of Kelley's lawsuit.


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in January launched an investigation into whether Rosenthal violated state laws by using a government computer for campaign activities.

Abbott's office has declined to discuss the investigation, which could have led Rosenthal's ouster. In his resignation letter today, however, Rosenthal mentioned the AG's investigation.

"The Texas Attorney General's office has informed my attorney that they will not proceed with a removal action if I resign," he said. "Without commenting on the merits of any case the Attorney General may have pursued, to have yet another controversy surround this office is intolerable to me."


Kelley said he did not think Rosenthal would have stepped down had the lawsuit seeking his removal from office not been filed.

"I think it's a good thing," Kelley said of Rosenthal's resignation. "It's a little late, but it's a good thing ... No one should be happy about today."

Rosenthal might be admitting that pharmacological drugs impaired his judgment so he can raise intoxication as a possible defense against a future perjury charge in the contempt case pending against him, Kelley said.

"He's using that as a defense for perjury," Kelley said. "This just isn't his problem. This goes back to (Harris County Judge) Ed Emmett and the county commissioners -- they've known about this and haven't done anything about it. It's just shameful."

Emmett vehemently denied Kelley's assertion that he was aware of Rosenthal's drug issues, said Joe Stinebaker, the county judge's spokesman.

Voluntary intoxication is not normally a defense. But involuntary intoxication -- such as unawareness that a combination of drugs could have a certain effect -- is a fact issue that can be considered by a jury in a perjury case, said attorney Pat McCann, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

"It is a circumstance that could make it difficult to prove you intended to lie," McCann said. "Intoxication is a circumstance that could go to undermine intent. It is something the jury would have to believe."

Defense attorney Jon Munier agreed that an admission of involuntary intoxication "helps a lot" in a contempt or perjury case.

"You don't realize that your judgment is in fact impaired" in such cases, Munier said. "Look at what (Rosenthal) testified to -- he said he deleted the e-mails thinking they were being stored some other place and would still be retrievable. It's obviously an error in logic that basically can be explained away by impairment. It gives a pretty good explanation as to why you're making errors in judgment and why you're not making logical decisions."

There's a whole lot to unpack in there. I'll be very interested in learning more about Kelley's lawsuit to force Rosenthal and Tommy Thomas' removal from office. Whatever the merits of that, my first thought in reading this was to connect the resignation to Rosenthal's contradictory testimony regarding the deleted emails. I have to agree with McCann and Munier's assessments here. That doesn't mean Rosenthal isn't being fully truthful here, but it is awfully convenient. Again, I look forward to seeing what the judge makes of all this.

Until the the governor appoints a new district attorney, the Government Code provides that the first assistant D.A. take over duties.

Gov. Rick Perry had not received Rosenthal's resignation letter Friday afternoon and planned no immediate action to name a successor, spokewoman Krista Moody said. She declined comment on whether Perry would favor one of the candidates running for district attorney or look to a non-candidate to serve until the newly elected D.A. is sworn in next January.

I almost have sympathy for Governor Perry here. He's likely to come under a lot of pressure from folks who want to maintain the GOP hold on this office, and who are convinced that their preferred candidate is the one to do it. It's clear that the caretaker option is the fairest, but I sure won't be surprised if Perry plays favorites. If I had to pick a scenario, it'll be that he waits till there's a nominee in place, then names that person. Assuming the timing works in the event of a runoff, that's what I'd expect to happen.

Here's some reaction from officialdom. I note without comment that C.O. Bradford has finally made a public statement on this matter. Grits, Muse, Jaye, and State of Mine, who makes the most appropriate comparison I can think of, also weigh in. So long, Chuck. May you get whatever help you need, and may the DA's office get back to where it should be now that it can do so.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 15, 2008 to Local politics

Thomas was not in because he was out at his ranch destroying evidence. Maybe he can have one of his inmates deliver the affidavit to him for free in a squad car.

Emmett has just appointed some of his blue ribbon friends to suprise us that he has ethics. Hopefully there's no use of County resources for campaign purposes here.

Stinebaker needs to write a book on his vast collection of fantastic adverbs (and why "Emmett vehemently" is not a good pairing of words).

If Rosenthal is successful with the involuntary intoxication argument, he will use it to claim that his resignation was invalid.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on February 15, 2008 6:27 PM

Everyone needs to read his resignation letter carefully, particularly Lloyd Kelley, because he resigned for one reason. The Attorney General's Office was preparing to file what needed to be filed to remove him from office. Why? Because there were other matters. And because the county attorney should have and instead made the mistake of attempting to just pass the buck. He passed it to the wrong people.

The possibility of criminal prosecution has been left open according to the statement by the Attorney General's Office, however, and it will be interesting to see if the Harris County District Attorney's Office will pursue the matters. If not, the Attorney General's Office may.

They have indicated that they have had enough of the corruption. And that includes some Democrats who have thoroughly enjoyed the ability of Chuck Rosenthal to pull strings for them as well through the years.

As for Tommy Thompson I suspect he will hang on until he is indicted. The Harris County Republican Party is in big trouble. They may offer him for sacrifice so to speak. Using inmates to perform work for the sheriff on his ranch is not exactly a minor thing. It is a criminal matter. Once again, the media should be thanked for not turning the other way. Finally.

Apart from the joy of seeing the most corrupt district attorney in the country held accountable, and he has been, no doubt Kay Bailey Hutchison finally dropped her pom-poms.

No doubt Chuck Rosentahl is finished. Even as an attorney. Rumor is someone has filed to have him disbarred. One rumor I really hope is true.

As for Lloyd Kelley, he seems to have provided just what the Republicans wanted to use against Bradford. He may have cost us all the one man who might have cleaned house at the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

The assistant district attorneys may behave now that they realize the Attorney General is not there to protect them. Or they may not. It depends on who the Republicans manage to get elected. And you can thank Lloyd Kelley for that.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on February 15, 2008 8:59 PM

Under the Constitution, the Da serves until his successor is qualified -- and there is no provision in the Government Code providing for a first assistant taking over

So Chuck has resigned - but he's still DA until the next one is appointed/elected.

Posted by: Qeenie on February 15, 2008 9:24 PM

Baby Snooks is dead on correct - and I've not heard the AG's role in the resignation mentioned once in the coverage by the mainstream media. He was clearly forced out of office - by a fellow Republican, no less -and apparently is still in jeopardy of criminal prosecution and / or disbarment. Sweet.

Posted by: Dennis on February 16, 2008 5:18 AM

What is so interesting is that apparently the county attorney is supposed to file for removal. According to the resignation letter and the statement by the Attorney General's Office, the Attorney General's Office decide to move on its own. So I suspect this involved far more than just use of the county computers.

Not everyone cowered in the corner through the years and there were quite a few complaints filed against him. It may have just been a matter of enough is enough.

And of course the political ramifications had a lot to do with it as all. The Texas Republican Party in the end didn't need another Tom De Lay to deal with.

Although of course they do have to deal with another one. Actually they have to deal with both of them.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on February 17, 2008 10:26 AM