Perry's Third Felony?

Governor's war of words against jurors backfires with legal warning

Gov. Rick Perry: Just in case we've all forgotten who's actually on trial here.
Gov. Rick Perry: Just in case we've all forgotten who's actually on trial here.

Since his indictment, Gov. Rick Perry's strategy has been simple: Smear anyone involved in the prosecution, and attempt to turn the serious legal proceedings into a media side show. Unfortunately for him, some of his most bullish statements may have got him into more hot water.

First, it was Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, whose DWI conviction is his purported reason for slashing the funding of the Public Integrity Unit. At every opportunity, Perry's supporters replay the footage of her, drunk and abusive in police custody. The subtext is clear: No one would let a drunk run the agency investigating malfeasance by elected officials and state appointees.

But the tack soon shifted to a new target: The grand jurors and lawyers that helped craft the indictments. Karl Rove was belligerently claiming that Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum will go down in history alongside such vile partisan hate mongers as, er, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, whose "reputation was ruined by his abuse," claimed Rove. Of course, Rove ignores that a: Earle is still basically a folk hero in many circles for going after Tom DeLay and b: the PIU, under both Earle and Lehmberg, has gone after about as many Democrats as Republicans.

The next target has been the grand jury itself: The members' voting records have become a matter of public discourse, while the fact that a couple have made statements to the press has become a matter of talking head scandal. In a Twitter exchange with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune (who Tweeted that "Grand jurors also blabbed about #perryindictment to @statesman #leakinglikeacolander") former Perry chief of staff turned Perry-appointed TxDoT chair turned lobbyist Deirdre Delisi wrote that "I'm sure McCrum will get right on sealing those leaks, right after he completes his next media interview. #sarcasm"

The Travis County GOP Twitter account, which has a long history of scouring fringe right "news" sites, went so far as to link to the globally trusted PJ Media (who? - ed.), which claimed that the jurors broke their oath by talking to the press.

Which isn't true, because none of the statements made either publicly or anonymously by the jurors to the media were of an evidentiary nature. They simply stated that, yes, they stood by the indictments and no, they weren't happy about being written off as Democratic partisan hacks. So, no harm, no foul, and certainly no crime.

But of course, the most pugnacious attack may have come from Perry himself, who (in one of his never-ending series of press conferences) stated boldly that "this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and those responsible will be held accountable."

Unfortunately for Perry, that statement may well be a third felonious act to add to the charge sheet. In conversation the other day with longtime former Chronicle staffer Jordan Smith, she noted that statement could actually be a criminal offense. This time, it's Obstruction or Retaliation, as defined thusly in Sec. 36.06. of the Texas penal code:

A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly harms or threatens to harm another by an unlawful act:
(1) in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of another as a:
(A) public servant, witness, prospective witness, or informant; or
(B) person who has reported or who the actor knows intends to report the occurrence of a crime; or
(2) to prevent or delay the service of another as a:
(A) public servant, witness, prospective witness, or informant; or
(B) person who has reported or who the actor knows intends to report the occurrence of a crime.

Now under the statute, retaliation is normally a third degree felony, which is arguably small beans to Perry, who already faces one of those (coercion of a public official) and a full-blown first degree felony (abuse of official capacity.) However, if the act is against a grand juror, then it becomes a second degree felony.

It seems that Smith isn't the only person to have noted that Perry could have sailed straight into more hot water. Per the Austin-American Statesman, 390th District Court Judge Julie Kocurek has already sent a pointed warning to Perry's attorneys that such vague and veiled threats are unacceptable. Whether his statement was aimed at the grand jurors, McCrum, or any other entity involved in the proceedings, that kind of language must stop.

Moreover, it's probably not helping the governor's attorneys' attempts to construct a narrative that doesn't make him look like a bully who is prepared to abuse his office for personal ends.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Rick Perry
Rick Perry, Lord of the Dance?
Rick Perry, Lord of the Dance?
Why would a former Texas governor go on reality TV? Why not?

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 2, 2016

Perry Will Walk on Charges
Perry Will Walk on Charges
Texas Criminal Court of Appeals rejects abuse of office allegation

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 24, 2016

More Indictment
The Return of the Oops
The Return of the Oops
Perry unclear on what charges his lawyers want dropped

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 26, 2014

Perry's Mug Shot
Perry's Mug Shot
Governor arraigned on two felony charges: Twitter goes dewy-eyed

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 20, 2014

More by Richard Whittaker
Help Find the Missing <i>Slacker</i> Cast and Crew
Help Find the Missing Slacker Cast and Crew
Austin, you can help connect the team with cash!

Nov. 26, 2020

More than laughs, more than addiction: a charming, tragic portrait of the Blues Brothers star

Nov. 27, 2020


Rick Perry, Indictment, Rosemary Lehmberg, Travis County District Attorney, Public Integrity Unit, Michael McCrum, Julie Kocurek

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle