Courts

Court of Appeals Tosses One of Perry's Indictments



Things are looking up for former governor Rick Perry. Sure, his presidential campaign is on life support and fellow presidential wishful-thinker Donald Trump is making fun of all things Perry like it's going out of style. But Friday brought up a bit of good news: Perry is now facing only one felony indictment instead of two. 

On Friday morning, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin issued a 97-page opinion tossing out one of Perry's two felony indictments. The court found that the charge of coercion of a public servant violated Perry's rights of free speech.

Perry was indicted by an Austin grand jury last August on the coercion charge and another charge of abuse of power. This all started because Perry publicly threatened to veto $7.5 million in funding for public corruption prosecutors. Perry was holding the money hostage unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg agreed to resign after she was caught on video in a very well-publicized bit of public drunkenness.

For those who've somehow forgotten, the story went like this: Lehmberg got drunk, drove around, got caught and threw a tantrum in jail. Perry threatened to withhold $7.5 million in funding from the Travis County DA's Public Integrity Unit (which just so happens to investigate public corruption cases) following Lehmberg's arrest. Then Perry actually followed through on that threat and vetoed the funds when Lehmberg refused to step down. The whole thing culminated with Perry being indicted last summer and posing for what is probably the world's most flattering mugshot. 


Since then, Perry has been busy trying to finagle the GOP presidential nomination while simultaneously attempting to change his national public image from the "Oops" guy to the oh-so-distinguished-and-reasonable statesman (and compared to Trump he's actually looking pretty good, which is all kinds of weird). Despite the Donald factor, Perry 2016 hasn't been doing so hot — he hasn't raised a ton of campaign money and he's polling so far below the GOP front-runners it's like he's not even in the same race — but this is still the tiniest change in fortunes for him. 

While the court stuff wasn't taking up a bunch of his time — he's appeared in court only once since this started — it's still not the easiest thing in the world to run for president while being indicted unless you're, you know, fictional. His fleet of high-powered lawyers has been hard at work on getting their client out from under that indictment cloud. Tony Buzbee, the head of the team, says that the remaining indictment is only a misdemeanor and one that should be dismissed. "The only issue is whether the governor's veto — or any veto in the absence of bribery — can ever be illegal," Buzbee says, according to the Associated Press.

It may not save Perry's campaign, but if Perry's legal team can figure out how to get rid of the other felony indictment, for abuse of power, it can't do anything but help him. 

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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray