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CCA dismisses remaining charge against Rick Perry

This would appear to be the end of the road.

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The state’s highest criminal court dismissed the remaining indictment against former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday morning, apparently ending the case that started with his threat to veto state funding for a local prosecutor if she refused to quit her office.

[…]

A ruling earlier in the year by a state appeals court dismissed one of the two felony charges against Perry: coercion of a public servant. Perry’s lawyers challenged that decision, arguing that the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals should have also dismissed the abuse-of-power charge.

And that’s what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did on Wednesday. Two of the court’s nine judges dissented in that one ruling, while one abstained.

Tony Buzbee, Perry’s attorney, called the ruling a “long time coming,” and said the case should have never been brought in the first place.

“I said all along this case was foolishness and would be dismissed.”

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor in the case, called the ruling “horrendous.”

“This is a situation where the Republican court carved out a special ruling to get Perry off the hook. It changes law for past decades and offers no laws for future courts to follow,” he said. “This is, from what I understand, a special ruling tailor-made for Rick Perry.”

Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, the liberal-leaning watchdog group behind a complaint that led to the indictment, largely echoed that notion.

“A highly partisan court has handed Rick Perry a gift,” he said. “This decision is based on who Perry is rather than what he did.”

You could sort of see this coming when the case was argued last November, but it’s still a bit of a surprise. Clearly, there are limits to how pro-prosecutor this court will be, and Rick Perry joins Tom DeLay in being beneficiaries of that. I don’t feel like spending too much time thinking about it, so I will point you to the Associated Press, the AusChron, Trail Blazers, the Current, and the Press for more.

Perry’s day at the CCA

Now we wait to see if he comes out of this a free man or a man still under one or more indictments.

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Never mind the corndogs, here comes the CCA

Lawyers for former Gov. Rick Perry fought Wednesday before the highest criminal court in Texas to finish off the 15-month-old indictment against him, while prosecutors argued it was far too early to let Perry off the hook.

At a critical two-hour hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, both sides fielded a slew of hypothetical scenarios and skeptical questions as they tackled a ruling by a lower court earlier this year that dismissed one of the two felony charges against Perry, coercion of a public servant.

[…]

Two issues were at play Wednesday. One was whether the remaining charge, abuse of power, should also be thrown out, effectively ending the 15-month-old case against Perry. The other issue was whether a statute should be reinstated that was struck down by the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals in July when it dismissed the coercion charge.

Eight judges listened as those issues were aired out in hour-long blocks split between David Botsford, the lead attorney on Perry’s appeal, and State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn. Judge Bert Richardson, who oversaw Perry’s case as a district judge and now sits on the Court of Criminal Appeals, did not take part in the Wednesday arguments.

As Perry’s legal team has done from the get-go, Botsford cast the case as having serious implications for First Amendment rights and a chilling effect on elected officials down the line. The indictment, he said, violates three principles to which Perry was entitled as Texas’ longest-serving governor: separation of powers, free speech and legislative immunity.

“The danger of allowing a prosecutor to do this is mind-boggling,” Botsford said as he sought to convince the eight judges present for the arguments that they should immediately end the indictment.

McMinn argued more than once that the defense was “getting ahead of ourselves” with its discussion of dispensing with the indictment before trial, insisting that not all the facts are out. Botsford later countered that such disclosure is not required for the court to dismiss the remaining charge. The questions before the judges, Botsford said, are “issues of law, not issues of fact.”

McMinn specifically sought to poke holes in Botsford’s argument that Perry had legislative immunity because vetoes are legislative acts, an argument she said “strains credibility” when one considers, for example, a member of the Legislature cannot take the same action. In his remarks, Botsford argued Perry was clearly “wearing his legislative hat” and thus protected from prosecution, regardless of any threats that may have accompanied his veto.

This hearing was originally scheduled for November 4, but you know how it goes. What happens next is we wait. The CCA justices (minus Bert Richardson, who is of course the judge in the actual criminal trial) asked more questions of McMinn than of Botsford, but who knows if that means anything. The trial is on hold pending a resolution of these issues by the CCA, so one hopes we won’t have to wait too long. See Trailblazers, the Express-News, and this Trib story for more from before the hearing.

Perry appeal briefs

The latest update on the appeals before the CCA in the Rick Perry matter.

