AUSTIN (CN) – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday scheduled arguments on whether to send former Gov. Rick Perry to trial on one of the felony charges that hung over his failed presidential campaign.
The state’s highest criminal court put Perry’s case on the fast track by ordering briefs due Oct. 21, and agreeing to hear oral arguments on Nov. 4 on the abuse of official capacity charge. The felony is punishable by 5 to 99 years in prison.
Perry’s attorneys did not want oral arguments, but the state did.
Perry’s criminal case has wound its way for 14 months from Travis County Court to the state’s Third Court of Appeals, where Perry appealed a visiting judge’s refusal to quash the indictment.
In July, the Third Court of Appeals dismissed a lesser charge, coercion of a public servant, as unconstitutional. The court left the abuse of official capacity charge intact and Perry’s legal team appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals in August.
Perry’s attorneys continue to maintain that the abuse of power charge is vague and unspecific.
A Travis County grand jury in August 2014 indicted Perry on two felony counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
The Aug. 15, 2014 indictment came after Texas’ longest-serving governor followed through on threats to pull funding from Travis County District Attorney Mary Lehmberg’s ethics investigation unit if she did not resign after a drunken-driving arrest.
When Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign, Perry issued a line-item veto that stripped her office’s Public Integrity Unit of more than $7 million that had been earmarked by the Legislature during the 2013 session.
Since the early days of the indictment, Perry has maintained that he had veto authority as governor, and that the charges violate his free speech.
Both sides have buried the courts in mountains of legal documents as Perry and his attorneys have fought to have the charges dismissed.
Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum filed a brief in May urging the court to move the case to trial, saying the parties “have exchanged hundreds of pages of briefs” but are still “no closer to a resolution.”
“A trial could resolve what legal briefs to this court cannot,” McCrum wrote to the Third Court of Appeals on May 11.
Tony Buzbee, one of Perry’s attorneys, told the Court of Criminal Appeals that deferring resolution until trial is “constitutionally offensive.”
“He seeks to vindicate his right not to be tried at all, and that right is virtually meaningless if it cannot be asserted and vindicated until after trial,” Buzbee wrote in his Aug. 18 petition for discretionary review.
“Simply stated, this court should grant review to explain that pretrial habeas corpus relief must be available in the rare circumstances when, as here, the state seeks to criminalize conduct that the Constitution itself authorizes and protects from judicial scrutiny.”
Perry dropped his lagging presidential bid in September after struggling to break through in the polls or raise enough money to stay competitive in a crowded Republican field.
He entered the race as a long shot. His less than stellar 2012 presidential bid fizzled after a series of missteps and he never managed to reinvent himself persuasively for voters as he faced felony charges in his home state.
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