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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Perry Takes Another Swing at Charges

AUSTIN (CN) - Attorneys asked a state appellate court to toss out the felony abuse of power and coercion charges against former Gov. Rick Perry, saying the stakes go beyond "just the freedom of one man."

In a 118-page filing to the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, Perry insists that his 2013 veto threat of public money was lawful and that the charges should be dismissed because they violate his free speech.

"Freedom of speech protects the governor and the rest of the public from the chilling effect of vague and overbroad laws that sweep up protected speech in a misguided effort to ensure that no possible misconduct escapes punishment," Perry's attorneys wrote in the Feb. 25 appellate brief. "On its face, without the need for any evidence, the indictment must be dismissed because it runs afoul of these constitutional guarantees."

Attorneys Tony Buzbee and David Botsford say in the appeal that Visiting Judge Bert Richardson denied Perry's motion to quash and his pretrial application for writ of habeas corpus, challenging the constitutionality of the charges, "without fully grappling" the challenges.

Perry's legal team continues to maintain that count one of the indictment, related to the Republican's official abuse of power, is vague and unspecific.

They say the coercion charge is facially unconstitutional and must also be dismissed.

"The court addressed the merits of Governor Perry's two facial challenges to the coercion statute, but the court never acknowledged the dramatic overbreadth of that statute, much less reconciled it with freedom of speech. The court then disposed of Governor Perry's other challenges, including the ones based on separation of powers, on procedural grounds," the appeal states.

A Travis County grand jury last summer indicted Perry on two felony counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.

The Aug. 15, 2014 indictment came after Perry 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, 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 his actions were in line with the Texas governor's veto authority and that the charges violate his free speech.

"Make no mistake: This prosecution sets a dangerous precedent in our country and it directly targets the authority of every governor's office in the nation," Perry told reporters at a January news conference.

In November, Richardson rejected Perry's attempt to dismiss the charges on the technicality that Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum was not properly sworn in. That ruling brought the criminal case against Texas longest-serving governor closer to trial.

In public comments, Buzbee has called the prosecution of Perry "an outrage" that amounts to "the criminalization of politics."

Perry has all but announced his decision to run in the crowded 2016 field of Republican contenders for president. He said he would make a formal announcement in May or June.

He came in 11th out of 17 Republican nominees at last weekend's Conservative Public Action Conference straw poll in Maryland, with 1.1 percent of the vote. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the CPAC poll for the third year in a row, with 25.7 percent.

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