Friday, November 04, 2005

DeLay gets Democratic judge in Texas


DeLay gets Democratic judge in Texas

By Jeff Franks

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Democratic judge was named on Thursday to preside over the money-laundering and conspiracy case against U.S. Republican Rep. Tom DeLay in an appointment made by the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Senior Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio will replace state District Judge Robert Perkins, who was forced off the case on Tuesday after DeLay's attorneys complained he was too staunchly Democratic to give their client a fair trial.

Priest was appointed by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, a Republican endorsed and aided by DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC, a political action committee at the center of the criminal charges.

Jefferson made the appointment after a Republican judge in a lower court, B.B. Schraub, recused himself earlier on Thursday after prosecutors charged he was too staunchly Republican to make a fair choice.

The charges of partisanship against Schraub and Perkins were based on contributions they had made to candidates of their respective parties and, in Perkins' case, to liberal group

In Texas, judges must run for office in partisan elections and are free to donate to political candidates and causes.

DeLay, who represents a Houston-area district, is accused of laundering $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions gathered by TRMPAC through the Republican National Committee to candidates for the state Legislature in Texas in 2002.

Texas law forbids the use of corporate funds in political campaigns.

TRMPAC's efforts helped Republicans take control of the Texas Legislature for the first time since the Reconstruction era after the Civil War.

At DeLay's urging, the Legislature then redrew congressional districts to increase the number of Republicans from Texas in the U.S. House.

DeLay and lawyer Dick DeGuerin have repeatedly accused Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat who led the investigation into DeLay's activities, of cooking up the criminal charges as part of a Democratic vendetta for the redistricting.

DeLay was House majority leader, or the second highest- ranking Republican in the House, until his indictment on September 28.

Due to House Republican rules, he was forced to resign his leadership position, but allowed to keep his congressional seat.

Priest was a respected judge in San Antonio for years, but no longer works full time on the bench.