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Jim Ellis

DeLay wants to sue

Whatever you say, dude.

Are YOU fit to judge me?

Are YOU fit to judge me?

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, reveling in victory Thursday against Texas prosecutors in a money-laundering case, said his political career is over but he’s eager to return to the courthouse.

If he can find a lawyer “with a backbone,” DeLay said, he’ll considering suing the Travis County district attorney for the eight-year legal clash that ended with an appeals court tossing his conviction.

“I cannot take this laying down. For the welfare of the people that serve in the future, I can’t just let this go,” he said.

The threat was vintage DeLay. As the GOP’s No. 3 leader in the House after the 1994 takeover, he earned the nickname “The Hammer” for an aggressive style that cowed fellow Republicans and tormented Democrats.

Yes, and like other best-forgotten relics of bygone decades, he’s back to enjoy a moment in the sun and to try to cash in while he still can. I wouldn’t go lawyer-shopping just yet, however, since there’s still the small matter of the state’s appeal to the CCA. Mark Bennett thinks that the top court’s all-GOP panel isn’t likely to grant discretionary review, but with all due respect to his infinitely greater knowledge of the criminal justice system, I disagree. The CCA may be a bastion of Republicans, but they’re pro-prosecutor first and foremost. Maybe there’s enough overlap between Republicans and prosecutors in this state to conflate the two, but I believe there’s a difference. I mean, just ask yourself: What would Sharon Keller do? Sure, maybe she’s rubbed elbows with Tom DeLay before, at a fundraiser or an execution-watching party, but do you think that’s enough to overcome her bedrock belief that anyone who’s been arrested for a crime must be guilty of something, and it’s her job as a judge to make sure they stay guilty for it? Anything is possible, I guess, but expecting Sharon Keller to buy the argument of a defendant seems like a losing bet to me.

Yes, I know she’s not the only judge on the CCA, but the rest of them are hardly flaming defense attorneys. And before you suggest that Keller might listen to the arguments before making up her mind, I have to ask – Have you ever read one of her opinions? The facts don’t exist to shape her opinion, the facts exist to be shaped to fit her opinion. Who are we kidding here? If Sharon Keller wants you to be guilty, that’s all the fact she needs.

Anyway. Point is, this still isn’t over. And to answer Lisa Falkenberg’s question about the two guys that pled guilty, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro both had provisions in their plea agreements that took into account the possibility that DeLay’s conviction could get tossed. As such, I think they’re both pretty happy right about now.

Can you believe it’s been ten years?

Where were YOU when it all began?

Ten years (and one week) ago, four defeated Democratic candidates for the State House filed a lawsuit against the Texas Association of Business, claiming that TAB funneled illegal corporate contributions into state legislative races in the 2002 election. As you can see from what I wrote at the time – yes, I was blogging that long ago – I didn’t think it was likely that anything would come of this. Boy, was I wrong about that. This litigation started a chain of events that eventually led to a Travis County DA investigation of Tom DeLay and his arrest and conviction, and also to his appearance on Dancing with the Stars. Amazingly, the story is not over, and may not be over any time soon. DeLay is of course appealing his conviction, and he still has the Court of Criminal Appeals to plead to if he doesn’t win this round. His cronies Jim Ellis and John Colyandro took pleas in recent months after a similar line of appeal failed to get their indictments quashed. Their plea deals include a get-out-of-probation-free clause in the event that the infamous Citizens United ruling winds up mooting the Texas law that led to all their prosecutions. I thought about all this back when Ellis copped his plea, and put a note on my calendar to commemorate the anniversary, which I didn’t get to in time because I kind of suck at that sort of thing, but what does another week mean in this saga? I might want to create a reminder for the 20th anniversary of the original lawsuit, because it’s possible there could still be unfinished business by then. Anyway, take a moment and marvel at the wonder of it all. Where were you when it all began?

UPDATE: Just to be clear, DeLay made his memorable appearance on Dancing With The Stars prior to his trial and conviction. I have changed the wording in that sentence to clarify.

Colyandro takes a plea

Missed this on Friday.

Who's next?

It took five minutes for Capitol figure John Colyandro to end a decade-long saga that swept his boss, former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, out of Congress and politics altogether.

Colyandro, the last individual with charges pending in the DeLay money-laundering case, pleaded guilty Friday to lesser charges of accepting illegal political contributions during the 2002 state legislative elections.

He received one-year deferred adjudication on two Class A misdemeanor charges, meaning there will be no final conviction on his record if he successfully completes unsupervised probation. He also was fined $8,000.

[…]

Despite Friday’s plea, Colyandro continues to face civil litigation arising from the 2002 election.

DeLay remains free on bail, pending his appeal of his three-year prison sentence and conviction on conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

A third co-defendant, Jim Ellis, DeLay’s right-hand political staffer in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in June to a felony charge of making an illegal campaign contribution. Ellis, who negotiated the $190,000 exchange, received four years of probation and was fined $10,000.

[…]

Colyandro’s plea bargain includes a provision, similar to one offered to Ellis, that takes into account the possibility that the current state law might be challenged.

See here and here for the relevant bits on the criminal cases. I’ve no idea where any civil litigation stands at this point – honestly, I thought that had been resolved years ago, but I suppose there still could be something out there, or the potential for something in the future once the criminal stuff is all done. The only case still going is DeLay’s. It’s not the end of an era yet, but you can almost see it from here.

DeLay argues his case before the appeals court panel

It’s an old, familiar argument.

Who are YOU to say that checks aren't cash?

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay should not go to prison on money-laundering charges because the 2002 campaign transaction involved a $190,000 check and not cash, his lawyer argued before the Third Court of Appeals Wednesday.

Houston lawyer Brian Wice said the Legislature later changed the money-laundering statute to include checks, proving that DeLay’s transaction was not covered by the law. But Travis County prosecutor Holly Taylor said lawmakers in 2005 were only clarifying what was already the law.

She said Wice’s argument is ludicrous because a drug dealer would have been guilty of money laundering if he used a money order but not a cashier’s check.

Taylor pointed out that criminals using checks were being successfully prosecuted before the 2005 change in the law, while Wice countered that their lawyers “didn’t have the sense” to raise the no-cash defense.

Yes, it’s our old friend the checks aren’t cash argument. Perhaps it’s just that previous lawyers didn’t have the brass to raise that defense. I’ll be honest, I thought the Court of Criminal Appeals settled this matter in 2010 when they unanimously ruled that the state’s money-laundering statute did apply to checks. That was an appeal from the Ellis/Colyandro trial, so I guess DeLay gets to make the same arguments himself. There’s also an issue being raised about whether or not the corporate donors knew what their money was going to, but this to me is the signature question. All we know for sure is that the CCA will get to rule on it again. The Trib has more.

More DeLay trial news

Some other action on the Tom DeLay front this week.

I'm pointing at YOU!

The Tom DeLay legal marathon inched forward Wednesday on two separate fronts.

John Colyandro, a DeLay co-defendant who has been under investigation since 2003, found out his trial won’t start until next year.

Meanwhile, DeLay, who is fighting his conviction and three-year prison sentence, finally knows which three justices on the 3rd Court of Appeals will hear his appeal.

[…]

Pre-trial motions in Colyandro’s case will be heard Oct. 9, but the Austin district court’s schedule won’t allow time for a trial before 2013.

[…]

On Wednesday, Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson named Justice David Gaultney, a Beaumont Republican on the Ninth Court of Appeals.
Gaultney, who’s been an appellate justice since 2001, joins 3rd Court Chief Justice Woody Jones, a Democrat, and Justice Melissa Goodwin,a Republican, on the DeLay appeal.

Judge Gaultney replaces Judge Diane Henson, who was removed from the case after DeLay challenged her impartiality. Colyandro is the last of the DeLay cronies to learn his fate after Jim Ellis took a plea earlier this year. By the time Colyandro’s trial actually begins, the crimes of which he has been accused will be more than ten years old. Well, you can’t rush these things.

Former DeLay aide Ellis pleads guilty

This was out of the blue.

Who's next?

Tom DeLay’s chief political aide, Jim Ellis, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge of making an illegal campaign contribution during the 2002 election.

Ellis, who headed DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority political action committee, was the aide who negotiated an exchange of $190,000 of corporate money for campaign contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature, according to testimony in DeLay’s 2010 trial.

Ellis received a four-year probation and was fined $10,000 on a charge that he made a contribution of corporate money to a political party within 60 days of an election.

[…]

Under the terms of Ellis’ plea, the adjudication of the third-degree felony charge is deferred, meaning a final conviction won’t be reflected on his record if he successfully completes probation.

Ellis also cannot work for a political action committee in any capacity in which he handles or solicits corporate political contributions. There will be no travel restrictions for Ellis, who lives in Virginia.

Ellis also agreed to testify in any future legal proceedings. Charges are pending against Ellis’ co-defendant, John Colyandro of Austin, who is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 8. Colyandro was executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, the political committee that DeLay chaired.

In exchange for Ellis’ plea, prosecutors dismissed conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

Prosecutors also agreed to cut Ellis a break in the event the state law is eventually overturned in court, which after the most recent “Citizens United” ruling you have to think is a live possibility. I must say, after all this time I did not expect someone to cop a plea, even though I have always believed that the case against Ellis and Colyandro was stronger than the one against DeLay himself. The most recent development in this case before now was last year when Judge Pat Priest recused himself after urging Ellis and Colyandro to consider accepting pleas. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Speaking of DeLay and recusals, we now have a pinch hitter for the Third Court of Appeals.

