Tom DeLay wins a round in court in a narrow decision that “defies common sense”.
The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday affirmed the 2005 dismissal of a felony indictment against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and two associates.
In the 5-4 decision, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Judge Pat Priest’s decision to throw out an indictment accusing DeLay and his associates, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, of conspiring to violate state election laws. The majority said the conspiracy statute did not apply to election laws in 2002 when DeLay’s political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, spent $600,000 in corporate money to affect the elections. The Legislature extended the conspiracy law to election violations the next year.
Despite the victory, DeLay, who retired from Congress in 2006 because of the indictments, still faces a charge of conspiring to launder corporate money into campaign donations. That indictment, which Priest upheld, is being challenged by DeLay and his associates on constitutional grounds.
DeLay’s lawyer Dick DeGuerin predicted Wednesday that it could be another year before DeLay’s legal problems are resolved.
Earle said he would seek a re-hearing because the ruling means prosecutors cannot prevent criminals from conspiring to break laws not designated by the Legislature.
In 2002, DeLay raised corporate money, mostly from Washington lobbyists, to be spent in Texas to affect the legislative campaigns. With Republicans winning control of the Legislature, DeLay persuaded state lawmakers to redraw congressional districts to favor Republicans and reinforce his hold on his leadership post.
State law generally prohibits spending corporate money in connection with a campaign. The defendants argued they spent the corporate money to support their political committee and not directly for candidates.
DeLay’s political committee also sent $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Republican National Committee which, in a matter of days, sent the same amount in campaign donations raised from individuals in other states to seven Texas candidates for the Legislature, including Jack Stick and Todd Baxter of Austin.
Prosecutors accused DeLay of laundering the money. DeLay’s lawyers said the contributions were separate transactions that did not violate state election laws.
In Wednesday’s decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals had to decide whether a conspiracy charge could be applied to all felonies or only those specified by the Legislature. To side with prosecutors, the court would have had to either reverse or limit its decisions from the 1970s that the Legislature must specify that the conspiracy statute applies to felonies outside the penal code.
The court’s majority noted that the Legislature had not reacted to the rulings. Instead, lawmakers applied the conspiracy law piecemeal to various felonies.
The dissent said not applying conspiracy to all felonies defies common sense.
One of the judges in the majority said he might have ruled differently “were we writing on the proverbial pristine slate.”