Prosecutor fired for race comments said Lehmberg had other motive

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The attorney for a Travis County prosecutor fired on the grounds of making racially insensitive remarks says Rosemary Lehmberg had other motivations.

Former Travis County prosecutor Steve Brand was fired this week for statements made during jury selection in the recent aggravated robbery trial for Darius Lovings. Lehmberg fired Brand for comments he made about a potential juror also being a member of the local NAACP chapter. The statements drew criticism after Brand made reference to possible bias the juror could hold and drew the comparison to bias a white supremacist might carry.

“It is totally disturbing, alarming, and unacceptable,” said Nelson Linder, a NAACP leader. “This is a courageous decision by Rosemary Lehmberg. Oftentimes, she is criticized, but on this one, she got it right.”

On Thursday, Lehmberg released a statement concerning Brand’s firing.

“Steve Brand’s employment was terminated because he made racially insensitive remarks during jury selection in a felony case.  The Court made a finding that a potential juror was struck based on racial reasons, which required her to dismiss the entire jury panel.  Travis County citizens need to know that membership in the NAACP does not disqualify you from jury service in our community.”

However, Brand’s attorney told KXAN his firing is because he took part in a Texas Ranger investigation.

“Steve Brand was fired from his job because he had previously cooperated with Texas Rangers who were investigating Lehmberg’s conduct in her role as district attorney,” said Tom Nesbitt, who is representing Brand.

Although Nesbitt did not have details about the investigation, he said Texas Rangers told Brand they were looking into whether or not Lehmberg encouraged prosecutors within her office to alter statements they intended to tell Austin Police Department internal affairs officers.

Nesbitt says Brand wants his job back and will file an internal grievance with the county.

“We will file a whistleblower lawsuit for what we feel is an unlawful termination,” said Nesbitt.

When contacted for a response to the allegations, Lehmberg called them “completely untrue,” reiterating Brand was fired for making racially insensitive comments and that a court order also believed the comments to be inappropriate.

That characterization of the incident is disputed by Nesbitt.

“He would have no reason to strike a juror because of race and he did not in this case,” said Nesbitt. “I don’t think any reasonable practitioner in his field think it was grounds for termination.”

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