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DeLay gets off

Sure is nice to have friends in high places.

Who are YOU to judge me?

Who are YOU to judge me?

Siding with a decision made a year ago by a lower appeals court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday refused to reinstate money-laundering convictions against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

In an 8-1 decision, the state’s highest criminal court backed a Texas 3rd Court of Appeals decision that reversed DeLay’s 2011 convictions on money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The court had ruled there was not enough evidence to prove that DeLay’s actions were criminal.

“We agree with the court of appeals that, as a matter of law, the State failed to prove facts to establish that the appellant committed either the object offense of money laundering or the inchoate offense of conspiracy to commit the same,” the criminal appeals court ruled.


Court of Criminal Appeals Judges Cheryl Johnson and Cathy Cochran wrote in a concurring opinion that although there was evidence DeLay knew — after the fact — of the transfer of the funds, there was no proof “he was directly involved.”

“Like some of Goldman Sachs’s dealings with a Spanish bank, the wheeling and dealing was a tad shady, but legal,” they wrote.

Judge Lawrence Meyers, the lone dissenter, says that the majority opinion “places a burden on the State that is impossible to overcome,” because an individual would have to be aware that his or her actions violates the Texas election code.

“In addition to placing this ridiculous burden on the State, which effectively repeals the statute, this holding also allows corporations who simply cannot be bothered to look up the law to get away with making illegal contributions,” Meyers said.

Here’s the decision. Given the way oral arguments went, this can’t be considered a surprise. Those of you looking for partisan angles, note that the one dissenter was the guy who decided to run for the Supreme Court as a Democrat. We’ve come an awfully long way to wind up here, but that’s the way it goes. I don’t really feel like thinking about this right now – too much else going on, and I always did think the case against DeLay was weaker than the cases against his henchmen. Whatever else, the world is a better place without Tom DeLay in a position of power, and at least we’ll always have that. Juanita has more.

DeLay gets his day before the CCA

Looks like he might have had a pretty good day, too.

Who are YOU to judge me?

Who are YOU to judge me?

Oral arguments in Tom DeLay’s decadelong legal fight with the Travis County District Attorney’s office heated up Wednesday as Republican judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals questioned whether prosecutors could prove the former House majority leader illegally funneled corporate money to state candidates.


Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, one of the panel’s eight Republicans, was outspokenly doubtful about prosecutors’ ability to prove DeLay and his associates illegally funneled $190,000 in corporate donations to seven GOP candidates for the state Legislature in 2002.

The money was donated to DeLay’s state political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, and made its way into a Republican National Committee corporate donations account. Checks totaling the same amount then were distributed from a different RNC account to the state candidates.

[Travis County Assistant District Attorney Holly] Taylor said the scheme is illegal under state law, which bans corporate contributions to campaigns, but Keller and her colleagues were less sure.

“It seems like your theory of prosecution has some internal inconsistencies,” Keller said, referring to the money laundering argument. Judge Elsa Alcala also asked about the unprecedented nature of the state’s case, saying the original intent of the money laundering law was to target drug trafficking: “When I see this case, my first reaction is, ‘What are you talking about?’ ”

“The first time something happens, it’s still a crime,” Taylor responded.

Seriously, when was the last time Sharon effing Keller expressed that kind of skepticism in any prosecutor’s case? It’s like Dave Wilson not being a flaming homophobe – it’s just not in her nature. I have never bought into the idea that the CCA would be pro-Republican on DeLay’s behalf, but if this is how they actually go it will be hard to dismiss that idea. We won’t know till 2015 on that, so we’ll see. What do you think, am I reading too much into this? Texas Politics and Texas Public Radio have more.

Today’s the day for Tom DeLay at the CCA

Apologies for the excessive alliteration. I got on a roll and couldn’t stop.

Who are YOU to judge me?

Who are YOU to judge me?

DeLay’s appellate lawyer, Brian Wice of Houston, and Travis County prosecutor Holly Taylor will argue Wednesday before the state’s highest criminal court in Austin over whether the jury’s verdict should be reinstated or if DeLay will be exonerated.