A San Antonio district judge was temporarily appointed to the 3rd Court of Appeals on Wednesday to help determine whether Justice Diane Henson, a Democrat, should be recused from considering Tom DeLay’s money-laundering case.

Under state appellate rules, when judges decline to recuse themselves — as Henson has done — the matter goes before the entire court to decide by a majority vote.

But three Republicans on the six-judge court have already recused themselves from hearing DeLay’s appeal, giving no reason for their removal. And the rules do not allow Henson to vote on the request.

Needing a third judge to decide DeLay’s motion to recuse, Woodie Jones, chief justice of the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, last week asked the Texas Supreme Court to name a temporary panel member.

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson responded Wednesday by appointing San Antonio District Judge David Berchelmann Jr. to the appeals court “for as long as may be necessary to hear and rule on the motion.”

DeLay’s lawyers have said that “anti-Republican remarks” made by Henson at a state Democratic Party convention in 2006 raised questions about her impartiality.

See here and here for some background. Judge Berchelmann is there to help decide whether or not Judge Henson can hear the appeal of DeLay’s conviction. If she is removed for the appeal, a substitute will have to be named for her, since there are no more un-tainted judges on the Third Court any more. By the way, if the name “David Bedrchelmann” sounds familiar to you, it’s because he was the judge in the Sharon Keller case. That case was a mess in more ways than one, and I can’t say I was impressed by Judge Berchelmann’s performance. That’s water under the bridge now, so we’ll see what happens here.

DeLay files appeal of his conviction

The man has been a boon for the defense bar, I’ll say that much for him.

Tom DeLay’s appellate lawyer tapped a movie musical and Shakespeare in a wide-ranging appeal that argues the former U.S. House majority leader was wrongly convicted of conspiring to launder corporate dollars into campaign donations.

In 2002, DeLay’s political committee sent a $190,000 corporate check to the Republican National Committee that, in turn, agreed to donate the same amount from its noncorporate account to Texas candidates. State law prohibits corporate donations to candidates.

The monthlong trial before a Travis County jury last fall turned on the question: Were DeLay and his co-defendants laundering corporate money, or making the kind of “money swaps” both parties had done in the past?

To sum up the legal points in Houston lawyer Brian Wice’s appeal: DeLay didn’t do anything as part of a conspiracy. If he did, it wasn’t a crime. If it was, he couldn’t have known it was a crime. And, besides, the ban against corporate donations is a constitutional infringement on free speech.

Wice also requested a hearing to explain it all.

Judge Pat Priest, a visiting judge from San Antonio, sentenced the Sugar Land Republican, who was once one of the most powerful leaders in Washington D.C., to three years in prison. DeLay remains free pending an appeal that could take months, if not years. Prosecutors have weeks to respond to the brief filed late Thursday.

I should note that convicted felon Tom DeLay had previously filed a motion for a new trial. I have no idea what the status of that is. Also, Judge Priest had previously recused himself from the trial of DeLay’s cronies Jim Ellis and John Colyandro. A new judge has been named, but I have no idea when that trial may get underway. We may all be dead from old age by the time this finally gets adjudicated.

I have to say, DeLay has good taste in attorneys. He had Dick DeGuerin at trial, and Brian Wice is one of the top guys for appeals. As the story notes, he has a decent chance of winning thanks to the ridiculous “checks aren’t cash” ruling the Third Court of Appeals made a few years ago, for which it later received a spanking from the Court of Criminal Appeals. I had never expected DeLay to be found guilty in the first place, so even if he is ultimately freed the fact that I have been able to refer to him as “convicted felon Tom DeLay” in the interim will still have been sweet. And he’ll always be a convicted felon to me, no matter what the courts ultimately say.

New judge in DeLay associates’ case

Meet the new judge, fourth in a series:

The co-defendants of Tom DeLay, who was convicted last fall of conspiring to launder corporate money into political donations, will be tried before state District Judge David Crain, according to a court order filed Wednesday.

Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, the presiding judge of the Central Texas region, tapped Crain after defense lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro claimed visiting Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio was biased against their clients. Priest, who sentenced to DeLay to three years in prison, stepped aside earlier this month.

Stubblefield said under the law the Ellis and Colyandro cases automatically return to the 331st District Court, where the felony charges against them originated.

Judge Crain succeeded Judge Bob Perkins in the 331st. Perkins, of course, was the original judge in the DeLay case, before he was removed via a motion to recuse him from the defense. I feel a song coming on:

What the hell, this case has been around since the earth’s crust cooled. Let’s have another song:

I think I’m done now. More here.

More on Judge Priest recusing himself

We now have a reason for Judge Pat Priest recusing himself in the upcoming trial of DeLay associates Jim Ellis and John Colyandro.

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.

