Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is asking the Texas Attorney General’s office to investigate whether District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal violated any laws by having sexually explicit videos and racist emails on his county computer. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, the county judge has also all but asked the embattled district attorney to step-down.
In what is probably the biggest development so far in the Rosenthal email saga, Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford, at Emmett’s request, has sent a letter to the Texas AG’s office requesting an independent probe of the emails. If wrongdoing is found, Rosenthal could be removed from office under a local government code, Chapter 87, which involves criminal official misconduct. Emmett says it’s now up to Rosenthal to explain the emails or resign.
“I think we are clearly in a situation where Mr. Rosenthal has become a distraction to the functioning of the office of District Attorney. So, for the sake of the office of District of Attorney and for the sake of Harris County, by far the simplest thing would be for Rosenthal to step down.”
The Chapter 87 prosecution would normally happen at the local level, but because County Attorney Stafford is representing Rosenthal in a separate case, it would be conflict of interest for him to be involved in the email investigation. Emmett says the controversy swirling around the DA’s office has taken its toll.
“The District Attorney’s office is more than one person, and that’s my big concern. We need to make sure that the District Attorney’s office can still function and function with a degree of responsibility and respect. There’s no question that all of these actions have impugned the integrity of the office.”
The latest emails were released as part of a separate federal civil rights lawsuit that involves the DA’s office. They were sent to Rosenthal and he has said he didn’t solicit them or forward them to others. Emmett says Rosenthal, in an email to him, raised doubts about whether there was anything illegal about the controversial emails. Rice University political scientist Bob Stein says there’s a lot of pressure on Rosenthal to resign now.
“It’s going to be extremely hard to force him legally out of office. There would be an investigation. There would be probably even possibly some litigation on the part of the Attorney General. But here’s the point: It would go on well into the primary and general election season. It is in the interest of Judge Emmett and every other current county official that this story end today and they move on.”
Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia is the latest to join the chorus calling for Rosenthal’s resignation. The District Attorney did not return a call from KUHF for comment.