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The 3rd Court of Appeals this summer tossed one of two counts against Perry, saying the coercion law underlying it violates the First Amendment. The 3rd Court agreed with Judge Bert Richardson, however, that Perry must face the charge of abuse of official capacity because it’s too early in the case to decide upon the issues he raised.

Perry’s legal team disagreed with the 3rd Court on the remaining charge, arguing in a brief filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals and released Thursday that the count could be thrown out under existing legal precedent before a trial.

And if that’s not so, said the team led by Houston lawyer Anthony Buzbee, the case should be tossed before trial anyway given the issues at stake and to prevent “the irremediable loss of constitutional rights.”

The briefs were filed as a precursor to oral arguments scheduled for Nov. 18 before the state’s highest criminal court.

Among its points, Perry’s defense team cited the separation of powers and argued that allowing “a criminal prosecution of a political decision where there is no allegation of bribery or demonstrable corruption undermines the basic structure of state government.”

The prosecution disagreed, saying the issues raised by Perry can’t be decided at this point in the case.

The defense brief said that even assuming for the sake of argument that Perry’s claims “were not of the type that this Court has already recognized as cognizable, the Court should clarify the law to permit immediate resolution of the merits of his challenges.”

“Governor Perry’s constitutional claims pose fundamental questions about any governor’s authority to exercise one of that office’s core constitutional responsibilities—the review of legislative acts, including the possibility of veto,” said the defense brief.

[…]

State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa C. McMinn said it’s clear that the claims raised by Perry would properly be decided in a trial.

“Whether Appellant’s conduct satisfies the elements of a penal statute is a question of sufficiency of the evidence to be decided at trial, not a pretrial determination that this issue cannot be decided or that he is immune from prosecution because a political question might arise at trial,” she wrote.

“Neither the constitutional separation of powers doctrine nor the political question theory of nonjusticiability creates a right not to stand trial or shields a member of the executive or legislative branch from criminal prosecution,” McMinn wrote.

McMinn also filed a brief urging the state’s high criminal court to rescind the 3rd Court’s decision that the coercion law, at least as applied to public servants, violates First Amendment protections.

She said that “there is no evidence that in the years since the coercion statute was enacted, any public servant … has abstained from any of the valid speech the court of appeals maintains is covered by the statute.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Both sides’ briefs are embedded at the link above – the State Prosecuting Attorney’s brief follows the defense brief and begins on page 127 – so go read them if you are so inclined. I have no idea how the CCA will rule, but I feel pretty confident saying that we won’t get a ruling till some time next year.

What is coercion, anyway?

It could be the defining legacy of Rick Perry’s career, depending on how things go in the courts.

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The coercion law has been used only sparingly in Texas, according to records for the past five years, and some legal experts call it problematic.

Others, however, say its absence will be felt if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agrees with the decision to toss the law.

“I see it not just as a numbers game,” said Melissa Hamilton, visiting criminal law scholar at the University of Houston Law Center.

“To the extent you are taking away tools from prosecutors to charge as well as to plea bargain, they are going to be potentially deterred from bringing more cases. And I don’t see how that’s helpful to the citizens,” Hamilton said.

[…]

The state is appealing the 3rd Court’s decision to throw out the coercion law, saying it should stay on the books to hold public officials accountable. Perry still faces a charge of abuse of official capacity, which he is appealing.

Some agree with Perry’s team and the 3rd Court that the coercion law has problems.

“When something that could fit that coercion of a public servant statute would come in, it was almost always a better fit for bribery or for obstruction or retaliation of a public servant,” said Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Ballantyne, whose job includes handling public integrity cases.

“I think that statute needs to be more narrowly tailored by the Legislature for a lot of the reasons that the 3rd Court cited,” Ballantyne said. “Basically it encompasses too much constitutionally protected speech. Stuff that may just be impassioned criticism of a public servant may technically fall under the letter of that statute. So it’s a statute that’s just too broad a sword given the constitutional issues that are at play.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety criminal history database shows 23 convictions statewide under the coercion law in the past five years. The database is dependent on reporting by local entities.

The number of cases involving public servants such as elected officials or government employees – the category of the law targeted by the 3rd Court decision – is much smaller.

DPS doesn’t capture information on whether those convicted were public officials, according to a spokesman. Ballantyne said of three Bexar County convictions, none were public servants.