Judge Priest recuses himself in DeLay associates’ trial

Didn’t see this coming.

Two associates of former U.S House Majority leader Tom DeLay will get a new judge.

State District Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio, who oversaw the month-long trial of DeLay last fall, surprisingly recused himself this morning on a motion submitted by the defense.

John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington are charged with conspiring to launder corporate money into campaign donations during the 2002 elections, the same charge DeLay was convicted on last fall.

Defense lawyers declined to say why they wanted Priest removed from the case, noting that the motion was sealed. Priest did not give any insight into why he stepped down.

Billy Ray Stubblefield of Georgetown, presiding judge of the Third Administrative Judicial Region, will appoint a new judge. The next court date for the case will be May 23.

Perhaps we’ll find out some day what this was about. Whoever inherits this better get up to speed quickly, lest it take another few years.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which doesn’t have much more information about this.

DeLay convicted

Just in time for the holiday.

Tom DeLay, the former U.S. House majority leader whose name became synonymous with the Republicans’ controversial rise to power in the Texas House, was found guilty today of laundering money in connection with the 2002 elections.

Jurors sent a note on yellow legal paper that a verdict had been reached to the judge at 4:46 p.m. They had deliberated since Monday afternoon.

They sent word that they had reached a verdict at 4:46 p.m. today.

DeLay was charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money. He faces a possible sentence of 5-99 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine on the money laundering charge, and 2-20 years in prison and a possible $10,000 fine on the conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors earlier said they believe the DeLay case is the first such criminal charge ever filed over Texas’ century-old prohibition on corporate contributions in state political races.

I don’t know what will happen on appeal, and regardless of that I think the possible sentences are a bit over the top, but still. That ought to wipe the smirk off his face for a little while. Maybe there is some justice in the world. I bet Jim Ellis and John Colyandro will have long, hard talks with their lawyers this weekend.

UPDATE: For your schadenfreude-tastic enjoyment, this classic scene from “Cop Rock”, the greatest musical cop show ever produced by Steven Bochco:

It may take awhile to get this stupid grin off of my face.

UPDATE: Juanita celebrates.

Still no verdict in the DeLay trial

Two days of deliberation, lots of questions being asked, but still no decision from the DeLay jury. They’ll try again today, and I’ll be a little surprised if they strike out again. Having said that, a hung jury is certainly within the realm of possibility here. I just wonder if the Travis County DA’s office will take another shot at him if that happens, or if they go for what should be the lower-hanging fruit of Jim Ellis and John Colyandro instead. I’d choose the latter – who knows, they might be able to exert enough pressure during the trial to get them to cop a plea and agree to testify against DeLay in the do-over – but nobody asked me. Juanita has more.

DeLay trial: Defense rests, summaries to begin

Thursday was a wrap, at least as far as evidence and testimony go in the Tom DeLay trial.

This much both sides seemed to agree on: DeLay’s chief political aide, Jim Ellis, negotiated a deal with the Republican National Committee to donate $190,000 to seven Texas candidates from its noncorporate account. In exchange, Texans for a Republican Majority, a political committee DeLay started, gave the RNC $190,000 of corporate money. Ellis provided the RNC with a list of candidates and the amounts they should be given.

Texas law prohibits corporations from donating to candidates directly or indirectly.

Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s lawyer, contended Thursday that no crime was committed: “Money swaps were common. They are lawful. There was no corporate money that came to Texas.”

DeLay told reporters that he didn’t need to testify once prosecutors played excerpts of his 2005 interview with Fox News.

“I didn’t need to say anything else,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that the prosecution finished their case with my testimony.”

Gary Cobb, the lead prosecutor, said he was disappointed that DeLay didn’t testify so that he could cross-examine him but is relying on the common sense of the jurors to piece together the alleged conspiracy.

As for the defense’s contention that no crime was proved, Cobb said, “They said that before we started. After the jury returns with a verdict, they’ll say the same thing.” He said it’s not unusual not to have direct evidence against the top person in a conspiracy: “There are layers of responsibility.”

In the end, Cobb said DeLay’s own words are the most critical piece of the case.

I figure we’ll have a verdict before Thanksgiving, but you never know. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what the jury will say?

DeLay trial: The prosecution rests

The prosecution has rested its case in the money laundering trial of Tom DeLay.

Visiting Judge Pat Priest today denied former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s motions for a directed verdict of innocent in the political money laundering trial against him.

Travis county prosecutors rested their case this morning.

Defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin argued the prosecution offered no proof that DeLay, R-Sugar Land, directed the money exchange or knew it would have been illegal even if he had known.

“The deal was done when he learned about it. So he was not a party to the defense,” DeGuerin said. “The only thing they have proved is that three years after the fact Mr. DeLay said Jim Ellis told him about it.”

The defense is up now.

