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Travis County Commissioners honor retiring DA Ronnie Earle

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Travis County Commissioners recognized outgoing District Attorney Ronnie Earle with a proclamation on Tuesday, declaring it “Ronnie Earle Day”. Earle will step down at the end of this month from the position he has held for the past 32 years. Last night, friends celebrated his retirement with a party at Stubb’s BBQ.

 

Joining Earle at the Commissioners Court meeting were staffers from the DA’s office and his family, including his wife, his mother, and First Assistant DA Rosemary Lehmberg, who was elected to succeed Earle as District Attorney upon his retirement.

 

“I think I’m fairly confident when I say that all of us share a deep sense of gratitude to Ronnie Earle for his longstanding commitment to this community, for his exemplary public service, and for the innovative and thoughtful way he has approached the job of district attorney for all these years,” Lehmberg said. She has worked for Earle for the past three decades, and he endorsed her after he decided not to run for re-election. “My time with Ronnie has been an honor and a privilege,” she said, “so I am here to join the chorus to say ‘thank you’ to Ronnie Earle for being the leader that he is.”

 

Earle thanked his family for their support and his staff for their dedication to pursuing justice. “I had never been a prosecutor when I first was elected. I ran because I saw that the duty of the prosecutor was not to convict, but to see that justice was done,” he said. “Thank you for the privilege of working with you, for the privilege of working with the people of Travis County as we have put together a partnership in the effort to see that justice is done. It is not the unique province of any one person or any one office. It is a joint and collective enterprise. Thank you very much for allowing me to be part of that.”

 

Earle has repeatedly been in the national spotlight during his tenure as Travis County’s top prosecutor. He has been recognized and praised for his focus on “community justice”, taking a more holistic approach to public safety than focusing strictly on law enforcement.

 

However, Earle has also faced criticism from both Republicans and fellow Democrats for his prosecution of some of the state’s top political figures. Since the Travis County DA’s office has the authority and duty to investigate official misconduct by elected officials, Earle has handled 16 such high-profile cases since he took office. The most recent of those involved then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was indicted by a Travis County Grand Jury in 2005 on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and campaign finance violations. One of those charges is still pending but there is considerable doubt about whether it will stand because of the wording of the law.

 

Earle was accused of having political motivations for prosecuting DeLay, a Republican, who later stepped down from his position in the House leadership and decided not to run for re-election in his suburban Houston district. However, Earle’s office has a history of prosecuting Democrats as well as Republicans.

 

In fact, 12 of the elected officials Earle prosecuted have been members of his own party. He pursued bribery charges against then-Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox in 1985. That case resulted in an acquittal for Mattox. He successfully prosecuted then-Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis in 1992 on charges of filing false financial statements. Earle also brought charges in 1994 against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for using state resources for her political campaign while she was serving as Texas State Treasurer. That prosecution ended without any evidence being presented as the presiding judge directed an acquittal.

 

Perhaps the most unusual case involving an elected official was the one Earle brought against himself. In 1983, Earle brought a complaint against himself for failing to properly file his campaign finance reports. He was fined $212.

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