3rd Court sticks to bizarre logic3rd Court of Appeals refused to reconsider its ruling that money laundering was once OK as long as it done by check, not cash. The decision is tainted by politics.
Friday, March 20, 2009
The 3rd Court of Appeals, split 3-2 along partisan lines, has refused to reconsider its ruling last year that, at least until 2005, it was OK to take otherwise illegal corporate campaign contributions as long as the money came in the form of a check, not cash. The court thus reaffirmed a decision tainted by politics.
The case involves defendants with Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, which worked to raise money and support to elect a Republican majority to the Texas House in 2002. They were successful.
But about $190,000 of that money, charged then-Travis Country District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, was raised illegally from corporations. He brought charges against then-U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and two associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis. Colyandro and Ellis challenged the constitutionality of the law under which the charges were brought.
Last year, the 3rd Court's Justice Alan Waldrop, joined by then-Chief Justice Ken Law and Justice Robert Pemberton, upheld the law. But, they added, under the law as it stood in 2002, it was not illegal to launder campaign money if it were in the form of a check. And the $190,000 in campaign donations in question was handled by check.
Waldrop, Law and Pemberton, all of them Republicans, were heavily criticized for the ruling. Some of the criticism came from Earle's office, which noted that Waldrop, before he became a judge, had been an attorney with Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a business-backed group allied with DeLay. Waldrop had helped TLR avoid a civil suit arising from the same 2002 campaign controversy, Earle's office said, and he had called the suit "politically motivated."
But the 3rd Court, again split along partisan lines, in January ruled that Waldrop did not have to remove himself from the case.
And on Wednesday, Waldrop wrote a "supplemental opinion" defending his original ruling and denying a motion for the full court to reconsider it.
"The plain language of the statute," Waldrop wrote, "does not include checks, and the legislative history is very clear — the Legislature did not criminalize the use of checks as a means of money laundering in 1993 but did amend the statute to criminalize it in 2005.
"We remain persuaded that the Legislature chose not to include checks within the scope of the term 'funds' when defining money laundering in 1993 — a conclusion confirmed by the Legislature itself both in its limiting of the statute in 1993 and in its broadening of the statute in 2005."
So, Waldrop tells us, the Legislature in 1993 made it illegal to launder campaign cash — but chose to make it legal if you were clever enough to launder by check. Then, in 2005, he says, it rewrote the law to make money laundering by check illegal, too.
Most people we know think that "funds" would pretty much include money in any of its forms — cash, checks, money orders and so forth. But it's amazing what can be done with a law degree, a black robe and a willingness to torture logic to get the result you want.
Perhaps now Democrats will more fully appreciate the long-standing Republican complaint that too often the courts let criminal defendants skate away on absurd legal technicalities.