DeLay asks that trial be moved from liberal Austin

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay returned to court Wednesday on a mission to get his money laundering trial moved out of liberal Austin.

But before the change of venue arguments took center stage, Senior Judge Pat Priest held more closed-door hearings. That was a day after former District Attorney Ronnie Earle testified in secret, purportedly about grand jury proceedings.

Mr. DeLay’s attorney Dick DeGuerin wanted to question Mr. Earle in his attempt to get Mr. DeLay’s charges thrown out. No details of Mr. Earle’s testimony were released to the public.

Mr. DeLay has been pressing for a trial for five years and says it will clear him of wrongdoing. The former Houston-area congressman wants to have his trial moved to his conservative home county, Fort Bend, where he served more than two decades as U.S. representative.

“I doubt I can get a fair trial here in Travis County. I think I’m more hated in Travis County than any other politician,” Mr. DeLay said. He called Austin the “last bastion of liberalism” in the Republican-leaning state.

Mr. DeLay was indicted in 2005 on charges that he illegally sent $190,000 in corporate money through the Republican National Committee to help elect GOP Texas legislative candidates in 2002. He pleaded not guilty to money laundering and conspiracy charges and says he has done nothing wrong.

Judge Priest has not yet set a trial date but said Mr. DeLay would be tried before his co-defendants, noting that Mr. DeLay had been demanding a trial since his indictment.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that they’ll press lesser charges of election code violations against co-defendants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — essentially severing their cases from Mr. DeLay‘s.

Defense attorneys asked that Judge Priest throw out the charges against the three men, arguing that Mr. Earle did not act properly in seeking the indictments in 2005. The judge did not rule on the defense request but earlier Tuesday rejected other motions to dismiss charges. Five years ago, Judge Priest threw out a conspiracy charge against the three men on a legal technicality.

Defense attorneys are now arguing the indictments in Texas should be thrown out because of “outrageous government conduct.”

Mr. DeGuerin said Mr. Earle shopped among grand juries seeking quick indictments and didn’t provide grand jurors with all the information they should have been given. Mr. Ellis’ attorney, Jonathan Pauerstein, said Mr. Earle demonstrated “highly inappropriate conduct” by doing magazine interviews and going on television programs such as “60 Minutes” in a “self-aggrandizing” fashion to talk about politics.

But prosecutor Holly Taylor argued that Mr. Earle did not step out of bounds when he spoke publicly about the case. She said a district attorney is permitted to keep the public informed and warn of a public danger. She also noted that Earle prosecuted Democrats as well as Republicans.

Mr. DeLay’s lawyer called to the witness stand Tuesday a Democrat and longtime Austin attorney who said Mr. DeLay wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial in Travis County, where so many people didn’t like Mr. DeLay’s role in congressional redistricting.

“If you had a popularity contest he would come out on the bottom,” said Broadus Spivey, a former president of the State Bar of Texas who has selected juries in hundreds of cases.

Mr. DeLay, 63, was once known as “The Hammer” for his heavy-handed style. He learned just last week that the Justice Department was ending a federal investigation into his ties to disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff without filing any charges against the former congressman.

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