- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

DALLAS — Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has long been a nemesis of Texas Republicans, particularly of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He called the man Washington knows as “the Hammer,” for his partisan toughness, a “bully.”

He has persuaded grand juries to indict several prominent Texas politicians of both parties, including the current senior sitting U.S. senator, although several of those high-profile cases failed.

The late Bob Bullock, a Democratic lieutenant governor, once compared Mr. Earle to “a little boy playing with matches.”

Mr. Earle, who made the “bully” charge in a Democratic fundraising speech this year, says he had no partisan motive in yesterday’s indictment against Mr. DeLay.

“My job is to prosecute felonies,” the 63-year-old Democrat told a packed Austin press conference, “and I’m just doing my job.”

In an interview with The Washington Times earlier this year, Mr. Earle said he had “no idea” where his investigation would go. “Wherever the facts lead us,” he said. “That’s the way I have always operated.”

Partisan fighting between Republicans and Democrats is particularly intense in Texas, but Republicans were particularly angered by the district attorney’s speech in May at a Democratic fundraiser in Dallas.

Characterizing the DeLay case as involving money, power and corruption, Mr. Earle told Democrats: “This case is not just about Tom DeLay. If it isn’t this Tom DeLay, it’ll be another one, just like one bully replaces the one before.”

The dinner and the speech raised $102,000 for Texas Values in Action, a political action committee created to help fund Democratic Party efforts to recapture control of the state legislature.

Texas Republicans demanded Mr. Earle’s resignation, and a spokesman for Mr. DeLay said the speech demonstrated that the Travis County prosecutor was using his investigation as “a fundraising effort for Democrats.”

Texas Republicans yesterday called the indictment of Mr. Delay a payback for the House majority leader’s success in organizing and directing the Republican takeover of the state’s political institutions.

Mr. DeLay called Mr. Earle “an unabashed partisan zealot.” One of Mr. DeLay’s lawyers, Bill White, said his client was the victim of “a skunky indictment.”

Thin, intense and soft-spoken, Mr. Earle is a native Texan who began his political career in the 1960s as a protege of Gov. John Connally. He has taken on some of the biggest names in Texas politics during his terms in office.

Under state law, the district attorney in Travis County, which has remained a Democratic stronghold as Texas has shifted to the Republicans, is exclusively authorized to investigate and prosecute all charges of political wrongdoing.

Mr. Earle notes that he has tried 15 politicians for felony crimes and 11 of them were Democrats. However, during most of the time since he was elected to the office in 1976, Democrats were the state’s dominant party, controlling legislative majorities and nearly every statewide office in Texas.

Mr. Earle’s most prominent prosecution was the 1985 felony bribery case against Jim Mattox, the Democratic state attorney general, who was acquitted after a lengthy trial.

His most bitter defeat came against a Republican in 1994.

In September 1993, as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was preparing her 1994 re-election campaign, Mr. Earle filed charges of official misconduct and records tampering against her.

The presiding judge at her trial in 1994 questioned the admissibility of certain prosecution evidence, prompting Mr. Earle to abandon the case on the eve of the trial’s start. The judge directed the jury to acquit Mrs. Hutchison.

“The reason the indictment happened to me,” Mrs. Hutchison told the Dallas Morning News then, “is because I won an election by too wide a margin.”

DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the indictment yesterday has no basis in “facts or the law, and this is just another example of Ronnie Earle misusing his office for partisan vendettas.” He predicted the DeLay case would be dismissed like the charges against Mrs. Hutchison were dismissed.

Some Texas Democrats accuse Mr. Earle of excessive prosecutorial zeal. “I have some very, very bitter feelings toward him,” Gibson Lewis, the Democratic former state House speaker, told a reporter last year.

Mr. Lewis was at his peak of power in 1992 when Mr. Earle charged him with taking and not disclosing gifts. In a plea bargain, Mr. Lewis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor ethics charges and paid a $2,000 fine. He argues still that he was unjustly charged.

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