Fight over Harris County DA's emails

December 28, 2007 9:57:35 AM PST
It's email which reads like a romance novel, an inter-office affair between a married man and his administrative assistant. He tells her he loves her and he wants to take her somewhere. But the author of the email is a familiar face in Harris County. You pay his salary. It's District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal. And he says the fact the email was released in the first place is all part of dirty politics.

Rosenthal's team was in federal court Thursday morning objecting to the public release of the emails. He says all of this stems from a man who once wanted his job.

Attorneys for two men who have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county requested the emails for their case. The emails not only outline some of the professional practices of Rosenthal, but intimate details of his personal life, too.

It all started with a 2004 federal lawsuit filed by two brothers. Rosenthal was called to give a deposition. Emails were subpoenaed as part of the case. The contents of those emails have been somewhat a diversion to the original case.

"It was never our intent, never our goal to embarrass anyone like that," said plaintiff attorney David Tang.

Among the correspondence from the county DA's email address are exchanges between Rosenthal and his executive secretary, Kerry Stevens.

In a three-day period in July of this year, Rosenthal wrote to Stevens' home email saying, "You saw me looking at new toys yesterday. I could buy one or save the money to take you somewhere."

In another brief email, he says, "Bet I could make you sleep."

And on the Fourth of July, he writes to her, "I love you so much."

Eyewitness News obtained copies of the emails after the records were unsealed last Friday. On Thursday morning, Rosenthal's new attorney - this one is not a county lawyer - says the records are private.

"I really was pleased to have the opportunity to be heard by the court," said Ronald Lewis, Rosenthal's Attorney. "The courts always work to do the best they can. I have no further comment on the matter."

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ordered the hundreds of pages of emails be sealed back up.

Allegations have been made that the request and release of the emails are part of a political plot. Attorney Lloyd Kelley is representing the two brothers in the original civil lawsuit.

Kelly, who used to be city controller, ran for DA against Rosenthal seven years ago and lost. Kelly is also a friend and former law partner of C.O. Bradford, former Houston police chief, and Rosenthal's opponent in next year's election.

Attorneys for Kelley's firm deny that.

"We'll follow what the court says to do on it," said Tang. "Our position has always been the public should have access to see what their elected officials are doing on company, on taxpayer time and on taxpayer equipment."

The civil rights case is set for federal court on January 8. Rosenthal declined to comment further on the emails. His campaign manager declined as well.

On Friday, Rosenthal released the following statement:

    Recently some Harris County District Attorney inner office emails have been released in the media. I understand that I have said some things that have caused pain and difficulty for my family, my coworkers and friends. I deeply regret having said those things. Moreover, I am sorry for the problems I have caused anyone. I also understand that sometimes things happen for a purpose. This event has served as a wake-up call to me to get my house in order both literally and figuratively.

    Charles A. "Chuck" Rosenthal
    Harris County District Attorney