Former Gov. Rick Perry, the state’s longest-serving chief executive, was cleared Wednesday of the felony indictments that hung over his head for 18 months, cast a shadow over his final months in office and complicated his second run for a presidential nomination.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, dismissed one indictment and reaffirmed a lower appeals court’s previous dismissal of the other.
Perry had a right to claim victory.
“The court upheld the rule of law and the fundamental right of any person to speak freely without fear of political interference or legal intimidation,” he said at a news conference in Austin. “The actions that I took were not only lawful and legal, but they were right.”
That last part might be stretching things a little.
The court said Perry’s actions that brought on the August 2014 indictment were legal.
To say they were right could imply that they were smart, and clearly the amount of trouble they caused shows he should have been smarter.
Still, Perry’s critics lost. Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor on the case, complained that “the Republican court carved out a special ruling to get Perry off the hook.”
Better to just say the justices called it the way they saw it. Disagree if you want, but to whine that they ruled for partisan purposes is childish.
Perry presided over his first legislative session as governor in 2001 and his last in 2013.
After lawmakers passed a budget in that final session, Perry threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funding for the public integrity unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.
Lehmberg, a Democrat, had been arrested for drunken driving. She served some time in jail, but she would not resign. Perry made good on his veto threat.
More than a year later, a grand jury indicted Perry on charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
The long argument has not been about whether the governor had the right and the power to veto the funding.
It has been about whether it was legal for him to use that veto power in an attempt to coerce Lehmberg into resigning.
The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that it was entirely legal, that “public servants have a First Amendment right to engage in expression, even threats, regarding their official duties.”
The court called it “political logrolling,” which “involves the swap of one authorized official act for another” and is not illegal.