I imagine that if the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals had a Christmas party this year, it was an awkward affair.
The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, split along partisan lines, has ruled that Republican Justice Alan Waldrop did not have to excuse himself from a case against two associates of former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
The ruling does not immediately affect the money-laundering charges against DeLay and his associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis. But the justices question one another's motives in how the polarizing case has been handled by the appellate court.
In August, Justices Waldrop, [Kenneth] Law and Robert Pemberton, all Republicans, upheld the constitutionality of the money-laundering statute but added that they did not think that the law in 2002 covered checks. The $190,000 in the DeLay case involved corporate checks, not cash.
That ruling prompted a firestorm. Prosecutors argued that the three-judge panel had gone beyond the legal question before it. Earle spoke of "the dark shadow of corruption" looming over the case as he filed a motion asking Waldrop to withdraw or be dropped from the case. His complaint was that before Waldrop became a justice, he helped a group of DeLay's political allies, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, stay out of a lawsuit arising from the same circumstances as the criminal case.
Waldrop characterized the lawsuit as "politically motivated."
Two Democratic justices on the 3rd Court objected.
Justice Diane Henson complained that her GOP colleagues were wrong about the money-laundering law and had bottled up the case for years to thwart prosecution of the high-profile case.
Justice Jan Patterson accused Law of ignoring her dissent when the 3rd Court ruled earlier this year on Waldrop's standing in the case. She also questioned why the two men's constitutional challenges were combined into one case and assigned to an all-Republican panel of justices to consider. Previously one man's challenge was assigned to an all-GOP panel and the other case was being handled by a panel containing one Democrat.
On Wednesday, the Republican majority struck back in an opinion written by Justice David Puryear. Law and Pemberton joined in Puryear's opinion.