For the second time, Judge Bert Richardson, who was elected as a Republican to the nine-member Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, has ruled Rick Perry must stand trial on corruption charges.
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This isn't the way it was supposed to go. The game plan was always, keep the case in state court, get it in front of a Republican judge and let the "Good Ol' Boys" Texas brotherhood make it go away. But for a second time, Republican judge Bert Richardson has refused the motions to dismiss submitted by Gov. Perry's high priced lawyers (he's already spent more than a million dollars of campaign funds on his defense,) and has ruled the former governor must stand trial.
Judge Richardson's ruling came in reply to a 60-page motion filed last August by Gov. Perry's legal team. It argued that the law under which Gov. Perry is charged is "unconstitutionally vague" and is being misused to turn a political dispute into a criminal charge. It also claimed that the indictment against Gov. Perry violates his right of free speech. The prosecutor argued the case was more substantial than it was being characterized by the defense and should be heard by a jury, and the judge agreed.
The charges stem from the governor's veto of a $7.5 million appropriation meant for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. Governor Perry vetoed the money, which is legal, but he did it after threatening to withhold funding for the unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, resigned. If true, that threat is not. Perry is also charged with offering to find Ms. Lehberg a new position if she would step aside as district attorney, which, if proved, would also be against Texas law.
Perry has said publicly that he thinks the people of Texas have lost faith in Ms. Lehmberg after her arrest in April 2013 for drunk driving. The incident included a video of Lehmberg's field sobriety test.
Perhaps the governor thought his threats against Ms. Lehmberg (right) would be seen as just another Texas he-man passing judgement on a woman fallen from grace, but the bad news for Governor Perry is, at the time he went after Ms. Lehmberg, the Public Integrity Unit was looking into one of Governor Perry’s pet projects. If Ms. Lehmberg had yielded to his pressure and resigned, Governor Perry would have been able to appoint her replacement. Instead, Ms. Lehmberg pleaded guilty, fulfilled her 45-day sentence, completed a treatment program, and refused to resign.
So Governor Perry vetoed the money.
Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum and a grand jury have been looking into the corruption charges against Governor Perry since April. McCrum is one of Texas's most distinguished lawyers, specializing in white collar crime defense for the last fourteen years. Before entering private practice, McCrum spent a decade as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District, specializing in prosecuting racketeering, drug, and money laundering cases. In 2010, he was on the short list to be President Obama's nominee for U.S. Attorney for the Western District, and impossible as it seems, he had the backing of the state's two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson. According to the Dallas News, a half-dozen Perry staff members have appeared before the grand jury, including his budget expert, legislative liaison, deputy communications director and criminal justice adviser
The Governor's office renounce the indictment, releasing the following statement:
"The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. We will continue to aggressively defend the governor's lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail."
It has been obvious to anyone paying attention that former governor Perry, at least until now, has not taken the corruption charges - which could entitle him to 109 years in a Texas prison - at all seriously. His grinning mugshot (right) appeared on the cover of GQ magazine. His political friends have been yucking it up on Twitter. And though he hasn't formally announced his candidacy, Gov. Perry has been busy on the presidential trail, speaking at Steve King's carnival in Iowa last weekend, with South Carolina scheduled as his next stop.
Perhaps this refusal to make it all go away will get Governor Perry's attention?
Perry's lawyers have only one avenue left before they tell their story to a jury. They can appeal to the entire nine member Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and hope enough Good Ol' Boys on board.
Judge Bert Richardson, Republican, has spoken. The case against Governor Perry will move forward.
Judge Richardson's photo is from his campaign
Ms. Lehmberg's photo via Facebook