Image: Texas district attorney
Pat Sullivan  /  AP file
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, shown Oct. 9, is facing increased pressure to resign after the release of sexually and racially charged messages he sent and received using his county e-mail account.
updated 1/9/2008 10:04:25 PM ET 2008-01-10T03:04:25

The man considered Texas' most powerful district attorney faced intense pressure to resign Wednesday after the release of sexually and racially charged messages he sent and received using his county e-mail account.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, a Christian conservative, was running for re-election unopposed in the Republican primary until the release over the holidays of affectionate e-mails between him and his secretary.

"The very next time I see you, I want to kiss you behind your right ear," he e-mailed assistant Kerry Stevens, with whom he has acknowledged having an affair in the 1980s.

Although Rosenthal has insisted the affair has been over for years, he wrote Stevens in July: "Hopefully, sometime this week you will let me hold you."

The e-mails also show Rosenthal, 61, used his e-mail account to strategize about his campaign. It is illegal in Texas to use government property for political activity.

Rosenthal told top county officials Wednesday he would not resign despite admitted poor judgment.

"Thankfully stupidity is not a ground (for removal)," Rosenthal said Wednesday in an e-mail to Ed Emmett, the county's chief executive, who released the note to reporters.

Fellow Republicans call for resignation
Emmett, also a Republican, said the e-mails were disgusting and Rosenthal should step down to spare the county and his own staff the embarrassment of a lengthy investigation.

"If I had the ability to fire him ... yes, I would have," Emmett said.

Jared Woodfill, the GOP chairman in the conservative county surrounding Houston, said Rosenthal "needs to go."

Rosenthal did not immediately return a call Wednesday. Woodfill said Rosenthal has denied in the past sending or receiving any racist e-mails.

Stevens, taking a call for Rosenthal from The Associated Press, declined to comment Wednesday on the messages.

Party officials urged Rosenthal last week not to seek re-election. He withdrew from the GOP ballot but considered running as an independent. Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler filed for the Republican nomination.

Racist e-mails emerge
But this week, more e-mails surfaced from public information requests by local media. Rosenthal forwarded a racist e-mail comparing former President Clinton to stereotypes of black men and received other racist e-mails.

Another e-mail, sent by Siegler's physician husband, included a video of men forcibly pulling down women's blouses in public.

County GOP leaders called on the state attorney general to investigate. A spokesman for Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott said the office was reviewing the request.

Under Texas law, district judges may remove district attorneys from office for incompetence, official misconduct or intoxication on or off the job. Official misconduct is defined as "intentional, unlawful behavior" relating to official duties.

Most death sentences in nation
Rosenthal was first elected in 2000. He has said the death penalty is God's law as well as the state's and that he follows both. He presides over an office that sends more convicts to death row than any other prosecutors' office in the nation.

The 860 e-mails emerged as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt mistakenly released the first batch of e-mails last month after a request by Houston television station KHOU. He later resealed those messages, saying he had only meant to make public Rosenthal's request that those e-mails be withheld.

The second batch of e-mails was released after Hoyt said Monday they were not subject to a protective order.

Hoyt is also looking into accusations that Rosenthal deleted more than 2,500 e-mails requested by the plaintiffs' attorney in the civil rights lawsuit.

Rosenthal said in court documents last month that he deleted the e-mails to reduce their large volume visible on his computer. He said he believed a list of the e-mails had been printed and that even if deleted, they could still be retrieved by his technical staff. He said that staff has been working to try to retrieve the e-mails.

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