As the defense began its presentation, it continued to drive home its point that the deal was cut before DeLay knew about it.

Charles Spies, who was an RNC lawyer in 2002, testified about an Oct. 2, 2002, RNC memo approving the $190,000 swap. He testified that four RNC officials signed off on the deal with their initials before the checks were cut Oct. 4.

DeGuerin asked Spies whether the memo indicated that “the deal was done” before Oct. 2. He said yes, adding that it could have taken anywhere from 24 hours to a week for the memo to be drafted.

On cross-examination, Spies agreed that it would take time to circulate the memo to four RNC officials.

Peter Shuvalov, who was the RNC regional political director for Texas in 2002, said he reviewed the list of seven Texas candidates that Ellis had provided to the RNC.

During cross-examination, prosecutors re-read part of Shuvalov’s grand jury testimony from years ago. Shuvalov acknowledged saying the dollar-for-dollar exchange was unusual and that he assumed the favorable rate was because of DeLay, a powerful leader in Congress at the time. (Corporate money was less valuable in politics because of legal restrictions on how it could be spent.)

But Shuvalov disagreed sharply with prosecutors when they suggested that he had said DeLay was involved in the transaction.

He said his RNC boss, Terry Nelson, might have mentioned DeLay’s name in “an off-hand remark” when he sent him the list of candidates.

Shuvalov testified that Nelson told him that Texans for a Republican Majority — not DeLay — had requested the exchange.

So far, they’re doing a good job pointing a finger at DeLay’s co-conspirators, though they are also claiming nobody did anything illegal. Ellis and John Colyandro better hope the jury buys that, because the prosecutor’s script for going after them is pretty clearly written.

Speaking of the prosecutors, here’s a roundup of what they presented in this second week of testimony. Monday was about TRMPAC’s finances, plus a bit from the RNC.

A Republican National Committee official testified Monday in the Tom DeLay money laundering trial that his organization donated no corporate money to seven Texas candidates during the 2002 elections.

“Everything was segregated,” Jay Banning, the committee’s chief financial officer, said about various sources of money accepted and distributed by the national committee. He said corporate money was “firewalled” — kept in a bank account separate from individuals’ donations.

[…]

On Monday, the prosecution used [Russell Anderson, TRMPAC’s accountant] to illustrate the financial affairs of Texans for a Republican Majority.

In the final weeks of the 2002 election, the committee had such severe cash flow problems that John Colyandro, its executive director, loaned it $40,000 from his personal bank account. He was repaid later.

Travis County prosecutor Gary Cobb told reporters he brought up the loan to explain why Colyandro sent a corporate check with a blank amount to Ellis.

He said Colyandro didn’t know how much corporate money would be available when Ellis began talking to national committee officials about a swap. Without the loan, Cobb said, the $190,000 check to the national committee would have bounced.

Ellis filled in the amount and the date (Sept. 13, 2002) after negotiating with Terry Nelson, another national committee official, who testified that Ellis gave him a list of seven candidates and the size of donations for each candidate. The donations totaled $190,000.

Under cross-examination, Anderson said he never took direction from DeLay. He said only Colyandro could authorize expenditures.

On Tuesday there was more of the same, plus a dip into the politics of redistricting, much of which was shut down by the judge.

In his testimony, Marshall Vogt, the forensic accountant [for the Travis County DA’s office], said Texans for a Republican Majority had two accounts — one for corporate money and another for campaign donations from individuals.

Vogt testified that the committee’s largest bank balance was $107,000 in February 2002, just eight months before the election. That account included only money raised from individuals. By the time of the money swap, the balance had shrunk to $30,000.

Although Texans for a Republican Majority was more successful raising corporate money, the committee was running short on that cash, too.

Vogt said the committee’s $190,000 check to the RNC would have bounced without a $40,000 personal loan from Colyandro.

Vogt testified that the Texas committee’s books labeled the $190,000 corporate check as “soft money contribution.” But the defense rebutted that was just the terminology of the committee’s accountant and had nothing to do with DeLay.

Under cross-examination, Vogt said he didn’t see one check written on the committee’s corporate bank account go to a candidate.

Vogt also analyzed the cell phone records of Ellis, Colyandro and DeLay’s travel aide, Chris Perkins. Several phone calls were exchanged during the time of the money swap, but he said none of them was traced to DeLay’s phone because prosecutors never could find his cell phone number.

There was also a side issue regarding one of the reporters that has covered this issue from the beginning.

Prosecutors last week played for jurors a recording of an August 2005 interview with investigators in which DeLay said he was told of the exchange in advance. After that hearing, DeLay gave several interviews in which he said he was misunderstood and that he did not learn of the Sept. 13, 2002, transaction until Oct. 2.

However, that date puts DeLay in the middle of the exchange because the RNC did not deliver the money to seven Texas candidates until Oct. 4.

