Read the article at the Austin American-Statesman
3RD COURT OF APPEALS
DeLay-related ruling shows polarization of 3rd CourtCourt says GOP justice did not have to excuse himself from case dealing with associates of former House majority leader.
By Laylan Copelin
Friday, January 02, 2009
The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, split along partisan lines, has ruled that Republican Justice Alan Waldrop did not have to excuse himself from a case against two associates of former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
The ruling does not immediately affect the money-laundering charges against DeLay and his associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis. But the justices question one another's motives in how the polarizing case has been handled by the appellate court.
The opinion and the dissents were filed New Year's Eve as two principals in the case, Chief Justice Ken Law and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, exited the public arena.
Earle, a Democrat who has been pursuing the money-laundering case since the 2002 elections, has retired after 32 years in office. Law's term ended Wednesday because the GOP justice was defeated in November, in part because of questions about the case.
DeLay and his associates are accused of laundering corporate money, which is banned in connection with political campaigns in Texas, into donations to Republican candidates during the 2002 elections.
DeLay had to resign as U.S. House majority leader because of the indictment and later retired from Congress.
Three years ago Ellis and Colyandro separately challenged the constitutionality of the state law. All three are awaiting trial.
In August, Justices Waldrop, Law and Robert Pemberton, all Republicans, upheld the constitutionality of the money-laundering statute but added that they did not think that the law in 2002 covered checks. The $190,000 in the DeLay case involved corporate checks, not cash.
That ruling prompted a firestorm. Prosecutors argued that the three-judge panel had gone beyond the legal question before it. Earle spoke of "the dark shadow of corruption" looming over the case as he filed a motion asking Waldrop to withdraw or be dropped from the case. His complaint was that before Waldrop became a justice, he helped a group of DeLay's political allies, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, stay out of a lawsuit arising from the same circumstances as the criminal case.
Waldrop characterized the lawsuit as "politically motivated."
Two Democratic justices on the 3rd Court objected.
Justice Diane Henson complained that her GOP colleagues were wrong about the money-laundering law and had bottled up the case for years to thwart prosecution of the high-profile case.
Justice Jan Patterson accused Law of ignoring her dissent when the 3rd Court ruled earlier this year on Waldrop's standing in the case. She also questioned why the two men's constitutional challenges were combined into one case and assigned to an all-Republican panel of justices to consider. Previously one man's challenge was assigned to an all-GOP panel and the other case was being handled by a panel containing one Democrat.
On Wednesday, the Republican majority struck back in an opinion written by Justice David Puryear. Law and Pemberton joined in Puryear's opinion.
Puryear criticized Patterson's "attempts to insert suspicion and intrigue into what have been routine decisions by this Court." He wrote that the two challenges were combined because they were identical cases and because a Democratic justice would be retiring soon and the cases might take awhile to deal with. He accused Henson of just "rehashing" her earlier complaints that Waldrop's ruling on money-laundering had been wrongly decided instead of focusing on whether Waldrop should have stayed on the case.
The Republican justices said Earle should have known about Waldrop's role with Texans for Lawsuit Reform because it had been publicized. They said it would be wrong to let one side wait to complain about a justice until the parties in the case see which way he rules.
Henson argued that a reasonable person would question whether Waldrop might favor DeLay's associates because of his earlier work with DeLay's political allies.
"One might also question why, if Justice Waldrop's lack of bias or partiality is so obvious, a 38-page opinion, including personal attacks on dissenting justices, was necessary to explain why the motion to recuse was denied," she wrote.