Wednesday, November 02, 2005

DeLay gets new judge in Texas case


DeLay gets new judge in Texas case
By Jeff Franks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A judge presiding over the money laundering and conspiracy case involving U.S. Republican Rep. Tom DeLay, one of America's most powerful politicians, was ordered to step aside on Tuesday after DeLay's attorneys said the judge was too staunchly Democrat to give a fair trial.

State District Judge Bob Perkins will be replaced by another judge to be named by a regional administrator without input from either side in the politically charged case.

Visiting Judge C.W. Duncan granted a defense motion to recuse Perkins without explanation after a hearing in which DeLay's lawyer Dick DeGuerin complained that Perkins had given money to candidates and organizations, especially liberal activist group, opposed to DeLay and could not be impartial.

"We're not saying that Judge Perkins is a bad judge or an unfair judge. What we are saying is this is the wrong case for him to judge," DeGuerin said.

Perkins had refused to recuse himself from it, but asked that the decision be made by another judge.

DeLay attended the hearing and left smiling, but made no comment.

In Texas, judges must run for office in partisan elections and are free to donate to political candidates and causes. Perkins is a Democrat, as are all but one of the district judges in Travis County, where Austin is located.

DeGuerin also has asked for a change of venue to move the case to another county, but that has not been ruled on.

He and DeLay have repeatedly charged that the former U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader is the victim of a Democratic plot to oust him because of his success in advancing Republican causes and that this is nothing but a "political case." DeLay was forced by House Republican rules to resign his leadership post after he was indicted in September.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who has led the investigation against DeLay, argued that Perkins should be allowed to stay on the case and disagreed that the case is political.

"This is not a political case. This is a criminal case in which Mr DeLay stands charged with a felony," he said.

"There is no basis, no precedent for recusal based on a judge's political contributions," said Earle, who is a Democrat.

DeLay is accused of laundering $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions gathered by his Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee 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.

His efforts contributed to Republicans taking control of the Texas Legislature for the first time since the Reconstruction era after the U.S. Civil War, and then remapping congressional districts to increase the number of Republicans in the U.S. House.

Earle said the several thousand dollars Perkins had given Democrats over the years was "paltry" in comparison to how much money DeLay has raised and in some cases, used in "intimidating judges with whom he disagreed."

Earle also accused DeLay, through partisan zeal, of fomenting divisions within U.S. society that could lead to Americans becoming like "Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds" in deeply divided Iraq.

"We may be Republicans or Democrats, but we are all Americans and we believe in equal justice under the law," he said.

DeLay, sitting beside his wife, Christine, smiled broadly at Earle's comments.