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.
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."
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.
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