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By W. Gardner Selby August 21, 2014

Sarah Palin incorrect Rosemary Lehmberg's office convened grand jury that indicted Rick Perry

In an online commentary, Sarah Palin suggested a sign of Democratic corruption is the Texas district attorney whose resignation was sought by Republican Gov. Rick Perry convened the grand jury that indicted him.

We can't judge Palin’s corruption opinion. But the former Alaska governor's claim about the DA’s connection to the grand jury is incorrect.

Palin, in a commentary posted on the Fox News website Aug. 17, 2014, said: "This ridiculous politically motivated ‘indictment’ of" Perry "stems from the ugly thug tactics of the ‘politics of personal destruction’ that the left is known for."

"First and foremost," Palin said, "today's liberals have no shame. Case in point: Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg." Palin recapped Lehmberg’s drunken driving conviction from 2013 and noted that Lehmberg refused to resign afterward.

"Lehmberg's D.A.’s office runs the state’s Public Integrity Unit, which prosecutes public crimes like government corruption," Palin wrote, and after Perry tried to get her to resign or face his veto of the unit’s state funding, Palin said, Democrat Lehmberg’s "liberal supporters filed an ethics complaint against Perry..."

Subsequently, Palin wrote, the "Travis County D.A.'s Office, still under Lehmberg, convened a grand jury, and – surprise, surprise! – Perry was ‘indicted.’"

It’s a fact that a liberal-leaning group, Texans for Public Justice, which monitors the influence of money in state politics and the courts, submitted a complaint to the Travis County district attorney’s office on June 14, 2013 about Perry’s actions. The complaint was submitted a day after the Austin American-Statesman revealed Perry was threatening to veto a $7.5 million, two-year appropriation to the Public Integrity Unit, housed in the district attorney’s office, unless Lehmberg resigned. Texans for Public Justice’s complaint alleged that the threat amounted to a violation of state laws prohibiting coercion of public officials.

The day the complaint came in, Gregg Cox, the attorney who heads the Public Integrity Unit, told the Statesman that Lehmberg’s office would not investigate it. "It’s clear, it would not be appropriate for us to have any role in this," Cox said then.

Upshot: Lehmberg subsequently recused herself from the matter, which ended up being overseen by a Republican judge from Bexar County and a San Antonio-based special prosecutor appointed by the judge, neither one picked by Lehmberg or her office.

In checking Palin’s claim, we reached out to relevant judges and Lehmberg’s office, finding no sign the DA’s office played a role in convening or guiding the grand jury that indicted Perry.

By telephone, Bert Richardson of San Antonio, the senior state district judge overseeing the Perry case, and Republican Billy Ray Stubblefield, the Williamson County state district judge who appointed Richardson to oversee the review, declined to comment on Palin’s claim.

But an Austin-based judge who momentarily managed the complaint and the Travis County assistant district attorney who works with most grand juries each said Lehmberg’s office had no role in convening the grand jury that indicted Perry.

Julie Kocurek, who presides over the 390th criminal district court in Travis County, called Palin’s statement "completely and absolutely false."

And why?

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Kocurek said that after Lehmberg’s office received the complaint about Perry, lawyers from the office brought it to Kocurek  in her capacity as presiding judge for the county’s criminal district courts. The DA’s office also brought a motion to recuse its attorneys from acting on the complaint because, Kocurek said, Lehmberg was obviously entangled. Similarly, Kocurek said, she recused herself as a judge in the matter given that she had worked for the DA’s office in the past and continued to routinely work with Lehmberg on matters of criminal justice.

In accord with state law, Kocurek said, her next step was to turn the matter over to Stubblefield,  the presiding judge of the 3rd Judicial District that includes Travis County. Kocurek said Stubblefield then appointed Richardson, "a very non-partisan straight-shooter judge," to handle proceedings involving the complaint. Richardson’s job, she said, was to appoint an attorney to serve as the district attorney in the matter; that appointee, Michael McCrum of San Antonio, subsequently worked with the Travis County special grand jury named in April 2014 that ultimately indicted Perry. McCrum didn’t respond to our telephone inquiry.

Richardson, Kocurek said, sat in her courtroom to impanel the grand jury, which consisted of a dozen residents and two alternates drawn from a pool of 80 county residents created at random. "They didn’t know what case they’d be hearing," Kocurek said.

We also drew a recap of the Perry matter from Lehmberg’s office. Gary Cobb, director of the office’s grand jury division, said by phone that when the TPJ complaint was received, the office recognized it couldn’t reasonably handle the topic. "Because of a clear conflict of interest, we didn’t do anything but receive the complaint and recuse ourselves, putting in motion the process of having a special prosecutor assigned to it," Cobb said.

The office-wide recusal, Cobb said, was sought so that "later on we wouldn’t be accused of having some kind of undue influence."

We asked if Lehmberg’s office played some role in choosing who would serve on the special grand jury that indicted Perry.

Cobb said not, adding that Richardson or Kocurek would have notified the district clerk’s office that a pool of potential jurors, chosen randomly from adult residents of the county with a Texas driver’s license or state-issued identification card, was needed on the date (April 14, 2014) Richardson wanted to impanel the grand jury.

The DA’s office "had no role" in the grand jury’s impaneling, Cobb said. "We don’t even show up." Generally, Cobb said, the office has no role in determining which residents are in the larger pool of potential jurors; that duty, he said, resides with the county’s district clerk.

After the special grand jury’s initial three-month term ended, Cobb said, its term was extended another three months. "They have a right and can request an extension for an additional three months in order to complete business," Cobb said. "They did make the request and they did extend."

Generally, Cobb said, "we went out of our way to make sure we didn’t do anything that even gave the appearance of having any kind of involvement in the investigation for this case against Rick Perry," though occasionally the office had to coordinate schedules so different grand juries weren’t simultaneously trying to occupy the room the county sets aside for grand juries.

Our ruling

Palin said that under Lehmberg, the "Travis County D.A.’s office" convened the grand jury that indicted Perry.

A special grand jury consisting of Travis County citizens indicted Perry in August 2014. But Lehmberg’s office played no role in organizing the jurors. Early on, Lehmberg’s office recused itself from handling the complaint that eventually resulted in the grand jury whose secret deliberations culminated in Perry’s felony charges. A senior district judge from San Antonio, chosen by a judge based in Williamson County, impaneled the grand jury. The San Antonio judge picked a San Antonio lawyer to prosecute the case.

We rate this statement False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Commentary by Sarah Palin, "Gov. Perry indicted: Everything's big in Texas, even this B.S.," Fox News, Aug. 17, 2014

News stories, "Officials: Perry vows veto of state funding unless Lehmberg resigns," Austin American-Statesman, June 13, 2013; "Complaint: Perry veto threat violates state law," Statesman, June 14, 2013

Document, complaint by Texans for Public Justice, submitted to Travis County District Attorney and Travis County Attorney’s office, June 14, 2013

Telephone interview, Gary Cobb, director, Grand Jury/Intake division, Travis County District Attorney’s office, Austin, Aug. 20, 2014

Telephone interview, Julie Kocurek, state district judge, 390th criminal district court, Travis County, Austin, Aug. 20, 2014

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Sarah Palin incorrect Rosemary Lehmberg's office convened grand jury that indicted Rick Perry

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