A victory by DeLay ends the marathon case, but if prosecutors prevail with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Wice says he has another point to appeal — that the $190,000 transaction for which he was convicted could not have been money laundering because a check, not cash, was used. The 3rd Court panel did not address that point in its opinion last fall.


In her appeal, Taylor argued for the state that the two Republican judges used “selected” evidence to second-guess the jury improperly. Wice, meanwhile, countered that “the state’s unprecedented gambit (to create a criminal offense) was correctly unmasked by the court of appeals.”

Over the years, both sides have taken turns complaining about the partisanship surrounding the case, often getting judges removed on allegations of political bias. DeLay also objected to being tried in Travis County, citing its Democratic leanings.

Given that backdrop, DeLay’s lawyers would now seem to have the advantage of arguing before a court with eight Republican judges and one Democrat, who was elected as a Republican before switching parties.

But the state’s highest criminal court also ordered DeLay’s trail, criticizing a 3rd Court panel for trying to short-circuit the legal process several years ago by ruling prematurely on DeLay’s cash vs. check defense during pre-trial arguments.

In their briefs for Wednesday’s oral arguments, Taylor recounted evidence she thought the 3rd Court ignored and Wice criticized prosecutors’ handling of the case, including a last-minute indictment rushed through a grand jury in one day after three years of investigation.

See here and here for the most recent entries in this long-running saga. I’ve said before that to whatever extent there’s a pro-Republican lean on the CCA, I think their pro-prosecution urge outweighs it. Be that as it may, if the CCA rules against DeLay I don’t think he’s going to get much joy re-litigating the “checks aren’t cash” argument. The CCA addressed that before, though apparently not in a “that’s all there is, there ain’t no more” fashion. One way or the other, we are approaching closure on this.

TPJ files amicus brief in DeLay appeal

It’s almost time for Tom DeLay to go to court again.

Who are YOU to judge me?

Who are YOU to judge me?

A government-watchdog group on Tuesday petitioned the state’s highest criminal court to reinstate the money-laundering and conspiracy convictions of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, moving to join a brewing legal fight before a scheduled June 18 court hearing in the case.

DeLay, a former Sugar Land Republican, was convicted in November 2010 by a Travis County jury of raising almost $700,000 in corporate contributions through Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee, and using those funds to help Republicans win a majority in the Texas House in 2003.

Corporate contributions to Texas politicans have been barred since 1903, and prosecutors alleged that DeLay directed a criminal conspiracy to illegally launder corporate funds into Texas House races, an argument that watchdog group Texans for Public Justice said is correct and should result in reinstatement of DeLay’s conviction. The group filed an amicus brief Tuesday with the state Court of Criminal Appeals.


Calling the dismissal of DeLay’s conviction a “partisan, result-oriented ruling” by the appeals court, Craig McDonald, executive director of the watchdog group. “Facts show that DeLay and his co-conspirators knowingly broke Texas election laws.”

The amicus brief is here, and TPJ’s press release is here. It should be noted that DeLay’s legal team succeeded in getting one of the Democratic judges removed from the panel; the remaining Democratic judge dissented on the opinion to overturn DeLay’s convictions. As I’ve noted before, it will be interesting to see if the CCA’s notoriously pro-prosecution biases overwhelm any partisan sympathy they may have for DeLay. I will also note that it was eleven months between arguments before the Third Court of Appeals and their ruling, so I wouldn’t expect a final decision any time soon.

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.

“Checks aren’t cash” back before 3rd Court of Appeals

Sometimes when you least expect it, Tom DeLay pops up in the news.

It would defy common sense to reverse the three-year prison sentence of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay because his money-laundering case involved a check instead of cash, Travis County prosecutors are arguing.

Their argument comes in a legal brief to the 3rd Court of Appeals, the only court to embrace the novel defense before a higher court criticized the 3rd Court for acting prematurely during pre trial maneuvers and ordered DeLay to stand trial.

The check-versus-cash argument is only one of several legal points on appeal, but it might give the Sugar Land Republican his best chance to reverse his felony conviction because some of the judges previously appeared open to the argument. Republicans still control the majority on the Austin appeals court, 4-to-2, but half of the six judges have left the bench since the 2008 ruling that had judges publicly accusing one another of partisanship and acting in bad faith.


