Judge is removed at DeLay's request

He had donated to Democratic causes

November 02, 2005|By RICHARD A. SERRANO | RICHARD A. SERRANO,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas won the first skirmish in his conspiracy and money laundering case yesterday when a Texas judge was removed from presiding over the trial after DeLay's attorneys showed he has been a significant financial contributor to Democratic causes.

District Judge Robert Perkins of Travis County was removed at the close of a hearing in the state capital, Austin, when another Texas judge, brought out of retirement, ruled that Perkins' history of making 34 donations in the past five years to Democratic candidates and organizations suggested he might not be impartial in the trial of the Republican congressman.

The decision sets up the appointment of a new judge to preside over the trial. Under court rules, neither DeLay's lawyers nor state prosecutors can make recommendations on the selection of Perkins' replacement.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who brought a series of grand jury indictments against DeLay and several Republican associates, had sought to keep Perkins on the case. Earle, a Democrat, has said he viewed Perkins as fair and not one to allow his political leanings to dictate his handling of the trial.

Earle's assistant, prosecutor Rick Reed, argued at the hearing that there was no apparent "reasonable doubt that the judge is impartial."

But Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's chief attorney, said by phone after the ruling that even in a state where judges are elected and may make political contributions, it seemed improper for a judge who gave so much money - $5,585 - to federal and state Democratic candidates and causes to oversee such a politically charged case.

"There's no question he's very partisan," DeGuerin said. "In most cases, that wouldn't matter. But when partisan politics is what this case is all about, it doesn't look right for the judge to be on the opposite side of the person who is accused. That's as plain as the nose on your face."

DeLay was indicted in September for conspiring to violate state election laws and again in October for conspiracy and money laundering. Prosecutors say he schemed to funnel corporate contributions through the Republican National Committee in Washington and back to GOP candidates running for the Texas Legislature in 2002. Under state law, corporate money cannot be used directly in political campaigns.

Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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