Lawyer for DeLay Urges Ruling Soon
Thursday, March 23, 2006
AUSTIN, March 22 -- The arguments before the state 3rd Court of Appeals on Wednesday were about whether a felony charge of conspiracy to violate the Texas Election Code should be reinstated against former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). But the underlying issue was politics.
In a thinly veiled reference to DeLay's bid for reelection this year while under indictment on state money-laundering and conspiracy charges, the congressman's attorney asked the three-judge panel to rule quickly.
"Justice delayed is justice denied in this case," Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin said in his opening remarks. "I ask you treat this case with dispatch and render decision forthwith."
DeGuerin later told reporters the criminal case against DeLay has clearly affected not only his reign as majority leader but also his quest to win a 12th term to Congress this year. DeLay was forced to step down from his leadership post upon being indicted in September on charges stemming from the 2002 election cycle.
With a trial looming sometime in 2006, Republicans permanently replaced DeLay last month by electing Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio as majority leader.
Earlier this month, DeLay faced an unusually large field of opponents in the Republican primary in his suburban Houston district. Although he handily won the four-way race, he faces a much tougher general election. He did not attend Wednesday's hearing but spent the day in his district.
"He's going to have an extremely well-funded opponent in November," DeGuerin said, predicting a large infusion of money into the campaign of DeLay's Democratic opponent, former representative Nick Lampson.
"I think we're going to see the outside money come into this race. It will make 2002 and 2003 pale by comparison," DeGuerin said. "The November elections are coming up. That's very important."
The case before the 3rd Court of Appeals was brought by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is attempting to reinstate against DeLay a felony charge of conspiracy to violate the state election code. The charge was dismissed in December by Senior District Court Judge Pat Priest, who concluded the election-code allegation was not covered by Texas's conspiracy law until 2003, a year after Earle said the violation occurred.
Priest left standing charges of money laundering. Both indictments stem from allegations that DeLay and two political associates funneled $190,000 in illegal corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas House of Representatives in 2002. Those contributions helped Republicans gain control of the state legislature. In 2003, at DeLay's behest, the legislature approved a congressional redistricting plan that sent more Republicans from Texas to Congress in the 2004 election.
The arguments Wednesday, presented by Assistant District Attorney Rick Reed and rebutted by DeGuerin, focused on technical legal questions -- an exchange that DeGuerin joked afterward was as exciting as "watching paint dry."
Addressing reporters, Earle said he believes both sides had had an opportunity to more fully explain their positions. "I will say that to violate the election laws of Texas is a crime . . . and we will await the court's decision," he said.
It was unclear when the appeals court will rule. Priest is awaiting resolution of the appeal until proceeding with DeLay's trial on the money-laundering charge. Also before the trial starts, Priest will have to decide several motions by DeLay's lawyer, including a request to move the trial to DeLay's home town of Sugar Land.