“No doubt an ordinary person would expect that a defendant could not circumvent the money laundering law by merely having the ill-gotten gains deposited in a bank and using a check to transfer the money,” [Travis County Assistant DA Holly] Taylor wrote.

Taylor noted that Texas courts have upheld guilty verdicts in other money laundering cases where the laundered funds consisted of checks written before the law was amended in 2005.

Taylor also challenged the reasoning behind the 3rd Court’s controversial opinion about checks.

Under the court’s theory, Taylor said, a drug dealer who deposited his criminal proceeds in a bank could not be prosecuted for money laundering if he wrote a check on that account. On the other hand, if the dealer withdrew cash or used a cashier’s check, he could be charged with money laundering.

“Certainly the Legislature never intended such nonsensical results,” Taylor wrote.

See my various posts here for background. The original ruling on the “checks aren’t cash” defense theory came in 2005. Whatever the 3rd Court of Appeals says – and I have no idea when they will say it – you can be sure this will go back to the CCA afterward, which to its credit got this one right the first time around. There’s still a couple of years to go before this one finally hits the end of the road.

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, 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 wants a do over

Good luck with that.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s legal team on Wednesday filed a motion asking for a retrial for the former congressman, convicted last November on charges of money laundering and conspiracy.

The motion, filed by DeLay’s attorney Dick DeGuerin, seeks a new trial, citing juror misconduct, misapplication of the state’s election code and the potential unconstitutionality of Texas’ ban on corporate campaign contributions.

“A motion for a new trial sets aside the verdict; so it’s not just the new trial, it’s setting aside the verdict, which we don’t think is just.” DeGuerin said. “It gets down to the basics that there wasn’t a crime. There wasn’t a crime alleged and there wasn’t a crime committed.”

The Travis County District Attorney’s office called the motion groundless.

Juanita has more. DeLay already has an appeal going, so I’m not sure how this is different. I can’t tell from the story who would be called on to make a ruling for this motion. If it’s the trial judge, I don’t see the point. If Judge Priest agreed with any of this, wouldn’t he have already done something about it, like directed a not guilty verdict? Obviously, I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know the procedures here. Can anyone shed some light on this? Thanks.

The Hammer goes to the slammer


Judge Pat Priest sentenced Tom DeLay to three years in prison.

The three-year sentence was on the charge of conspiring to launder corporate money into political donations during the 2002 elections.

On the charge of money laundering, DeLay was sentenced to five years but that was probated for 10 years.

He was taken into custody but he was expected to be released as soon as he posted an appeals bond.

The judge then ordered the courtroom cleared except for the lawyers.

Prior to the sentence, DeLay spoke to the court.

He was unrepentant.

“I fought the fight. I ran the race. I kept the faith,” DeLay said.

Judge Priest said he agreed with the jury’s guilty verdict, returned in November, and would have instructed a different verdict if he did not believe DeLay conspired to break the law.

He said there is no higher principle than those who write the laws should follow the law.

Gotta admit, I didn’t expect DeLay to get jail time – I figure it’d be probation all the way. But then I didn’t really expect him to get convicted, either. I think I need to start not expecting to win the Lottery.

There’s a lot more at that link about how the day in court went. DeLay is still a long way from actually seeing the inside of a jail cell, of course. He’s free to walk among us during the appeals process, which may take as long as it took to get him to trial in the first place, and I can’t say I really expect his convictions to be held up by all of the courts that may get a chance to rule on them. But for today at least, we can all revel in the fact that Convicted Felon Tom DeLay is officially a jailbird. Sometimes, karma really comes through. And if you’re looking for a way to celebrate this monumental event, I recommend a slice of Schadenfreude Pie, with a hat tip to Linkmeister for the reference.

UPDATE: Juanita checks in.

DeLay sentencing delayed

We won’t know the fate of convicted felon Tom DeLay (I do so love saying that) until after the new year.

The sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 20 but DeLay’s lawyers have a conflict on that date.

“It’s probably going to be some time in January,” said Gary Cobb, the lead prosecutor. “But that’s not written in stone.”

Cobb said court administrators are looking for when a courtroom is available.

