The Austin Chronicle

Perry Will Walk on Charges

By Richard Whittaker, February 24, 2016, 1:00pm, Newsdesk

Come at the king, you best not miss. That's how Texas Court of Criminal Appeals justice David Newell summed up the court's ruling that criminal charges against former governor Rick Perry should be dismissed.

This morning, in a 6-2-1 ruling, the court ruled that the charge of abuse of office should be sent back to the lower courts, and dismissed.

The lawsuit stretches back to 2013, when Perry vetoed state funding of the Public Integrity Unit. His reasoning was that the agency, which investigates criminal activities by elected officials, should not be under the administration of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after her DWI arrest. The issue for Perry was that he'd previously made it clear that Lehmberg should go, or he'd cut the budget: something no one expected her to ever do, because it would have allowed him to install a new D.A. of his choosing. In 2014, he was indicted on two charges, and then started the long and expensive process of trying to get him in front of a jury – a process that has flamed out as of today.

The court of appeals had previously thrown out the charge of coercion of a public official, finding that Perry's statements at the time were protected by the First Amendment. However, the second charge, abuse of office, still stood.

The Criminal Court of Appeals made its majority ruling on the basis of separation of powers: Basically, that Perry's office as governor gave him the authority to slash the budget. Significantly and pivotally, the court found that a decision about the limits of his office could be made before trial. That's a decision that special prosecutor Michael McCrum has called "horrendous," arguing that the court has made a special exemption for Perry.

Progress Texas Executive Director Ed Espinoza immediately fired off that "the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out decades of precedent to grant a special privilege to Rick Perry, allowing him to escape a trial before any evidence against him was heard" Calling their ruling "a black day for the law in Texas," he continued: "He didn't argue that his indictment was technically flawed. He asked the appeals court to toss out evidence that had never been presented. We have to assume that hundreds of accused criminals will now flood the court with similar arguments."

It's arguably a Pyrrhic victory for Perry. The legal niceties of the court case aside, Perry's tactics in trying to force Lehmberg out made him look bad on the national stage, just when he was trying to re-establish his presidential credentials after his 2012 burn-out. That the highly unpopular Ted Cruz is the favored local candidate in the Texas leg of the GOP presidential primary, is a telling indictment against Perry – even if that's the only indictment anyone can get to stick.

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