Los Angeles Times
One count against Perry dismissed
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry won a partial legal victory Friday when a state judicial panel dismissed one of two felony counts accusing the Republican presidential hopeful of abusing his power while in office.
The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin said Perry’s 2014 indictment charging him with coercion of a public official violated his free speech rights. “Accordingly, it cannot be enforced,” the court ruled.
The judges held that a second charge, misuse of the governor’s office, could proceed to trial.
Both sides in the legal fight claimed vindication.
“The remaining charge is hanging by a thread,” said Tony Buzbee, Perry’s lead attorney, “and we are comfortable that once it is put before the court, it will be dismissed on its face.”
Craig McDonald, the head of the group behind an ethics complaint leading to Perry’s indictment, Texans for Public Justice, said the ruling “by the all-Republican three-judge panel” allowing the matter to proceed on the lone count underlines the fact that the charges filed against Perry aren’t “the result of a partisan witch hunt.”
The case revolves around Travis County Dist. Atty. Rosemary Lehmberg, who was arrested in April 2013 for drunk driving.
She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a $4,000 fine and served about half of a 45-day jail sentence. Lehmberg, who is serving her second term, said she would not seek reelection in 2016. But she refused Perry’s demand that she immediately resign; he then followed through on a veto threat and cut $7.5 million in funding for the state’s public integrity unit, which is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office.
The office has a history of tense relations with the state’s Republican power structure — Lehmberg is a Democrat — and a number of politically sensitive investigations were eventually dropped for lack of funding.
Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint and an independent prosecutor was appointed to investigate. Perry was indicted in August. Since then, the former governor has failed in repeated attempts to have the case dismissed.
Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, left office in January after more than 14 years to focus full-time on his second White House bid. Although he lags far behind in opinion polls, his indictment has rarely come up on the campaign trail, as his GOP rivals steer clear of the issue and voters don’t seem to care.