Legal jihad against Rick Perry ends; court dismisses second felony charge
Former Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry's indictiment on coerction and abuse of power charges has been dismissed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, putting an end to a politically motivated prosecution by Democrats who tried to criminalize a political dispute.
At issue was Perry's threatened veto of funding of the state's public integrity unit unless one of its members, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned. Lemberg had been arrested for DWI and a series of videos of the arrest and booking showed a drunk, arrogant, violent woman threatening officers and generally making a spectacle of herself.
Lehmberg blew a blood alcohol level of .239 - 3 times the legal limit.
Perry made good on his veto threat when Lehmberg refused to step down. Angry liberals concocted a prosecution against the governor, taking a political dispute and criminalizing it.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday ruled that courts could not limit veto power and that prosecuting Perry over his action violates “the separation of powers provision of the Texas Constitution” and infringed on his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Two of the court’s nine judges dissented, and one abstained.
The ruling signals an end to more than 18 months of criminal proceedings that stretched into a presidential campaign that never gained traction.
"The court upheld the rule of law and the fundamental right of any person to speak freely without fear of political interference or legal intimidation," Perry said Wednesday at a brief press conference in Austin. “The actions that I took were not only lawful and legal, but they were right.”
The case against the longest-serving governor in Texas history centered on a threat to veto $7.5 million in state funds for the public integrity unit of the Travis County district attorney's office, and questions about whether he abused his authority — allegations that he called a "baseless political attack." The unit was charged with investigating and prosecuting state corruption.
After Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, Perry threatened to veto state funding for the integrity unit unless she first resigned.
Lehmberg remains in office but is not seeking re-election.
At issue in the case the Court of Criminal Appeals considered: a 2015 ruling by a state appeals court that dismissed the coercion charge. Perry's lawyers challenged that decision, arguing that the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals should have also dismissed the abuse-of-power charge. The state also got involved, appealing the ruling because it struck down a part of the Texas penal code that defines coercion.
Perry and his lawyers argued — successfully, as it turns out — that he was acting within the powers of a governor and did nothing criminal.
No doubt Perry was playing hard ball politics by creating a quid pro quo to continue funding the unit as long as Lehmberg stepped down. But as the courts at every level ruled, Perry's actions did not rise to the level of criminality.
Did the indictments doom Perry's campaign for president? He believes it did, although you have to wonder how many Republicans nationwide were aware of the charges. And Donald Trump didn't need the indictments to crush Perry and other candidates in the early days of the campaign.
Nevertheless, this politically motivated witch hunt - like the one against former Rep. Tom Delay - damages the reputations of fine public servants who don't deserve to be smeared by the petty, partisan antics of Democrats.