Former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) won an early round in his money-laundering and conspiracy trial Tuesday by getting a judge aligned with Democratic candidates and causes removed from the case.
The ruling to recuse Travis County District Judge Bob Perkins was made by District Judge C.W. Duncan after a four-hour hearing. DeLay's lawyers argued that Perkins's impartiality appears to be compromised by his contributing money to national and local Democratic candidates, as well as to MoveOn.org, a group that has targeted DeLay's defeat in national fundraising efforts.
"He's not the right judge for this case," said DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, after the ruling. "It's not personal; it's not about him. It's about the appearance of impropriety."
DeLay, who stepped down as majority leader in September after his indictment, left the courtroom smiling but did not take questions from reporters.
DeGuerin said the next motion to be heard in the case by a newly appointed judge will be a request to move DeLay's trial out of heavily Democratic Travis County.
During the hearing, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle argued that "whether somebody gives to a political party doesn't mean anything about whether they are for or against Tom DeLay. There is a strong presumption of judicial impartiality. . . . We cannot afford to make integrity a partisan issue."
Perkins voluntarily stepped aside in a 1994 case against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) because he had made a $300 contribution to her political opponent, but had declined to recuse himself in DeLay's case.
DeLay is accused, along with associates Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, of soliciting $190,000 in corporate donations and sending them to the Republican National Committee. The committee subsequently donated a total of $190,000 to seven Republican candidates for the Texas legislature, circumventing Texas election law that bans direct corporate contributions to state campaigns.
All three have denied wrongdoing. DeLay also has accused Earle, a Democrat, of pursuing a political vendetta against him.
DeLay's legal defense cost at least $260,000 in the third quarter of this year, the period ending with his indictment, but he has not borne any of that expense personally, according to a financial disclosure by his legal defense fund released Tuesday.
During the same period, the fund brought in at least $318,020, including $141,000 from corporations and political action committees, and $177,020 from energy firm executives and other individuals in New Jersey, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith in Washington contributed to this report.