Justice for DeLay but not for the corrupt
By Colin McNickle
Published: Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
More than a decade and $12 million in legal costs later, a federal appeals court has affirmed the criminal case against former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for what it was — a political prosecution if not a persecution.
Mr. DeLay, now 66, was indicted in 2005 on state money-laundering charges in Texas. He was convicted in 2010 of funneling $190,000 in corporate donations through the Republican National Committee to Republicans running for the Texas Legislature in 2002.
DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison. Two associates also were convicted. He remained free pending appeal.
Those hellbent on making an example of “The Hammer,” so named for his hardball political acumen, saw the “scheme” not merely as a clandestine way to undermine Texas campaign finance laws and elect Republicans but as a nefarious way to pack the state Legislature in advance of redistricting.
But the legal case against DeLay smelled from the beginning.
Rabid Democrat operative Ronnie Earle, the chief prosecutor for Travis County, Texas, first won an indictment against DeLay for conspiring to violate state campaign laws. Never mind that the law of which DeLay supposedly ran afoul did not exist at the time of the alleged violation. Can you say ex post facto whoops?
Or as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 84, “(T)he subjecting of men to punishment for things which, when they were done, were breaches of no law” is among “the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.”
But the tyrant was not to be deterred. Rebuffed by the legal system, Earle impaneled a second grand jury; it rejected his entreaties. A third grand jury was called and quickly gave Mr. Earle what he wanted — the conspiracy and money-laundering indictment. Those allegations, too, were odoriferous.
To prove that money has been illegally laundered first requires proof that it was acquired illegally. “The state did not prove that the funds were ‘illegal at the start of the transaction' or ‘procured by illegal means originally,'” concluded Justice Melissa Goodwin, writing for a 2-1 tribunal of the Third Court of Appeals of Texas. “The lack of legally sufficient evidence that the funds were ‘proceeds of criminal activity' requires an acquittal.”
In fact, Ms. Goodwin says “the evidence shows that the defendants were attempting to comply with the” law, not circumvent it.
The Travis County DA's office (sans Ronnie Earle, who left office in 2009) says the appellate panel substituted its judgment for that of 12 jurors who heard the testimony of 40-plus witnesses over several weeks. Never mind that the tribunal used the prosecution's words (addressing jury questions before the trial judge as the jury deliberated) against it: “I feel a little bad for the jury because I think it is evident from their question that they are confused about the law. ... And I think we've put them in an uncomfortable position of trying to decide what the law is, which is not their job.”
The district attorney says an appeal to the full court is being considered. But experts say it's unlikely that it would even hear, let alone overturn, the panel's ruling given the egregious nature of the prosecutory misconduct.
Justice finally appears to have prevailed in Tom DeLay's case. Pity that there will be no justice for those who worked so assiduously to corrupt it.
Colin McNickle is Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- One dead in officer-involved shooting in Monroeville
- Young defensemen lift Penguins to win
- Host of Steelers veterans look toward career survival mode
- Born in Pittsburgh, US Airways departure is a bittersweet one
- Officials say programs are making Pennsylvania roads much safer
- Steelers notebook: Offense fails to make splash; defense lags
- Hill District nonprofit’s finances are taking another dive
- Stricter Right-to-Know Law may have helped in PSU case, advocates argue
- Boat owners prepare for winterization
- Need for greater Internet speed is a boon for DQE Communications
- Pirates notebook: Huntington narrows team’s offseason targets