Justice checked at door of 3rd Court3rd Court of Appeals decision in DeLay money-laundering case, tainted by possible judicial misconduct, should be tossed and appeal moved to another jurisdiction
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
After a bizarre appeals court ruling last month, the long-running money-laundering charge against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and two other Republican operatives now includes possible judicial misconduct.
A three-judge panel of the state's 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin last month upheld the constitutionality of the law under which DeLay and two others were indicted. However, the panel ventured into uncharted territory by volunteering that the money-laundering law did not apply to checks.
Of course, the $190,000 in corporate donations allegedly laundered through Republican committees to avoid a state ban on corporate donations to political campaigns involved checks. The unusual opinion effectively handed victory to DeLay and co-defendants Jim Ellis and John Colyandro.
Now we learn from an article by the American-Stateman's Laylan Copelin that the appeals judge who wrote that opinion, Justice Alan Waldrop, was the lawyer for a group helping the defendants. Waldrop represented Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which strategized with Colyandro and others about the 2002 elections, which led to both the civil suit and criminal charges.
Waldrop should have recused himself from hearing the criminal case against DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro. He has written that the lawsuit, which mirrored the criminal case, was "politically motivated."
Have judicial ethics in Texas fallen so far that it is considered proper for a judge to rule on a motion involving defendants he previously counseled in a case he criticized? That's an outrageous ethical violation that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct should investigate fully.
Moreover, the ruling by the panel, which also included Justices W. Kenneth Law and Bob Pemberton, should be tossed out and the appeal sent to another jurisdiction for a fair hearing. There's precedent for that.
When a 3rd Court justice wrote a press release praising his own ruling in a libel case in 1988, the decision was voided and the case moved to another appeals court. And that breach doesn't come close to what Waldrop did.
It was offensive when the panel said checks did not constitute money under the state's money-laundering law. That decision looks like partisan politics at its rawest. Another justice on the court, Democrat Diane Henson, said as much.
Henson criticized the justices for sitting on the motion for two years then wandering far outside the question of constitutionality in the ruling. Henson also disagreed with the panel's strange notion that the money-laundering law didn't include checks. Her request that the full court rehear the pretrial motion was denied by the panel.
The black-and-white issue of whether Waldrop was wrong to decide the motion is complicated by the fact that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle didn't ask Waldrop to step aside. Had Earle's office done due diligence, the prosecutors would have demanded that Waldrop recuse himself because of his previous involvement with the defendants.
Despite that lapse, the issue is clear enough. A Republican appeals judge wrote an opinion effectively exonerating Republican defendants he formerly had counseled in a political cause.
If this is what passes for judicial ethics here, then justice is fully on the run in Texas.