Senior District Judge Pat Priest , who sentenced DeLay to three years in prison for laundering corporate money into political donations, urged the lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro to consider plea negotiations at a status conference, according to sources.
The sources asked that their names not be used because they were commenting on a sealed court order.
Sealing a motion to remove a judge is so unusual that it raised red flags about why Priest would remove himself in such a high-profile case. But legal experts, including a senior judge, said Priest’s words to the co-defendants’ lawyers, as described by the sources, did not sound out of line.
“I personally don’t think there is a problem with that,” said Senior District Judge Jon Wisser of Austin.
On Thursday , Priest agreed to remove himself from the upcoming trial of Ellis and Colyandro without explanation in a brief pretrial hearing. The judge, who has spent more than five years overseeing the case, declined to comment for this story.
“It is a super-high publicity case,” Wisser said. “Judge Priest might just be tired of it.”
Several other experts quoted thought it was no big deal, either. I suppose that means it’s fairly standard practice, and I must say that if that’s so, it probably shouldn’t be, and I can see the defense team’s point. Judges should stay out of that discussion for the most part. Having said that, I don’t think Judge Priest’s advice was at all unsound. I’ve always believed that the case against Ellis and Colyandro was much stronger than the case against DeLay, and we know what happened with him. But I’m just some guy on the Internets, and if they like their chances at trial then no one should stand in their way.
One more thing:
Priest is not the first judge whose impartiality has been questioned during the DeLay cases.
In 2005, DeLay objected to the original judge, Bob Perkins , an Austin Democrat, because he had donated to Democratic causes and MoveOn.org, a frequent DeLay critic.
On the other hand, prosecutors objected to Judge B.B. Schraub , a Seguin Republican, because he had given money to Republicans.
Schraub, the region’s presiding judge at the time, recused himself before naming a replacement for Perkins.
Whoever replaces Priest will be judge #4 on the case. I wonder what the record is for most judges and most recusals in a single case.