[…]

Professor Geary Reamey of St. Mary’s University School of Law said effects of the 3rd Court’s ruling will be minimal, and that lawmakers can move to address problems if need be. The Legislature previously amended the law after an appellate court found constitutional problems.

“I don’t think it’s a terribly big deal. We’ll always have statutes that try to address corruption and malfeasance and misfeasance by public officials,” Reamey said. “It may very well be that the Legislature will decide that they want to come back and address the concerns.”

See here, here, and here for the background. With all due respect to Prof. Reamey, I think the odds of the Legislature acting to clarify or rewrite the existing coercion statue are slightly less than the odds are of Dan Patrick being the grand marshal at next year’s Pride parade. It would be nice if they attempted to fix it, because I do think that what Rick Perry did should fall afoul of a coercion law. It’s not the veto, it’s the threat against another elected official. If what Perry did is okay, then what’s to stop Greg Abbott from threatening to veto every bill John Whitmire authors or sponsors unless he steps down? Again, it is well within the Lege’s capacity to tailor such a law in whatever way they think is best and to aim it at whatever behavior they think should be prohibited, but given that there’s zero incentive for them to do so, and plenty of incentive for them to not do so, I hope the CCA reverses the Third Circuit and leaves the current law standing. Oral arguments are for November 4, so we’ll have some idea soon enough which way they wind is blowing.

CCA will hear appeals of Perry’s indictments

It’s on.

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday granted requests by both Perry and the Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney to determine whether the indictment against Perry should stand. The court set oral arguments for Nov. 4.

[…]

Each side has until Oct. 21 to file briefs with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which said it would not consider any requests for more time. Perry’s lawyers had pressed for an even more compressed timeline, asking the court to skip oral arguments altogether.

The Wednesday ruling is the first major development in the case since Perry dropped out of the 2016 presidential race last month. He has since cited the indictment as a reason his second bid for the White House never gained traction.

See here, here, and here for the background. This is what we’ve waited for, and now we’re going to get it. Note that one of the appeals is to have the indictment that had been tossed by the Third Circuit be reinstated, so there’s risk as well as reward for Perry. He could be cleared, he could wind up back at square one, or he could remain where he is. I can’t wait to see the briefs. Trail Blazers and the Current have more.

CCA gets ready to deal with Rick Perry

The action never stops.

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The next move in the felony case against Rick Perry belongs to the state’s highest criminal court, which will decide as early as mid-September whether to accept or reject two appeals in the case.

The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision could go a long way toward determining whether Perry, indicted by a Travis County grand jury in August 2014, will be tried on a charge of misusing his power as governor, which prosecutors classified as a felony with a maximum term of life in prison, though probation is common for similar white-collar crimes.

A second felony charge, coercion of a public official, was dismissed in July when a lower appeals court declared the coercion law unconstitutional because it violated free-speech rights.

[…]

Perry has asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to dismiss the abuse of power charge, arguing that prosecutors cannot criminalize acts that are protected by the Texas Constitution — particularly freedom of speech and the separation of powers in the branches of government.

In a separate appeal, prosecutors asked the court to reinstate the law barring coercion of a public official, saying free-speech protections don’t apply “when a public servant illegally threatens to do indirectly what he does not have the power to do directly.”

The court could accept one or both appeals, or reject both. The first opportunity to make those decisions will be Monday, when judges will meet behind closed doors for the first time since the court’s new term began Sept. 1.

[…]

[State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa] McMinn has asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to schedule oral arguments in the case, but Perry’s lawyers have requested a ruling based solely on briefs, saying arguments would add an unnecessary delay.

Perry’s legal team also has a motion to dismiss the indictments that is awaiting a ruling by Richardson.

See here and here for the background. I believe this has to do with the other motion that Perry has before Judge Richardson, who as the story notes will not be a part of the appellate hearings in any way, but at this point it’s hard to say. I kind of hope that the CCA will do oral arguments and not just briefs, mostly because I think the issues involved should be fully heard if the court decides they’re worth hearing at all. We’ll know soon enough.

State files its appeal of Perry indictment dismissal

It’s official.

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State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn on Friday asked the state’s highest criminal court to reverse the decision by the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, which tossed out the charge that Perry coerced a public servant when he tried to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg out of office. The state’s involvement ratchets up scrutiny of the ruling, the first major breakthrough in the more than yearlong case for Perry, a Republican who is now running for president.

