Liberal appeals court judge removed from hearing Tom DeLay's case
Tom DeLay has been on a legal odyssey for one-and-one-half years -- a seemingly Quixotic effort to get a fair hearing before the 3rd Court of Appeals in Texas. On Friday, however, the former U.S. House Republican Majority leader won a critical legal skirmish -- the removal of Democratic Justice Diane Henson from hearing his appeal for financial and election-law crimes.
Who is Henson? Certainly no paragon of judicial impartiality. In the past, she has publicly vilified the state's Republican judges as "zealots." More ominously, she indicated a desire to hear DeLay's appeal to ensure justice was done.
All of which gives credence to Republicans who have long suspected that DeLay was the victim of a Democratic witch hunt in the liberal bastion of Travis County, where he was tried and convicted by a Democratic prosecutor
A recap of recent history regarding the DeLay case is in order. In January 2011, DeLay was convicted in an Austin courtroom of money laundering: specifically, of illegally funneling $190,000 of corporate money into campaign donations during the 2002 election. From the start, though, the charges against DeLay seemed to push the legal envelope of what constitutes money laundering -- a crime more commonly associated with drug kingpins and thugs. To the delight of many in Travis County, DeLay was nevertheless sentenced to three years in prison. He has been free during his appeal.
Which brings us back to DeLay's wanna-be Grand Inquisitor, Judge Henson. In demanding her removal, DeLay's lawyer Brian Wice of Houston raised alarm bells over a Republican-bashing speech that Henson delivered in 2006 at the state's Democratic Party convention. Henson at the time was a candidate for the Austin-based appellate court -- and she knew how to get the attention of fellow Democrats. In her very first sentence after introducing herself, Henson called attention to an interesting fact about the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals. "It is the court of appeals that would hear the appeal of Tom DeLay if by chance he was convicted," she declared.
Henson also lambasted President George Bush's criticism of activist liberal judges, telling the audience "the only activist judges we have in Texas are those conservative right-wing zealots that control our courts today, and they are Republicans." What's more, she said, the GOP has "filled the courts, our appellate courts, with extremists, with people that are controlled by special interests, big insurance companies and big corporations."
Her remarks drew shouts of approval and applause. Her performance may be seen in the YouTube clip, below:
The Austin American-Statesman broke the story of Henson removal, with reporter Laylan Copelin noting in a Sunday article that the 3rd Court of Appeals had announced Henson's removal, without explanation, on its website on Friday. In the past, Henson had not commented on Wice's motion to remove her. She also "had refused to recuse herself from the case," the Statesman noted.
Obviously delighted with Henson's removal, Wice told the Statesman: "All we ever asked for was a level playing field. That wasn't going to happen as long as Justice Henson's DNA was on the case."
To date, DeLay's quest for an impartial panel of appellate judges has been a tortuous one, but not merely because of Judge Henson. As the Statesman explained:
(DeLay's) appeal was delayed when three of the four Republican justices on the 3rd Court recused themselves from hearing the case. They gave no reason for stepping aside. That left DeLay's fate in the hands of two Democrats and a Republican.
When Wice challenged Henson, the 3rd Court was down to Chief Justice Woodie Jones, a Democrat, and Justice Melissa Goodwin, a Republican, to decide whether Henson could hear the DeLay case.
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson added a third, temporary justice to hear the motion against Henson. He appointed San Antonio District Judge David Berchelmann Jr., a Republican and a former criminal appellate justice.
With Henson now off the case, Wice said Saturday he expects Jefferson will appoint a justice to hear oral arguments with Jones and Goodwin.
Arguments in the politically charged case are expected to go forward this fall.
All in all, Henson must be fuming over her removal in light of her apparent eagerness to sit in judgment of DeLay. Previously, one of her biggest claims to fame was having written an opinion for the 3rd Court of Appeals that upheld the right of two lesbians who'd gotten married in Massachusetts to get divorced in Texas - even though Texas prohibits same-sex marriage.
Editor's note: Also see an earlier American Thinker article, "Tom DeLay and moral equivalence in Travis County, Texas."