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Court of Criminal Appeals Hears Oral Arguments in Perry Case

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune
Perry's defense attorneys Michael Botsford (left) and Tony Buzbee (right).

The legal case against Rick Perry was back in court Wednesday. The hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals could decide what, if any, charges remain against the former Texas governor.

First a recap: Rick Perry was indicted on two felony counts after he threatened and then vetoed funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s public corruption unit. At the end of the 2013 legislative session, Perry said DA Rosemary Lehmberg should resign afterher arrest for drunk driving. When she didn’t step down, Perry then eliminated $7.5 million from her office.

Perry's defense team got one felony indictment, coercion of a public official, thrown out by a lower court, but the other one, abuse of official capacity, remains. That brings us to yesterday’s hearing. The justices heard one hour of arguments to reinstate one count, and another hour aimed at throwing out the remaining one. Perry’s attorney argued the governor’s actions were protected by the First Amendment, and that the former governor was operating within the limits of his office. Lead attorney Tony Buzbee made a brief statement to reporters after the hearing ended.

“We are very pleased with the arguments made,” Buzbee said. “We're pleased with the response of the court. And we look forward to the court's decision.”

State Prosecutor Lisa McMinn was equally confident, saying the state had laid out its argument well.

"I was able to make most of the arguments I wanted to make. There were a lot of questions the judges had so I couldn't get to everything,” McMinn said. “But the judges were very involved in the questioning and showed that they were paying attention to the issues and prepared."

There was a third voice at the hearing. UCLA Law School Professor Eugene Volokh spoke before the court on behalf of several legal experts who filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Perry's prosecution is unconstitutional. His arguments specifically pointed to a governor's first amendment right to use political threats.

"The First Amendment protects political officials with arguing with each other and sometimes threatening each other with political retaliation and just the normal hurly burly of politics,” Volokh said.

The Court of Criminal Appeals could take a few weeks to a few months before ruling on which indictments should continue.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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