By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
AUSTIN, Texas — Tom DeLay’s legal saga will have at least one more chapter.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday agreed to hear the money-laundering and conspiracy charges that ended the political career of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay eight years ago.
Last fall, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin dismissed DeLay’s conviction and three-year prison sentence, saying prosecutors used “legally insufficient evidence” at DeLay’s 2010 trial before a Travis County jury. The vote in favor of the Sugar Land Republican was 2-1, along partisan lines.
Travis County prosecutors appealed that decision. On Wednesday, the state’s highest criminal court agreed to hear the case.
Brian Wice, DeLay’s appellate lawyer, had hoped to persuade the Court of Criminal Appeals to reject the state’s appeal.
“We’re not surprised that the state’s highest criminal court wants to hear a case as important as Tom’s is,” Wice said Wednesday. “We’re confident.”
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said, “I continue to believe that the jury’s verdict was correct. I am pleased and confident that the court will give us fair consideration.”
The long-running case dates back to a $190,000 transaction during the 2002 elections when DeLay and his allies were trying to elect a GOP majority to the Texas Legislature that, in turn, would draw congressional districts more favorable to the GOP.
Under state law, corporations can give money for the overhead expenses of a political action committee but not to a candidate.
Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee led by DeLay, exchanged $190,000 of its corporate donations for the same amount from an arm of the Republican National Committee. The national committee’s $190,000, which were legal donations from a separate bank account, went to seven Texas candidates.
The issue is whether the transaction was money laundering or not.
Writing for the majority, 3rd Court Justice Melissa Goodwin said prosecutors failed to prove the $190,000 was “proceeds of criminal activity.”
She noted that the jury asked whether the $190,000 was “illegal at the start of the transaction” or “procured by illegal means originally.”
Goodwin said prosecutors didn’t prove that point — which she said was a critical element to conspiring to launder money — and the trial judge never answered the jurors’ questions. Instead, he referred them to the jury charge.
Holly Taylor, an assistant district attorney, argued that the 3rd Court of Appeals was wrong to throw out DeLay’s conviction.
She wrote in her appeal that the 3rd Court substituted its judgment for that of the jury with regard to the credibility of the witnesses and the weight of the evidence.
Taylor also disputed that the prosecutors had to show that the transaction involved the “very same dollars that were the direct profits of the felonious act.”
Finally, she wrote that the prosecutors shouldn’t have to prove that “the elements of money laundering were completed” in order to prove a conspiracy occurred.
Wice argued that if the state didn’t prove money laundering, it had insufficient evidence for a conspiracy conviction.
He also dismissed the lengthy prosecution as a “purely partisan pursuit.”
Photo: Jimmy Bramlett via Flickr