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Rick Perry’s Felony|Indictment Dismissed

AUSTIN (CN) - Texas' highest criminal court on Wednesday cleared former Gov. Rick Perry of a felony charge, putting an end to the 18-month saga that threatened to unravel the political legacy of Texas' longest-serving governor.

Perry, 65, when indicted in August 2014 by a Travis County grand jury that charged him with abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. The all-Republican Third Court of Appeals struck down the lesser coercion charge, but left intact the abuse of official capacity count.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the remaining abuse of capacity charge in a 6-2 ruling handed down Wednesday morning, after nearly three months of consideration.

State prosecutors said that Perry made criminal quid pro quo threats in an attempt to unseat Travis County District Attorney Mary Lehmberg after her 2013 drunken-driving arrest.

When Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign, Perry used his veto power to strip her office's Public Integrity Unit of more than $7 million appropriated to it by the Legislature.

Perry's legal team argued in stacks of legal briefs and oral arguments that the indictment violated Perry's First Amendment tights.

In tossing out the criminal charge of abuse of official capacity, the Court of Criminal Appeals' said that "the mere act of vetoing legislation" is not a crime under any state law.

"The Constitution does not purport to impose any restriction on the veto power based on the reason for the veto, and it does not purport to allow any other substantive limitations to be placed on the use of a veto," Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the court.

The court also upheld the lower court's decision to dismiss the coercion charge.

Texas Republican chairman Tom Mechler praised the ruling, calling the charges "a political witch hunt crafted by Texas Democrats in Travis County in an attempt to derail (Perry's) presidential bid."

But in a scathing dissent , Judge Lawrence E. Meyers called the majority ruling a politically motivated opinion "that establishes entirely new precedent solely in order to vacate the indictment against the former governor."

"Obviously it has traded the repercussions of a challenge in the political arena for the embarrassment of manufacturing an opinion that is not based on either law or fact. And, unfortunately, the concurring opinions only go on to further support the fairytale authored by the majority," Meyers wrote.

In a separate dissent , Judge Cheryl Johnson said the opinion "stretch[es] constitution, case law, and statute beyond where I am willing to follow."

Johnson also took issue with the court's constant references to Perry as "Governor Perry," which could infer that his "position in life entitles him to special privileges and special treatment by this court that others might be denied."

"In no other appeal I have read during the 17 years that I have served on this court has appellant been called anything other than 'appellant.'"

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