According to Copelin’s story as it appeared in the Nov. 11 newspaper:

“I probably could have stopped it,” Delay said of the money swap. “Why would I? It was a legal deal done by Democrats and Republicans for years.”

DeLay made similar statements to the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News and the Associated Press.

Lawyers for the American-Stateman objected to Copelin testifying. Judge Pat Priest said the reporter had to take the stand, but that raised the possibility that as a witness he would be barred from covering the remainder of the trial’s testimony. Prosecutors, DeLay’s defense and the Statesman attorneys worked out a compromise in which Copelin today will take the witness stand to verify the tape, but the recording and a transcript will serve as the evidence, allowing him to continue to cover the trial.

That strikes me as the strongest evidence the prosecutors have of DeLay’s direct involvement. I’ve felt for a long time that the case against Colyandro and Ellis is much clearer than the case against DeLay, at least in the absence of direct testimony from someone like Warren Robold, and I can’t say I’ve seen anything that has changed my mind about that. It’s pretty easy to see what DeLay’s defense will look like.

During nine days of testimony over nearly three weeks, the most dramatic piece of evidence has been an audio interview in which DeLay says he knew beforehand about the money swap. DeLay says he misspoke in the interview with prosecutors and only found out about the transaction after it happened.

Most of the evidence has been circumstantial and hasn’t directly tied DeLay to the alleged scheme.

“In that army of people working on the case, not a single soul has come up with any evidence that Tom DeLay called the shots on this deal. Right?” Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s lead attorney, asked a forensic accountant who told jurors on Tuesday that the ex-lawmaker’s PAC referred to $190,000 it raised as corporate campaign contributions. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot go directly to political campaigns.

Marshall Vogt, a senior forensic analyst with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, said he didn’t know how to answer the question.

Not exactly a smoking gun moment for the prosecutors. We’ll see how it goes from here.

UPDATE: PDiddie notes that the defense got off to an uncharacteristically rocky start.

DeLay trial update

The state keeps presenting its case.

A former Republican National Committee official testified Thursday that he was told Tom DeLay wanted the RNC to swap corporate money for campaign donations to Texas candidates during the 2002 election campaign.

Terry Nelson, the RNC chief of staff at the time, testified that DeLay’s political aide, Jim Ellis, wanted to swap corporate dollars for the same amount in campaign donations. Texas law prohibits corporate donations to candidates.

Nelson said it was common for the RNC to do money swaps with state political parties — but not with political action committees such as the one Ellis represented.

He also said the dollar-for-dollar exchange rate was “unusual” because corporate money is worth less in politics because of the restrictions on how it can be spent.

“Tom DeLay wanted us to do that,” Nelson said Ellis told him.

After four days, Nelson’s testimony is the most direct connection prosecutors have made between DeLay and the $190,000 exchange at the heart of the money laundering and conspiracy charges against the former U.S. House majority leader.

All that is very interesting, but I have a strong feeling that in the end this is going to come down to DeLay testifying in his own defense. Yes, I know, he doesn’t have to, but does anyone think he won’t insist on it? I almost want to drive to Austin just to see that in person.

Under cross-examination, Nelson said he had “no doubt” that corporate money was never given to a candidate because the RNC keeps corporate dollars in a separate account from political donations raised from individuals.

The argument that campaign donations and corporate money were kept in separate accounts is a crucial element in DeLay’s defense.

DeGuerin repeatedly has argued, “It’s different money.” During testimony, DeGuerin has objected when prosecutors talk about “the money coming back to Texas.”

DeGuerin and his team of defense lawyers have not persuaded Judge Pat Priest.

Earlier this week, outside the presence of the jury, the judge said the fact that the corporate money might be kept separate wouldn’t matter if there were criminal intent to launder it into political donations.

“I don’t care if you put it in one pocket and took money out of the other pocket,” Priest said. “Money is absolutely fungible. It’s like beans.”

The six-man, six-woman jury will decide guilt or innocence. But the judge gives jurors written directions on the law before they deliberate.

That sound you hear is DeLay’s appellate brief being written. Finally, a mystery gets solved. Sort of.

[Warren] Robold, a Washington-based fundraiser who raised more than $400,000 in corporate donations in 2002, helped prosecutors paint a picture of the finances of Texans for a Republican Majority.

John Colyandro, the committee’s executive director, sent Robold several urgent e-mails — presented into evidence Thursday — because the committee was struggling to raise donations from individuals.

[…]

Under cross-examination, Robold said he relied on legal advice when he told corporate donors that they didn’t have to disclose their donations to Texas authorities. He said some were upset when the donations appeared on the committee’s Internal Revenue Service document.

But he said, “I did nothing wrong.”

Travis County prosecutors apparently agreed. In August, they dismissed nine felony counts of illegally accepting corporate donations against Robold, who said he testified without a deal.

