October 11, 2005
A look at the law

The Chron takes a closer look at the law used to indict Tom DeLay on criminal conspiracy charges.

Tired of absentee ballot fraud in his races for the Texas House and in his wife's first race for Dallas mayor, then-Rep. Steve Wolens pushed a bill in 2003 making it a crime to mark a mail ballot without a voter's consent.

Wolens, a Dallas Democrat, said his bill was written to address an ongoing problem in Dallas County where campaign workers went to nursing homes and the residences of elderly voters and told them how to mark their ballots. The ballots often were delivered in bulk to the county's election office and may have affected the outcome of some low-turnout races.

That bill, which made conspiracy to violate state election laws a felony, was made law Sept. 1, 2003. It has become a key point of contention in an indictment of Congressman Tom DeLay, accusing him of conspiring to violate a century-old ban on corporate contributions to political candidates.

Lawyers for DeLay said that before Wolens' conspiracy bill became law, the alleged crime did not exist, and the charge should be dismissed.

Other charges are pending against DeLay, R-Sugar Land, who was forced to give up his position of House majority leader because of the indictment.

Wolens said fraud involving mail-in ballots occurred in one of his races for the House in the mid-'80s.

"We continued to have problems in my race and other races. When it happened in Laura's first race for mayor, I decided that was enough," said Wolens, referring to his wife, Laura Miller, who was elected mayor of Dallas in 2002.

Wolens, who did not seek re-election last year, said he wrote the bill to make sure there would be no question that conspiring to commit ballot fraud could be prosecuted. So the bill included language linking the Penal Code conspiracy charge to the Election Code.

In this Statesman story from Friday, Wolens makes the Lege's intentions clearer:

"We thought conspiracy for violation of the election code was already covered," he said. "But we wanted to make sure there was no question about it. I included it to make it clear."

Wonder if he'll get called as a witness at the hearing for DeGuerin's motion to dismiss. That should be relevant, shouldn't it?

My uneducated guess is that this particular indictment will stand, though if I'm reading this correctly even if it were tossed there would still be charges pending against DeLay. More troubling, though also amusing, are the allegations Team DeLay has made about the actions that prosecutors took in securing that last indictment. I'll let you read their laundry list in the Statesman article, but I got a good chuckle out of this:

DeLay's lawyers offered no evidence to back up the allegations, but they promised to provide it.

"It doesn't stop here, for sure," said Bill White, an Austin member of DeLay's defense team.

Sounds to me like they've been taking lessons from the Andy Taylor School of Irrefutable Evidence. Can't wait to see what they come up with this time.

As a side note, Dwight looked up the relevant statutes a little while back. I'll leave it to the lawyer types to sort it out from here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 11, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack