DeLay's Friends in High Places

Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) parade through the Texas legal system continues tomorrow as prosecutors seek to have charges of conspiracy and money laundering against the former House Majority Leader restored.  But if anything about DeLay’s legal situation has become clear, it’s that conflicts of interest shadow every step of the process.

You may remember that DeLay’s lawyers cried foul about the supposed liberal bias of the first judge assigned to the case last fall, eventually forcing District Judge Bob Perkins to recuse himself. (He had committed the grievous sin of making a contribution to MoveOn.) And then Administrative Judge B.B. Schraub, who replaced Perkins, recused himself when prosecutor Ronnie Earle raised bias questions about him: Schraub was appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was a strong DeLay ally in the Texas congressional redistricting that was the original raison d’etre for the alleged money-laundering.

Now the Houston Chronicle is raising questions about the political ties of the judges who sit on two different three-judge panels that are considering the potentially prosecution-ending appeals in DeLay’s case and that of his co-defendents, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission Justice Alan Waldrop, who sits on both panels, worked as a paid lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) in 2002.  And surprise, surprise, it turns out that TLR worked closely with DeLay’s now infamous Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC) in order to affect the outcome of the elections for the Texas House that year. Better yet, Judge Waldrop actually worked with a TLR consultant who has been a grand jury witness in the cases involving DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro.

Normally this strong appearance of bias by a judge would be enough to raise doubts in a case, but not for DeLay.  Having strong connections to only one judge deciding his political future would be a disappointment for someone who has set the bar for corruption and unethical conduct so high.

A second judge who sits on one of the panels hearing the appeals, Justice David Puryear, gave $250 to a Republican candidate in the 1996 election.  This seems harmless enough, except that the Republican candidate Puryear gave money to, Shane Phelps, had been hand-picked by the GOP to run against none other than prosecutor Ronnie Earle – the same Ronnie Earle who will argue the case against DeLay in front of Puryear’s panel.

And just to complete the web of eyebrow-raising political connections, both Puryear and Waldrop – as well as Justice Bob Pemberton, a third judge serving on one of the two panels – were all appointed by Gov. Perry – the same issue that forced Judge Schraub to remove himself from the case several months ago!

So it would seem that DeLay and his allies were busy gaming the Texas judicial system at the same time the former majority leader was perfecting the strong-armed, influence-peddling, behind-closed-doors methods he used to run the U.S. House of Representatives. He has lost his position of power in the latter, or course, but it remains to be seen if his influence in the former will yet save him from a possible conviction in Texas.

Stay tuned to the Clean Up Washington blog for new developments in the ever-shifting legal case of our first and finest inductee into the Ethics Hall of Shame, Rep. Tom DeLay.

-Collin Jergens