Texas Gov. Rick Perry had to appear in Travis County court today for a hearing in the case against him. Perry was indicted in August on charges that he abused his power by saying that he would exercise his constitutional veto power, and then following through with that, regarding state funds for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit.
The veto had no impact on the PIU’s operations. The county was able to make up the $7.5 million that Perry vetoed by moving other money around to compensate. None of its investigations, including one into the state’s Cancer Prevention and Research Institute, were interrupted, despite some Democrats’ claims to the contrary.
The Public Integrity Unit claims a statewide writ to prosecute wrongdoing by public officials, a task that was more than complicated by Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg’s (D) arrest for drunk driving, and her failure to resign after pleading guilty to that charge, in 2013. So much for the integrity of the official who heads the Public Integrity Unit.
Perry and his top-flight legal team appeared for today’s hearing, which centered on defense motions to get transcripts of the grand jury testimony, and to get the special prosecutor removed from the case. Breitbart’s Sarah Rumpf, who is an attorney herself, reports on something strange that was revealed in today’s hearing.
District Judge Bert Richardson heard arguments from both sides, as well as testimony from several court employees regarding the unique way that records have been kept in this case. One major issue is that the files for Perry’s case were not kept in the same way that court files are normally kept, and Perry’s attorneys have had problems getting records requests filled. Testimony from court employees included admissions that certain files — including original documents — had been on employees’ desks instead of in a central filing location, and that for the past sixteen years, Travis County had assigned a special cause number for the grand jury proceedings in only two cases: Tom Delay and now Perry. Delay was cleared of all charges against himearlier last month by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but the case took years to resolve and ended Delay’s political career.
What does that part about “special cause numbers” mean?
On its face, it means that Tom DeLay and Rick Perry have been singled out for different treatment than other PIU targets have gotten. Given how DeLay’s case progressed, and how Perry’s case has been handled so far, it cannot be argued that they were singled out for special favorable treatment, as one might expect for powerful and famous political figures.
The Travis County DA and its Public Integrity Unit are headed by Lehmberg, a Democrat, and Travis County is the bluest county in the state. Both DeLay and Perry are Republicans.
In DeLay’s case, then-DA Ronnie Earle shopped the charges around to three grand juries before finally securing the indictment as the clock was ticking down. The charges of money laundering were not even criminal when DeLay supposedly committed them. DeLay was eventually exonerated entirely, but not before Earle had managed to convict him, destroy his political career, help the Democrats capture the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, and cost DeLay millions of dollars over the course of about nine years of his life. That case took a key Republican leader out of action at a critical moment for the Democrats, and tarnished the entire GOP for years.
In Perry’s case, the sitting Republican governor and probable presidential contender has been indicted for taking action that was obviously written into his state constitutional powers, and for speaking, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. Some members of the grand jury went on a public relations campaign against him after indicting him (one was an activist at the Texas Democratic Party’s statewide convention). Perry defended himself from that publicly, only to have another Democratic Travis County judge threaten him.
The entire case has been strange and very obviously political from the beginning.
Rumpf’s report suggest that the Travis County DA’s office came up with some new system for categorizing political cases for DeLay, years before his case even started. He was indicted nine years ago. The “special cause number” somehow goes back 16 years, to circa 1998, which puts it between the Travis County DA’s prosecution of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1993-94 and DeLay in 2005. Earle was humiliated in the Hutchison case, and she went on to become one of Texas’ most popular politicians as Texas transitioned from a Democrat stronghold to the Republican fortress that it is today. Had the case against her succeeded, Texas politics would look very different today. Earle’s success in the DeLay case had a profound impact on not just Texas politics, but national politics as well.
The DA office and the PIU changed hands, when Earle left and Lehmberg took over in 2009. But that “special cause number” system remained in place.
If the implementation of “special cause numbers” constitutes some filing system, then who developed that system, and for what purpose?
We can get a hint of what its purpose might be, from the Breitbart paragraph above. Rumpf writes that the Perry team has had trouble getting files from the DA’s office. Some of that is due to the files not being stored in the central location where other case files are stored, but on employees’ desks, and some might be attributable to the “special cause number.” One employee who is processing a request for files may not know that such files even exist, if they’re classified under a special number, and are stored on other employees’ desks. The defense team loses access to information to which it is entitled to mount a vigorous defense. But the DA knows where that information is the whole time.
Has the Travis County DA’s office devised a means of hiding information from certain defendants? That question needs to be investigated, regardless of how the Perry case progresses.