HOUSTON -- An attorney for former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay attempted to convince a Texas appeals court Wednesday that Delay’s 2010 felony conviction should be overturned, arguing his efforts to influence Texas elections did not break the law.
DeLay, 65, was found guilty in November 2010 of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering and sentenced to three years in prison, although the sentence has been on hold and DeLay free on bond during his appeal.
A prosecutor with the Travis County district attorney’s office told a three-judge panel of the 3rd Court of Appeals during the hourlong hearing in Austin that the former Houston-area congressman illegally used his political action committee to funnel $190,000 in corporate donations to Texas candidates via the Republican National Committee in 2002.
Prosecutors claim the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House, where they created a state redistricting plan that sent more Republicans to Congress in 2004, strengthening DeLay’s power.
But DeLay’s attorney, Brian Wice, argued his client did not commit money laundering because the money in question was in the form of a check, which state law at the time didn’t cover. The law was amended in 2005 to include checks.
DeLay did not attend the hearing.
Afterward, Wice told the Los Angeles Times that he thought the hearing “went well.”
“Everybody asked questions, they knew the record cold. I think based on what I heard today, what I saw today, we have a pretty good shot at prevailing 2 to 1,” he said.
Two of the judges are Republicans and the third a Democrat.
Wice, who is based in Houston, said he spoke with DeLay after the hearing and he, too, was pleased.
“He was gratified that the playing field was level. That we got a full and fair day in court,” Wice said. “He’s cautiously optimistic.”
Both sides said after the hearing that if the judges rule against them, they plan to appeal.
Among opponents emerging from the hearing was Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based watchdog group that assisted the prosecution and whose complaints helped lead to the investigation of DeLay’s PAC.
“They were on pretty thin ice with their legal argument,” he said of DeLay’s team, adding that he thought the check argument was “on the edge of absurdity.”
He said that he was encouraged by questions that Chief Justice J. Woodfin “Woodie” Jones, the Democrat, asked, but that, “The two Republicans on the court seemed sympathetic to DeLay’s arguments. That’s troubling.”
He said the court has been slow to rule, and it is not expected to issue a decision for months.
DeLay, who once owned an exterminator company, was known as “The Hammer” while in Congress because of his hard-ball tactics. In 2009 he took a stab a reality TV, appearing on “Dancing with the Stars.”