So Robold is testifying for the prosecution, and he did get his charges dismissed. He says the two are not connected, which who knows? I think I’m enjoying this a little too much.

The DeLay trial finally gears up

OMG, I’m almost as excited about this as I am about the World Series.

Lawyers in the Tom DeLay conspiracy trial have subpoenaed a who’s who of witnesses, from associates of disgraced Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff to former Texas Speaker Tom Craddick, for the biggest political trial in Austin in years.

The witness list for Travis County prosecutors includes chief executives of companies indicted for donating corporate money, several state lawmakers, enough Beltway lobbyists to pack a Capitol hearing and associates that DeLay shared with Abramoff, a former D.C. powerbroker nicknamed “Casino Jack” who pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials.

DeLay’s lawyers have countered with their own heavyweights: former Ambassador Tony Garza, Austin lobbyist Buddy Jones and Craddick, the politician who benefited the most from DeLay’s campaign efforts, which led to the charges that he conspired to launder corporate money — which is illegal in Texas campaigns — during the 2002 elections.

Jury selection begins Oct. 26, and testimony is expected to begin the following week.

There’s not enough popcorn in the world for this, my friends. I cannot wait.

DeLay “headed to trial”

After day one of the pretrial hearings, Tom DeLay will get his trial, and he’ll go before his co-defendants.

Motions to dismiss the charges against the former Sugar Land-area representative on the grounds of misconduct by prosecutors remained pending late Tuesday, but visiting District Judge Pat Priest made clear that he likely would rule against dismissal. Priest then sealed the courtroom to hear arguments over secret grand jury proceedings leading up to DeLay’s indictment in 2005. The hearing is expected to continue today.

“The defense is standing in a very deep hole with a very short stick, but I don’t want to preclude them from presenting their case,” Priest said.

When DeLay and his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, of Houston, exited the courtroom they indicated they felt certain the case would go to trial. DeGuerin said it is only a question of “when and where.” DeLay is trying to have the trial moved to Fort Bend County.

In a major victory for DeLay, Priest ruled against a request by Travis County prosecutors that they be allowed to take two other defendants in the case to trial before DeLay. Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who managed the political committee at the center of the controversy, have not been seeking a speedy trial, but DeLay has.

“We need to try Mr. DeLay first because he’s the one who has been wanting a trial,” Priest said. “There’s such a thing as a speedy trial and five years later it’s time he gets it.”

I suspect the reason for wanting to try Ellis and Colyandro first is more about optics than legal strategy. Convict them, and it ratchets up the pressure on DeLay. If they get acquitted, you can bet your mortgage that the charges against DeLay will be dismissed. Doing it the other way around, Ellis and Colyandro might see their charges dropped if DeLay prevails, even if the evidence against them is stronger. This case has always been about DeLay.

As for the change of venue motion, I don’t have any strong feelings about that. Frankly, I think enough time has passed that it shouldn’t be too hard to find a jury who isn’t familiar with the case, or its main actors, in any county. Tom DeLay just isn’t that notorious any more. Moving the trial to San Antonio or Waco would be fine by me. I note with amusement this poll that claims 40% of Travis County residents believe DeLay is guilty as charged. Putting aside the question of how many randomly sampled people believe any high-profile criminal defendant is “guilty” (my guess is that 40% isn’t far off the mark), it also says that 16% think he’s not guilty, while the rest don’t know or have no opinion. Given that the population of Travis County is a bit more than a million, reducing that by 15% to account for the foreign-born, reducing again by 24% to account for minors, the 44% of “don’t know/no opinion” people represent about 290,000 adult citizens. I’m guessing you could get a fair jury from that pool.

In the end, it didn’t matter.

District Judge Pat Priest said the U.S. Constitution requires a case to be tried where the crime occurred unless there is unusual prejudice against the defendant. Priest said he believes the former Sugar Land-area representative can be protected in the jury selection process.

“We can give Mr. DeLay a fair trial in Travis County,” he said.

Priest said he would not close off DeLay’s attorneys from raising the issue again if it proves impossible to pick an impartial jury. He set a tentative trial date of Oct. 26, a week before this year’s elections.

Something else to look forward to this year. Anyway, DeLay has sworn vengeance on the Travis County DA’s office after he wins his case. Mighty big talk for a guy who’s basically a nobody nowadays, but I guess having the spotlight back on him for a few days has given DeLay a bit of his old swagger back. And I couldn’t write all of this stuff about the man formerly known as The Hammer without acknowledging Juanita.

At long last, the DeLay trial gets underway

You know what today is? It’s Tom DeLay Sees The Inside Of A Courtroom Day, that’s what day it is. Yes, I know, he’s out of trouble with the feds – this is about the state charges that have been pending against him since 2005. Yes, it’s been a long, strange trip, and here’s what we have to look forward to.

