Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s lawyers formally asked a court Monday to toss out the felony charges recently leveled against the Republican, arguing that the court should not get involved in a political dispute and that the governor was exercising his legal powers and rights.
“Continued prosecution of Governor Perry on the current indictment is unprecedented, insupportable and simply impermissible,” Anthony G. Buzbee and Thomas R. Phillips said in the 60-page brief filed in Travis County District Court. “This Court should not hesitate to dismiss both counts of the indictment and bar the prosecution, immediately, if not sooner.”
Mr. Perry, a likely 2016 presidential contender, was indicted earlier this month on two felony counts of abuse of power and coercion of a public servant.
The accusations stem from Mr. Perry’s public threats — and eventual decision — to use his line-item veto power to strip $7.5 million from the public integrity unit operated by the Travis County district attorney’s office. The unit is responsible for prosecuting public corruption cases anywhere in the state.
Mr. Perry’s veto talk was seen as an attempt to force District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg out of her post in Travis County, a Democratic bastion in solidly conservative Texas. Ms. Lehmberg had been busted last year for driving under the influence of alcohol, and Mr. Perry demanded her resignation.
The office said Mr. Perry’s public veto talk and resignation demands constitute a “threat” and “coercion” under the law against threatening public servants.
For starters, they said the state’s anticoercion law is “fatally vague and overboard, failing to give reasonable notice to any official about what is permissible conduct on the one hand and what is felonious conduct on the other.”
They also said that the Texas Constitution grants the governor the power to do exactly what he did: veto an appropriation.
“Subjecting any sitting Governor to a criminal prosecution and injecting the judiciary into a political dispute would be an unprecedented assault on this cherished separation of powers, and would impose an intolerable and incalculable chilling effect on the free exercise of legitimate constitutional powers by future governors,” the court filing reads.
And they said that it was within Mr. Perry’s free speech rights.
“Core political speech, such as the veto and alleged veto threat at issue in this case, lies at the heart of First Amendment protection,” the lawyers said.
The Perry camp also announced Monday that it has added Mark D. Fabiani, the former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, to the defense team.
Mr. Fabiani advised Mr. Clinton on the Whitewater scandal and other matters in the 1990s, and also worked on former Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000.
“I’m proud to join Gov. Perry’s outstanding team, which has been assembled to fight back against this attack on the rule of law,” Mr. Fabiani said in a statement. “As we move forward to protect the Texas Constitution and the First Amendment rights of any governor, I am confident this prosecution will be revealed to be contrary to the law and wholly meritless.”