The date has now been set for January 10. I hope that before that time Judge Priest has the chance to read Juanita’s victim impact statement first. Be prepared, Your Honor! Unless he gets pre-emptively pardoned by Governor Perry first. Well, technically, he’s not eligible for a pardon yet. Details, details. Anyway, DeLay will remain unsentenced a little longer.

Off to the appeals courts for DeLay

Whatever sentence awaits Tom DeLay – I strongly suspect it will be probation, but you never know – it will be a long time, if ever, before he begins serving it.

DeLay’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, expressed confidence on Friday the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Austin will rule in his favor because it has in the past. Add to that a varied assortment of available arguments, and DeGuerin and law experts say they’re convinced this is only the start of what will become a precedent-setting case.

“This is the first and only time that a prosecution like this has ever taken place in Texas. It’s totally unprecedented, and we believe we’re right,” DeGuerin said.

Yes, the Third Court of Appeals has distinguished itself in a bad way throughout this case. I totally understand Team DeLay’s glee at the prospect of taking their chances with them.

Some legal experts argue that such unprecedented cases immediately raise the interest of the appellate courts. Others, however, note that Texas’ conservative, largely Republican appellate courts do not have a strong record of siding with defendants.

“Statistically, he is going to be fighting an uphill battle,” said Philip H. Hilder, a former prosecutor who is now a Houston-based criminal attorney concentrating on white-collar cases.

The courts could see it as a “partisan fight” though, Hilder said.

“Then the courts are of his political persuasion,” he added. “But still, they would have to rely on precedent and they will have to really do back flips to do any favor to him.”


The appellate court in Austin has previously ruled in DeLay’s favor – striking down the first indictment and parts of the second, an indication the court thinks DeLay had a valid argument, DeGuerin said. So while the criminal court of appeals overturned that decision saying the issues first had to be brought to trial, DeGuerin says the court’s previous ruling paved the way for support now that the trial is over.

“There was no crime. There was no crime,” DeGuerin insisted, explaining the legal argument he will make. “It was not criminal for there to be a money swap – that is for lawful money, collected from corporations for the national Republican party, and for the Republican Party to send money collected from individuals to the Texas Republican Party. That was not unlawful.”

Barry Pollack, a Washington-based white-collar criminal defense attorney, agreed this is the best argument, even though it didn’t convince the jury. Money collected by the national party is segregated between corporate contributions and individual donations, then redistributed to Texas candidates from the pot of money donated by individuals, Pollack explained.

“Typically, in money laundering, you can trace the laundered money directly back to the illicit money. Here, you can’t. What they’ve done is they’ve used different moneys,” Pollack said. “The way the government looks at that is that it’s very effective money laundering because you’ve managed to make it into a different set of money, but what you’ve done in effect, is complied with the law.”

The one thing I know is that DeLay won’t be shy about making partisan arguments to the Republican judges on the appeals court. They’ve already shown their willingness to do those back flips for him, so why not try it again? PDiddie has more.

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 jury deliberating

No verdict yet, and the jury has been sent home for the night.

Prosecutors and the defense made closing statements to the jury about whether a $190,000 corporate money swap between DeLay’s Texas committee and the Republican National Committee actually amounted to money laundering and whether DeLay had command control over two political aides.

They also argued about whether the case was little more than pure politics.

Defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin argued the case was brought solely because Democrats were unhappy with DeLay because of a congressional redistricting he pushed through in 2003.

“I don’t agree with criminalizing the debate that ought to be on in a free society,” DeGuerin said. “I don’t believe in tearing someone down in a free society because of what their beliefs are.”

Lead prosecutor Gary Cobb told the jury that the week the DeLay trial began, prosecutors tried a Democratic legislator, referring to the corruption conviction state Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview. Cobb said a murder trial was going on down the hall and no one was asking that defendant how he voted.

“Even those who govern must be governed and follow the law,” Cobb said.

I have no idea what will happen, but I will be less surprised by an acquittal than I will by a conviction. I feel like the case against DeLay is more inferential than anything else, and while I don’t think it’s hard for anyone to believe DeLay participated in the planning of the money transfer, that’s not the same as saying the evidence is there for a guilty verdict. I just don’t know. Postcards 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.

How long is this thing gonna take?

