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Witnesses paint picture of Lehmberg DWI arrest, treatment afterward

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TWC News: Witnesses paint picture of Lehmberg DWI arrest, treatment afterward
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YNN's Russell Wilde reports in the video above.

On the night of April 13, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s blood alcohol was almost triple the legal limit. On Monday, during the first day of her civil trial, 10 witnesses detailed the DA’s behavior that night and her potential history of alcohol abuse.

During opening statements, Executive Assistant County Attorney James Collins said the night of April 13 was much more than a single instance of intoxication, and there will been evidence to support the DA has a history of lying about drinking, including under oath.

But Dan Richards, on Lehmberg’s defense team, says Lehmberg has quit drinking since her arrest and “continues to be an exemplary public servant.” Alcohol has never played a role in her doing her job, Richards said.

A visiting San Antonio judge will decide if Lehmberg’s high-profile DWI arrest is grounds to remove her from office. The petition seeking her removal was filed by Austin attorney Kerry O'Brien. He believes the integrity of the office is compromised as long as she's there. A statute of Texas law states intoxication is grounds for removal from office on the county level.

Collins asked the judge to consider several factors, including how intoxicated the DA was, any crimes she committed while intoxicated and the way Lehmberg treated law enforcement officers at the of her arrest.

Lehmberg was arrested after a citizen witnessed the district attorney’s Lexus swerving into the oncoming traffic lane in northwest Travis County. Mark Weston was that citizen. He told the court he called authorities when he observed Lehmberg’s Lexus driving on the shoulder on the southbound side of FM 620, traveling at about 55 miles per hour.

Weston said when they both approached the intersection of FM 2222 and 620, he had to apply his brakes to keep from hitting the DA’s car as she swerved in front of him. Weston said she was driving erratically and slamming on her brakes. He told the judge he felt he “needed to call 911 before they hurt someone.”

Weston testified that soon after passing through the 2222 intersection, Lehmberg stopped at St. Luke’s by the Lake Episcopal Church.

That’s where Deputy DJ Malinger was parked writing reports. He described Lehmberg as “disheveled” and “disorganized,” testifying that she grabbed at him and his flashlight. Malinger said Lehmberg told him she had not been drinking.

The DA had a bottle of vodka under her purse in the passenger seat, Malinger said.

Surveillance footage from the church parking lot showed Lehmberg fail field sobriety tests and put into handcuffs.

Deputy John Ribsam was in the patrol unit that took Lehmberg to central booking at Travis County Jail. Lehmbeg told him from the back seat she had two vodka sodas, he said. Ribsam testified Lehmberg "ordered him" to take off her hand cuffs because she was the DA, cussing at him to remove them.

Ribsam said Lehmberg denied ever being on FM 620 where she was arrested. He wrote a warrant for Lehmberg’s blood draw upon her arrival at Central Booking.

That’s where Officer Michelle Hooker encountered the district attorney. Hooker also took the stand Monday, telling the court she was warned the DA was on her way to the jail, which was already battling an unusually busy night.

Officer Hooker said Lehmberg was “non-compliant” and was asked repeatedly to obey the rules.

“She attempted to scratch me,” Hooker said. “I felt her nails on the back of my hand.”

Hooker testified the DA continued to be difficult, refusing to change into jail scrubs and kicking and screaming at her cell door. She was eventually placed into restraints and a spit guard to keep her still.

Hooker’s and Ribsam’s testimony aligns with much of the jailhouse and dash cam video previously released from Lehmberg’s arrest. Footage shows that, while in custody, Lehmberg was combative with officers, repeatedly shouting to “Call Greg” and “Call Art,” referring to Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton and Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. The video also shows her threatening the jobs of several workers.

Those videos have been admitted into evidence, but will be reviewed by Judge David Peeples at a later time.
After the lunch break testimony turned to Lehmberg’s history with alcohol.

Dr. Michelle Slipp with the Sierra Tucson residential treatment center said Lehmberg had an excellent prognosis and was successful in treatment after her arrest.

Slipp said her DWI started a “downward spiral,” and the public outcry contributed the DA’s anxiety and sadness. She hoped the DA would go to a recovery group, she said, but Lehmberg declined. Slipp recommended the DA to undergo a 90-day outpatient plan, Alcohol Anonymous meetings and psychiatric counseling.

Slipp said her patients list their feelings on feelings sheets. Among the feelings on Lehmberg’s sheets were “grateful, hopeful and pain.”

Lehmberg is expected to take the stand Tuesday on what could be the final day of testimony. The judge will then have time to review the case and issue his ruling. If he decides to remove Lehmberg from office, the DA could still appeal and achieve a jury trial.

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