Rick Perry can finally exhale: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out the last felony charge remaining in the former Guv's 2013 abuse-of-power case, in which he was accused of withholding funds for the Travis County District Attorney's public integrity unit as a way to force DA Rosemary Lehmberg's resignation.
Perry vetoed the funding for the unit after Lehmberg was charged with drunk-driving, insisting that she lost the public's confidence. But a group called Texans for Public Justice lodged a formal complaint, alleging that Perry tried to extort Lehmberg, a political opponent, and force her resignation.
Perry had sought to dismiss the charges, citing his veto rights as governor, and the CCA's Judge Sharon Keller on Wednesday agreed, writing, "When the only act that is being prosecuted is a veto, then the prosecution itself violates separation of powers."
The CCA affirmed a lower court's dismissal of the other count against Perry, citing the ex-governor's First Amendment rights.
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The indictments, filed in the summer of 2014, hit at a particularly awkward time for Perry. Stories about the criminal prosecution dominated the headlines in his final months as the state's longest-serving governor. The indictments also cast a shadow over Perry's second run at the GOP presidential nomination. He was a surprisingly moderate voice this time around in a race defined by the rhetoric of a leading candidate who has called Mexicans rapists, mocked a physically disabled reporter and, most recently, mused about executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood.
The indictments ultimately proved too distracting and Perry blamed the charges for his early departure from the race. “It had a really corrosive effect on our ability to raise money,” he told Fox New's Sean Hannity last year. Perry called the criminal charges politically motivated, saying his “opponents did their damage.”
Two CCA judges penned dissents arguing against the majority's decision to effectively close the book on Perry's criminal case. The court's only Democrat, Judge Larry Meyers, insists the court's majority bent over backwards to dismiss Perry's case, and in the process issued a precedent-setting ruling that could have far-reaching consequences on how public officials are held accountable in the state.
“While the majority has inaccurately concluded that the prosecution in this case is politically motivated, it, in turn, has not shown any compunction in scripting an opinion that establishes entirely new precedent solely in order to vacate the indictment against the former governor," Meyers wrote, calling the majority opinion a "fairytale."