We may have the Tom DeLay trial to entertain us into December.

[Monday] prosecutors announced that they might be done by next Tuesday. That would give the defense only a couple of days if they want to make final arguments by the Monday of the short holiday week. (The court hasn’t been working Fridays.) It also means the trial, scheduled for three weeks, will lap into a fourth week.

Scheduling conflicts are already popping up among the lawyers. Who knows whether jurors have early Thanksgiving plans?

Till yesterday, things hadn’t been all that exciting. The state’s case was circumstantial, without any smoking-gun link to DeLay. The man himself started the week professing confidence that he’ll get away with it. Yesterday, things got a little more interesting.

Jurors in the Tom DeLay money-laundering case heard from DeLay himself today, but it was a voice recording made five years ago as prosecutors pressed him about his role in a 2002 money swap with the Republican National Committee.

In the 2005 interview, DeLay said Jim Ellis, who ran his Washington-based political committee, told him he was going to exchange $190,000 of corporate money for campaign donations from the Republican National Committee.

“Jim Ellis told me he was going to do it,” DeLay told prosecutors.

“Before he did it?” the prosecutors asked.

“Uh-huh. By the way, it’s very common practice by both Democrats and Republicans,” DeLay said.

It’s that brief answer among the 83-page transcript that prompted prosecutors to proceed with the money-laundering and conspiracy charges against DeLay.

It’s a statement that the former U.S. House majority leader has tried to recant over the past five years. He has said he “misspoke” and that prosecutors “twisted” his words. “I was indicted over one sentence,” DeLay has complained.

Later during the 2005 interview, DeLay told prosecutors that Ellis brought up the money swap “at his own initiative” during a Oct. 2, 2002 meeting. DeLay said Ellis was just informing DeLay because of the large amount of money involved.

“It wasn’t my decision,” DeLay told prosecutors. “I don’t make decisions” for Texans for a Republican Majority, the political committee which sent the corporate money to the RNC.

Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s lawyer, told reporters today that the context of the 83-page transcript shows that DeLay didn’t know about the money swap until after the deal was done.

It’s something, but I confess I’m still hoping for a bit more. On the other hand, to people who haven’t followed this as obsessively as I have, it could be pretty impressive. It’ll be awhile before we know for sure.

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.

Opening arguments at the DeLay trial

It’s a little weird that the Tom DeLay trial could be something other than the top news story, isn’t it?

The political money laundering trial of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay opened Monday with the Sugar Land Republican defiantly declaring his innocence.

After prosecutors read the two-count conspiracy and money laundering indictment against DeLay, he turned to the jury and in a loud, confident voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am not guilty.”


Prosecutor Beverly Mathews said the money laundering was part of a larger scheme to increase DeLay’s power in Washington, D.C.

DeLay’s defense team claims the money exchange was a legal swap so the RNC could use the corporate money in states where it is legal while giving money legally raised from individuals to the Texas candidates.

Defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin told the jury there was no crime and it should not convict DeLay just because he was politically successful.

I’ve always felt that it will be easier to convict DeLay’s minions, whose questionable actions are more clearly documented, than DeLay himself. I’m not sure that the evidence that is publicly known is sufficient to convict him, and my long-held theory that co-defendant Warren RoBold might have gotten a secret deal to testify for the prosecution was shot down. I don’t know what else there might be. But it will be fun to watch, and who knows what might come out in the testimony.

Testimony began with Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice and Fred Lewis, a lawyer, telling why they filed separate criminal complaints with the district attorney against Texans for Republicans Majority.

Both said they learned of the corporate money spent by the Texas committee, including the $190,000, from Internal Revenue Service reports. DeGuerin objected repeatedly during the testimony to keep the witnesses from offering their conclusions about the state’s campaign finance laws. By midafternoon, DeGuerin had moved for a mistrial based on one answer. Judge Pat Priest declined.

During cross-examination, Lewis testified that the Texas political committee spent corporate money on polling, political consultants, political fundraisers and voting lists — all activities that the Texas Ethics Commission advised against.

When DeGuerin objected, the judge said, “You asked the question.”

