December 05, 2005
DeLay wins one, loses one in court

Tom DeLay had one of the felony indictments against him thrown out today, but a second one was upheld by visiting judge Pat Priest.

Priest dismissed charges of conspiracy to violate the state election code but upheld a money laundering indictment against DeLay and two of his associates: Jim Ellis and John Colyandro. They were charged in connection with spending corporate money in the 2002 legislative races.

Priest had told DeLay's lawyers last month that if he upheld either of the indictments, he would be unable to hold a trial for DeLay before early next year.

House Republicans have indicated they wanted to hold a leadership election in January if DeLay was not cleared by then.

Indictments returned in September and October accuse DeLay, Colyandro and Ellis of being involved in a scheme to flow allegedly illegal corporate money into 2002 Texas House races. The money laundering charges accuse them of running $190,000 in illegal corporate funds through the Republican National Committee.

Lawyers for the three argued that it was legal for the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority to raise corporate money so long as the money was not donated to candidates. They said there was no trade of funds with the Republican National Committee.

DeLay's legal team, headed by Dick DeGuerin of Houston, had challenged the indictments on numerous legal issues, but DeGuerin called two the "silver bullets."

Those points were that the state conspiracy law did not apply to the election code until a year after the 2002 elections.

The other was that the definition of money laundering did not include checks until 2005. TRMPAC transferred the $190,000 in corporate money to the RNC by using a check.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle brought the case against Delay as the statute of limitations was running out on 2002 election code violations. The indictments brought a wild legal ride.

After Earle learned there might be "technical" problems with a Sept. 28 indictment on conspiracy to violate the election code, he went to a second grand jury to seek the money laundering charges. The first grand jury had expired, and the second grand jury returned a no bill.

Then on Oct. 3, Earle asked a newly impaneled grand jury to indict Delay, Colyandro and Ellis on money laundering charges, and it did.

DeGuerin had asked to have the indictments dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Priest said he would hear that motion only if he upheld the indictments against the legal challenges.

CNN sheds a little more light on the judge's reasoning.

In asking that the case be thrown out, DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin argued that one of the charges -- conspiracy to violate the Texas election code -- did not even take effect until September 2003, a year after the alleged offenses occurred.

Prosecutors, however, said the crime of conspiracy was already on the books, and could be applied to the election code even though such uses were not explicitly in state law at the time.

The judge was not persuaded by that argument and dismissed the conspiracy charge.

But the judge upheld charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Those charges involve an alleged attempt by DeLay to conceal the source of the campaign contributions by funneling the money through his own political action committee and then an arm of the Republican National Committee.

In trying to have those charges thrown out, the defense argued that the Texas money laundering law does not apply to funds in the form of a check -- just coins or paper money. But the judge said that checks "are clearly funds and can be the subject of money laundering."

The defense attorneys also argued that the definition of money laundering in Texas involves the transfer of criminal proceeds. Because the money in this case was not illegal to begin with, they argued, money laundering never occurred.

But the judge rejected that argument.

Obviously, having one fewer felony indictments against him is a win for DeLay. As this WaPo story from a few weeks back notes, the conspiracy charge probably would have been the easier one to convict on, so that's good news for him as well.

The bad news, of course, is that he's still under felony indictment, and that means he still can't be Majority Leader. As Josh points out, DeLay will probably still be under that indictment when the next round of leadership elections come up for the House GOP caucus, and as Jesse Lee notes, there are already other factions gunning to replace him. There was "muted support" to replace him even before this ruling. So is this the end for poor Tom? Or can he hold things together and hope the trial is speedy enough to get him in under the wire? Stay tuned and find out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 05, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

Delay would lose his seat, as of today, to an unnamed challenger in CD 22 by 13 points. Check BOR...

Posted by: Phillip Martin on December 5, 2005 6:46 PM

Where is A.W. Pantoja now? He went to Chicago and was suppose to go to Houston 2005. Well he isn't there, where did he go?

Posted by: Doyle on December 5, 2005 7:42 PM

It is my understanding that the judge has yet to rule on the prosecutorial misconduct motion. It is likely that the money laundering charges will be dismissed if the judge finds for DeLay.

Posted by: Tom Bazan on December 5, 2005 8:29 PM