During the 2002 elections, DeLay and his co-defendants used a political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise and spend $600,000 in corporate money, mostly from lobbyists and companies with interests before Congress.

Some facts are not disputed. The Texas political committee sent $190,000 in corporate money to the Republican National Committee, which, in turn, donated the same amount to seven legislative candidates in Texas.

The legal issue is whether DeLay conspired to launder the corporate money back to Texas despite a state ban against using corporate money in state elections. Or, as the defense contends, the national committee donations were from a different pot of money that came from individuals, not corporations, and there was no conspiracy.

[…]

At Tuesday’s hearing, senior Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio will consider a series of motions to dismiss the charges, including the defense’s allegations that prosecutors abused the process by shopping for indictments with three grand juries as time ran out on the investigation.

He will also consider whether to move the trial (Waco and San Antonio have been suggested) and to try the three defendants separately, among other motions.

DeLay already appears on track to be tried separately, but the question remains in what order the defendants would be tried and whether Ellis and Colyandro should be tried together.

DeLay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said his client is willing to be tried first. Prosecutors favor trying DeLay’s aides first.

As for moving the trial, DeGuerin said, “There is so much ill feeling in Travis County about Tom DeLay that he can’t get a fair trial — even to this day.”

[…]

At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors will answer allegations about their conduct in the investigation.

Courthouse observers are watching to see how far Priest allows the defense to pursue questions about the secret grand jury process.

By all accounts, the end of the three-year investigation leading up to the indictments was chaotic.

After three years, with time running out, a grand jury indicted DeLay and his associates on a Wednesday. Two days later, the prosecutors — fearing a problem with the first indictments — asked a second grand jury to indict DeLay as its term was ending.

When grand jurors refused, the defense alleges, prosecutors improperly interrupted grand jury deliberations and tried to coerce them, a charge that prosecutors deny.

On the following Monday, prosecutors presented their three-year investigation to a new grand jury on its first day; prosecutors said they had obtained new information about the case over the weekend.

I know I’ve excerpted quite a bit here, but there’s still more than that, so do read the whole story. You can also visit my archives for an obsessive level of past coverage. Today ought to be a full day, and the folks at Court TV have any sense, they’ll be there in force. One more thing:

Finally, one co-defendant in the DeLay case has been so out-of-sight that there’s a rumor he’s turned state’s evidence.

Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin said prosecutors have not required DeLay’s fundraiser, Warren Robold, to appear in court over the years, but he denied that it was because of a deal.

Instead, Hardin said he allowed his client to be interviewed by prosecutors after he was indicted. The interview, which lasted several hours, was taped, and Robold’s remarks can be used in court.

But Hardin said Robold didn’t ask for immunity or a deal.

“That’s how sure we are that he’s innocent,” Hardin said. “And he doesn’t know anything bad about DeLay.”

I’ve been pushing that as a pet theory for a long time now, but as far as I know this is the first time it’s appeared in print outside of my blog. Maybe I’m the only one who’s been dumb enough to write it down, I don’t know. In any event, these and other questions will be answered starting today. Pop some corn and enjoy the spectacle.

CCA overturns “checks aren’t cash” appeals verdict

For once, their pro-prosecution proclivities were good for something.

The Austin appeals court erred in deciding that the state’s money-laundering statute – used to prosecute associates of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay – did not apply to transfers made via checks, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today.

The court’s 9-0 decision also upheld the state’s election laws prohibiting corporations from making political contributions to candidates. DeLay’s associates – John Colyandro and Jim Ellis – had challenged the law as an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.

[…]

In 2008, the appeals court ruled that the money-laundering law did not apply to Colyandro and Ellis because it did not specifically refer to checks.

The law reads: “A person commits an offense if the person knowingly … conducts, supervises, or facilitates a transaction involving the proceeds of criminal activity.” The law defines proceeds as coin or paper money, U.S. Treasury notes and silver certificates and official foreign bank notes.

However, in its ruling today, the state’s highest criminal court chastised the lower court for applying an improper legal standard to its analysis of the money laundering statute.

Writing for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller said Colyandro and Ellis improperly challenged the constitutionality of the money-laundering statute in a pretrial petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The appeals court had no authority to determine that the law only applies to cash payments, Keller wrote.

You can read the opinion here; thanks to TPJ for the pointer. See background here, here, here, and here. As Vince notes, this ought to clear the way once and for all for Tom DeLay and his buddies to be put on trial for money laundering for the illegal use of corporate campaign contributions in the 2002 election. The wheels do grind slowly, don’t they? I don’t know when the case will finally hit the courtroom, but I do know this: If DeLay appears for his day in court wearing his “Dancing with the Stars” costume, I’ll write a $100 check to the charity of his choice. BOR has more.

UPDATE: More from the Trib.