By a 2-1 majority, the Texas Third Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) on money laundering charges Thursday, finding that “the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain DeLay’s convictions.” In a forceful dissent, the lone Democrat on the panel wrote that he believed there had indeed been sufficient evidence to convince a rational jury of criminal activity.
The three-judge panel consisted of the court’s Chief Justice J. Woodfin Jones (D), Justice Melissa Goodwin (R), and Ninth Court of Appeals Justice David Gaultney (R). Gaultney was assigned to the case by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson (R), after the court granted a motion by DeLay’s lawyer to recuse Justice Diane Henson, a Democrat. DeLay’s team objected to the fact that Henson had mentioned the case in a speech a the state’s Democratic convention.
In 2010, a jury had convicted DeLay on on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. That jury found that DeLay had devised a scheme to funnel corporate money into Texas state politics, circumventing a state law barring corporate money. The middle group, Texans for a Republican Majority, used those funds to elect a new GOP majority in the state legislature and force through an unprecedented mid-decade gerrymander of the Congressional map.
According to a 2008 Texas Observer story, Texans for a Republican Majority teamed with a pro-tort reform group called Texans for Lawsuit Reform to orchestrate the GOP takeover of the Texas government. A ThinkProgress review of campaign finance data from the National Institute on Money and State Politics reveals that Texans for Lawsuit Reform’s political action committee contributed at least $4,500 to Justice Goodwin’s 2010 re-election campaign and more than $40,000 since 2002 to Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jefferson’s campaigns.
Asked after Henson’s recusal whether he was pleased to have a second Republican on the appeals panel, DeLay’s lawyer claimed, “This isn’t about Democrats and Republicans. This is about a level playing field.” But given the party-line split, Gaultney’s vote was the tie-breaking vote.
The Travis County district attorney’s office, which prosecuted the case, vowed to ask the full appeals court to rehear the case. But the full court now has an even more lopsided 5-1 Republican majority. Texas elects judges and they run through the same partisan process as other public offices.