Former state Rep. Bill Ceverha, R-Dallas, served as treasurer of the Texas committee. He testified that the advisory board had a “general discussion” about sending corporate money to the national committee, which would then donate money to Texas candidates. He added, “This was a practice done for decades.”

Testimony is scheduled to resume today, and the trial is expected to last at least three weeks. Both sides have subpoenaed a long list of Texas political leaders, Washington lobbyists and representatives of the corporations that financed DeLay’s political committee.

Don’t know how many of them will actually make it to the stand, but I hope they all do. Let’s get it all on the record and see where the chips fall.

DeLay trial gets underway

And the entertainment value is high already.

A last-minute dispute erupted after DeLay’s defense attorneys struck five potential black jurors, leaving the panel with no African-Americans. Prosecutors objected.

DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin cited reasons for striking the jurors. He said three were women who gave him “angry” looks after he raised objections to things said by lead prosecutor Gary Cobb, who is black. Cobb said DeGuerin was being “outrageous.”

Visting Judge Pat Priest settled the argument by striking another juror and seating a black woman who had laughed and joked with DeGuerin when he had questioned her.


One woman on her questionnaire said she would be biased against DeLay if he looked like “a Republican good old boy,” but under questioning she said he didn’t fit her “image of a Republican.”

Another potential juror on his questionnaire said he thought DeLay “dressed badly and looked cheap.” Under questioning, the man said he had mistaken DeLay for Houston criminal defense lawyer Rusty Hardin.

Three women said they only recognized DeLay from his recent appearance on the television show Dancing With the Stars. One said he should not have appeared on the program because “he is a bad dancer.”

It’s such a shame that CourtTV went and changed format. They’d have had a breakout hit on their hands if they were around to televise these proceedings. The Statesman has more.

For those who are just tuning in to the whole Tom DeLay saga

The Statesman has a useful overview of How We Got Here in the DeLay money laundering case, which goes to trial today. I love the fact that it all began with a little hubris.

It was November 2002, just days after Texas Republicans had won a historic election that gave them control of state government for the first time in more than a century.

Publicist Chuck McDonald called to pitch a story to this reporter about how his client, the Texas Association of Business, and its president, Bill Hammond, played a critical role in electing the Republican majority.

“Bill Hammond wanted credit,” McDonald recalled last week, “and wanted people to know how they did it.”

In that phone conversation, McDonald explained that the state’s largest business organization had spent almost $2 million on advertising, mostly in mail pieces to voters. Unlike other political groups, McDonald insisted that the association didn’t have to disclose the corporations that put up the money as long as it followed its lawyers’ advice to avoid direct campaign activities. The group avoided using buzzwords such as “elect,” “support,” “oppose” and “defeat.” It didn’t coordinate its efforts with candidates. It hadn’t worked with other political groups.

Association officials argued that their mail pieces were issue ads and not subject to campaign finance laws barring corporate money in Texas campaigns.

McDonald gave the American-Statesman a stack of the mail pieces to show how the group did it.

The story was published the next day and included comments from Austin lawyer Buck Wood questioning whether it was legal for corporate donors to underwrite such an effort. He cited a century-old state law that prohibits corporations and unions from spending money “in connection with a campaign.”

Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney at the time, read the story and began investigating.

DeLay and his brainchild, a campaign committee named Texans for a Republican Majority, were not on anyone’s radar. It might have stayed that way except that McDonald inadvertently included one attack ad by Texans for a Republican Majority, which wasn’t his client, in that stack of business association mailers.

If the association was working alone, as it claimed, how to explain that maverick ad without the TAB brand?

The American-Statesman began investigating and publishing stories about Texans for a Republican Majority and how it worked with the business association.

Let this be a lesson, kids: When you break the law, don’t go bragging to reporters about it. Read the rest, and go pop some corn as the proceedings are about to begin. Juanita has more.

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.

TDP responds to Vasquez

From Saturday’s op-ed pages, here’s the Texas Democratic Party’s response, written by the TDP’s legal counsel Chad Dunn, to Leo Vasquez in the matter of Ed Johnson.

Johnson’s conflict of interest doesn’t pass the smell test, and during the course of our lawsuit, we’ve found evidence that improper partisanship may have affected the conduct of elections in Harris County.

For example:

1. Problems with Johnson’s provisional ballot operation were pointed out last November by a Republican, Jim Harding, who chaired the Harris County Ballot Board. Provisional ballot affidavits were not processed by the tax office until five days after the deadline required by state law, forcing the ballot board to review most of the more than 7,000 provisional ballots in just 24 hours.

2. Harding complained that tax office employees altered official election records with white-out and corrective tape in violation of federal law. Sworn depositions later revealed that Ed Johnson had personally reviewed, and possibly changed, the recommendations of career staff regarding the counting of provisional ballots that included the names of Johnson’s Republican clients.

3. As reported by KHOU-TV and the Houston Chronicle last October, 11,350 timely voter registration applications were not processed in time to be put on the voter rolls by the first day of early voting in 2008, as required by state law, a problem not experienced in any other Texas county.

4. During the 2008 election cycle, Harris County rejected almost 70,000 voter registration applications. In Dallas County, where applications are processed by nonpartisan election officials, only 1,183 applications were rejected. Harris County has refused to make the database that tracks these rejected applications available for inspection.

5. During the same time period, Harris County removed 200,000 names — or 10 percent of the county’s voters — from the voter registration list for unknown reasons.

6. Additional evidence reveals that voter registration applicants who applied months before the election did not receive letters notifying them of their rejection status or asking for more information until Election Day or days after, another violation of state law that may have denied many the right to vote.

These problems are not “frivolous” matters.

Just thought I’d mention that the Democrats have had pretty good luck in recent years with election-related lawsuits. It was a lawsuit filed by several losing candidates after the 2002 election that led to the revelations about campaign finance violations by TAB and TRMPAC, which in turn led to a bunch of indictments, some convictions, and the eventual downfall of Tom DeLay. It was another Democratic lawsuit after DeLay’s resignation and withdrawal from the ballot in 2006 that forced the Republicans to run a write-in candidate in that election. That lawsuit was, naturally, declared “frivolous” by Republican Party of Texas Chair Tina Benkiser. That doesn’t mean this one’s a winner as well, but all things considered I like our odds.

Campaign finance bill passes the House

I’ve had plenty of harsh things to say about House Elections Committee Chair Todd Smith this session, but he’s always been one of the good guys on campaign finance reform.

Texas could start regulating how political parties use corporate and union campaign contributions under a bill the Texas House passed Friday 71 to 63.

House Bill 2511 would close what author Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, has called an “absurd” loophole that enables corporations and labor unions to escape a century-old ban against political donations by funding issue ads that stop short of urging a vote for or against a candidate.

Under the bill, donations from corporations and unions could only go toward a political party’s or political action committee’s administrative costs.

You may recall that a broad definition of just what “administrative costs” are was a key part of the fight over what TAB and TRMPAC did in the 2002 elections, as they had claimed things like polling were “administrative” in nature.

The Texas Pastor Council sent an email blast urging a vote against the bill.

“HB 2511 will censor free speech and drastically change how nonprofit organizations communicate with their supporters about important policy issues,” the group wrote. “This very email could be ruled illegal under this proposed law, prohibiting nonprofits from highlighting elected officials and their bad votes on legislation affecting all Texans.”

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he head received a letter from a host of conservative groups including Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas Eagle Forum and the Texas Alliance for Life that were worried about the bill.

“They are concerned that this will limit their ability to come out and talk about issues,” King said.

If all those folks are against this bill, it must be doing something right. Though HB2511 only got 71 votes to pass, six of them were Republicans – Delwin Jones, Charlie Geren, Will Hartnett, Brian McCall, Tommy Merritt, and Smith; the latter three were coauthors of the bill, along with Rafael Anchia and Mark Strama. Still, I suspect that this won’t make it through the Senate; that two-thirds rule that ol’ Dan Patrick hates so much will surely see to its demise. A previous version of this bill died a messy death in the 2005 Lege amid allegations of partisan sniping at then-Speaker Tom Craddick. I like how now-former Rep. Terry Keel basically tells Tommy Merritt he’ll never eat lunch in this town again in the aftermath of that. Karma sure is a strange thing sometimes.

UPDATE: Burka figures out the reason for the partisan split on this one.