McMinn’s appeal also puts her in the company of Perry’s legal team, which has its own challenge pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Recognizing the potential for an “unnecessary, significant expenditure of resources,” special prosecutor Michael McCrum on Monday requested a hold on all trial court proceedings while the case plays out at the Court of Criminal Appeals.

McMinn was expected to file her appeal, saying earlier this month that the state had an interest in the ruling because the 3rd Court of Appeals struck as unconstitutional a part of the Texas penal code that defines coercion.

In a filing with the Court of Criminal Appeals that became available Monday, McMinn argued the 3rd Court of Appeals “erroneously blended two different First Amendment doctrines” when it tackled the coercion issue. McMinn also suggested the court failed to take into account all the potential consequences of declaring the statute unconstitutional.

See here and here for the background. I have no idea what the CCA will do, and I have no idea how long it will take them to do it. I’ll just say that I’ll be surprised if Rick Perry’s fate in the Presidential race isn’t determined by the time they come to a decision.

Perry appeals his other indictment

More for the CCA to deal with.

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Lawyers for former Gov. Rick Perry are urging the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to finish off the remaining charge in his indictment, ratcheting up their push to end the case against the presidential candidate.

The request comes a few weeks after a state appeals court dismissed one of the two counts in the case, delivering Perry’s team its first major victory in the yearlong legal saga. The remaining charge accuses Perry of abusing his power when he threatened to veto state funding for a unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office .

In a filing Tuesday, Perry’s lawyers argued that the state’s highest criminal court should toss out the rest of the indictment as a way of preventing the “judicial system from being complicit in undermining the very structure of Texas government.” Perry’s team sharply criticized how the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals arrived at its July decision letting the charge stand, accusing it of “drawing a wholly incorrect lesson” from previous cases and using an “erroneous framework” for assessing the charge.

Perry had one of his indictments tossed by the Third Court of Appeals, though that decision has been appealed to the CCA as well, by the Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney on the grounds that it invalidated a state law, and that’s not something a lower court should do. You can see a copy of Perry’s latest appeal in the Chron story. Both Judge Richardson – who of course now sits on the CCA and would presumably recuse himself from this hearing – and the Third Court of Appeals have rejected Perry’s claims not on their merits but on the grounds that it’s too early in the process for them to be properly evaluated. Speaking as a non-lawyer with no expertise at all in these matters, I kind of think the CCA will see it that way as well. But who knows? As they say in another context, this is why they play the game on the field. Trail Blazers has more.

Dismissal of Perry indictment appealed

By a new player in the game.

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Maybe I could sell corndogs to pay for all this

Former Gov. Rick Perry didn’t need more bad news Tuesday, but a Texas agency is lining up against his legal team in the criminal case against him.

The Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney has decided to appeal a court decision declaring unconstitutional one of the laws under which Perry was indicted last year. He is accused of abusing his veto power while governor.

The involvement of the state prosecuting attorney, Lisa McMinn, adds more firepower to the case opposing Perry. The special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, has been outspent by a margin of 10-to-1 by Perry’s high-powered defense team.

McMinn emphasized Tuesday that her office is getting involved not because of the specific accusations against Perry but due to the 3rd Court of Appeals decision to toss out one of the state laws used to indict him, coercion of a public servant.

“I’m just defending the statute that the court has declared unconstitutional. That’s my only concern,” McMinn said in an interview.

Her small, independent agency has the responsibility of representing the state before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She said that large district attorneys’ offices may handle their own appeals but her office also can get involved.

“We handle a fair amount of the cases ourselves, especially on issues that have statewide importance, such as the constitutionality of a statute,” she said.

McCrum, a San Antonio lawyer, said it made sense for McMinn’s office to pursue the appeal.

“The court wiped out a criminal statute that’s been on the books for decades and that has an effect upon many criminal cases, not just this one involving Mr. Perry,” McCrum said.

See here for the background. Raise your hand if you, like me, had no idea that there was such a thing as the Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney. It makes sense now that I’ve seen it described and given that we split our top court into two distinct entities, but still. The other good thing about this is it won’t add anything to the bill for the special prosecutor. As for what the CCA will make of this appeal, we’ll see. Nothing our courts do surprises me any more. Trail Blazers has more.