Travis County DA asks for judge's removal from caseEarle points to Waldrop's political links to DeLay
By CLAY ROBISON
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Sept. 26, 2008
AUSTIN — A Republican appellate justice who once had political ties to Tom DeLay should remove himself from a case involving DeLay's associates, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said.
The justice, Alan Waldrop, and two other Republican justices, Ken Law and Bob Pemberton, were a panel of the Third Court of Appeals that recently opened the door to the possible dismissal of criminal charges against the former U.S. House GOP leader.
DeLay and his associates — political consultants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — are accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations through a political committee formed by DeLay to seven Texas House candidates in 2002. Prosecutors allege they conspired to violate the state's ban on corporate contributions by laundering money through national Republican Party accounts.
The committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), helped the GOP capture a majority of Texas House seats that year.
Last month, Waldrop, Law and Pemberton refused to dismiss money laundering and conspiracy charges against Colyandro and Ellis, upholding the ban on corporate donations. But, in their ruling, they said the money laundering statute on the books in 2002 applied to cash, not checks.
DeLay wasn't part of the appeal, but he faces the same charges. And his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, believes the ruling will force prosecutors to eventually dismiss the charges because the indictment alleges the transactions were conducted with checks. The Legislature didn't add checks to the definition of "funds" in the money laundering law until 2005.
Waldrop, who wrote the opinion, was a paid lobbyist in 2002 for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing but worked closely with TRMPAC on House races.
Earle said he only recently learned that Waldrop, as TLR's lawyer, also filed a pleading in a civil lawsuit against TRMPAC, in which he characterized the allegations of corporate contributions as "politically motivated."
In motions filed this week, Earle asked the entire six-member appellate court to rehear the appeal and for Waldrop to recuse himself from further participation.
Too late for removal
Earle noted that the rules of civil procedure require a judge to abstain from a case if his impartiality might be reasonably questioned.
DeGuerin said it was too late for Earle to try to remove Waldrop from the case.
"You can't wait until you get an unfavorable ruling and then try to dismiss the judge," he said.
Waldrop, Law and Pemberton also have taken at least $119,825 in political donations from 20 groups and individuals who helped finance TRMPAC, according to Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group often at odds with Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Waldrop's former client.
The donors, who have contributed to one or more of the justices since 2004, include the Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell law firm, Houston home builder Bob Perry, Dallas businessman Harold Simmons, Dallas investor Peter O'Donnell, the Farmers insurance PAC, the AT&T PAC and San Antonio businessman James Leininger.