August 26, 2014

MICHAEL BARONE: A decent lawyer should tell liberals they’re damned fools and ought to stop.

“About half the practice of a decent lawyer consists in telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.” So supposedly said Elihu Root, New York lawyer and secretary of war and of state, and U.S. senator from 1909 to 1915.

Today it seems that many liberal “would-be clients” are in desperate need of what Root called “a decent lawyer.”

Take Texans for Public Justice, the so-called public interest group that has been pushing for the indictment of Gov. Rick Perry by a grand jury at the urging of special prosecutor Michael McCrum.

The basis for the indictment is, in the words of liberal New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait, “unbelievably ridiculous.” The first count says that Perry violated a vaguely worded statute by threatening to veto an appropriation. That, even though the Texas Constitution gives governors the veto power and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects their right to free speech.

The second count states that it was illegal “coercion” to demand the resignation of Rosemary Lehmberg, head of the public integrity prosecution unit whose funding Perry vetoed, after she was arrested for drunk driving with blood alcohol content three times the legal limit.

“To describe the indictment as ‘frivolous’ gives it far more credence than it deserves,” Chait said. Liberal Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz agreed. Perry’s actions, he said, are “not anything for a criminal indictment,” adding that the indictment is reminiscent of “what happens in totalitarian societies.”

The editorial writers of the Washington Post and the New York Times agreed. A “tendentious prosecution,” the Post wrote, noting that it was not the first one launched in Austin. The Texas town also produced the 2006 campaign finance indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that was finally ruled invalid last year.

The Times, after making clear its distaste for Perry (“one of the least thoughtful and most damaging state leaders in America”), wrote that “the indictment appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution.”

Many Texas liberals, perhaps shellshocked after losing every statewide race since 1994, are still chortling over Perry’s predicament. But the obvious injustice of the indictment may help more than hurt Perry. A decent lawyer would have told them to stop.

It’s also served as a wakeup call to the GOP on the importance of lawfare-related issues, something I’ve been pushing for a while. Dems will regret it if — or when — the Republicans get serious on this front.