Only in Travis County, Texas, could a governor get indicted for issuing a veto in a case involving no hint of corruption. The indictment, which carried a potential 109-year prison sentence for Governor Rick Perry, haunted him through his brief bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, curtailing his fundraising and forcing him to repeatedly address the potential for prosecution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals finally put an end to the nakedly partisan attack, but the damage was long done:
The state’s highest criminal court dismissed an indictment against former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday morning, apparently ending the case that started with his threat to veto state funding for a local prosecutor if she refused to quit her office.
After Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, Perry threatened to veto state funding for her office unless she first resigned. The Travis County DA’s office was home to the state’s public integrity unit, which is charged with investigating and prosecuting state corruption.
Perry tried to get the charges dismissed up front, but the trial court refused to dismiss the charges before trial. That forced Perry to try to campaign with felony indictments hanging over his head. Today, the court ruled that the original court misinterpreted earlier precedent and should have quashed both indictments immediately:
Texas’ highest criminal court on Wednesday tossed out the remaining charge against former Gov. Rick Perry in the abuse-of-power case against him.
The court also affirmed a previous ruling for Perry that dismissed a second felony charge of coercion of a public official. …
The state had urged the Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the charge alleging coercion of a public servant. Perry, meanwhile, fought the remaining count against him, which alleged abuse of official capacity.
The state had said – and the 3rd Court had agreed — that it was too early in the case to address Perry’s arguments against that abuse-of-power charge, saying according to precedent set by the high court, that only could happen after evidence was heard at a trial.
The decision can be found here. Decided on a 6-2 basis, the court upheld the plenary authority of a governor in issuing vetoes, as well as the right to challenge prosecution in pre-trial habeas corpus motions when charges violate the separation-of-powers declaration within the Texas state constitution. The decision does not directly dismiss the two charges, but it orders that the original court do so, effectively ending the prosecution — or persecution — of Perry.
Unfortunately for Perry, it’s too late. The Federalist puts the charges in their proper context:
Special prosecutor Michael McCrum, egged on by the leftist non-profit Progress Texas, empaneled a grand jury to consider public corruption charges not against Lehmberg, but against Perry, for using his power as governor to veto a bill. Perry was formally indicted by that grand jury in August of 2014.
Had he been convicted, Perry could have faced up to 109 years in prison for the heinous crimes of explaining why he planned to veto a bill and then vetoing it.
McCrum still got exactly what he wanted out of it, though. Perhaps Perry wouldn’t have gained much traction in this presidential race, anyway; he had to overcome his poor debate performances in 2011, plus a strain of anti-establishment fervor that rendered gubernatorial candidates all but nonentities in the race. Still, of all the Republican candidates outside of Donald Trump, Perry might have been the one most fitted to harness that anger and position himself as an opponent of the Washington establishment, at least.
It’s a shame that a politically motivated prosecutor warped the grand-jury process to illegitimately kneecap Perry’s potential. Perry’s successor Greg Abbott and the Texas legislature needs to look into reforming the legal system to keep politically motivated prosecutors from gaming the system and targeting political opponents. If there is any evidence of corruption in Texas, look no further than Travis County.