A Texas judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a felony abuse-of-power case against former Gov. Rick Perry on constitutional grounds, rejecting the argument that Perry was acting within his rights as chief executive of America's second-most populous state when he carried out a veto threat.
The decision by District Judge Bert Richardson, who like Perry is a Republican, means the case against the possible 2016 presidential hopeful can move forward. Perry left office Jan. 20 and says he will announce as soon as May whether he will make a second run for the White House.
Perry was indicted in August on charges of abuse of official power and coercion of a public servant. He is accused of publicly threatening — then making good on — a 2013 veto of $7.5 million in state funding last year for a public corruption division within the office of Travis County Dist. Atty. Rosemary Lehmberg. That came after Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign after a conviction and jail time for drunken driving.
Tony Buzbee, lead counsel on Perry's legal team released the following statement in response to the ruling:
Perry "acted lawfully and properly exercised his power under the law as Governor to protect the public safety and integrity of government. Continued prosecution of Governor Perry is an outrage and sets a dangerous precedent in our Democracy. America’s commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law is at stake in this case, which is why we will immediately appeal this decision to the Third District Court of Appeals.”
Perry has spent more than $1.1 million of his campaign funds on his defense.
In a 60-page motion filed in August, Perry's legal team argued that the law being used to prosecute the longest-serving governor in Texas history is unconstitutionally vague and decried “attempts to convert inescapably political disputes into criminal complaints.”
Richardson had previously refused to toss the case on a series of technicalities Perry's lawyers raised, including questioning whether the special prosecutor assigned to the case, San Antonio attorney Michael McCrum, was properly sworn in.
A grand jury in Austin — a liberal enclave in otherwise largely conservative Texas — indicted Perry. If convicted, the former governor faces a maximum 109 years in prison. He calls the matter a political witch hunt and says he would issue the veto again if given the chance.
Top national Republicans initially lined up to praise Perry and decry the criminal charges against him — but they've been less vocal about their support as the case drags on.
McCrum says the case is stronger than it may outwardly appear, and that it should be heard by a jury.