- - Monday, August 18, 2014


Prosecutors in Texas could have done the nation a service with the indictment of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. The indictment of him is so transparent as vindictive prosecution that it will surely topple by its own weight, and beyond that it could focus needed light on the urgent need for prosecutorial reform.

Grand juries are notoriously susceptible to abuse. Prosecutors and the judicial establishment that appoints grand juries can and sometimes do manipulate individual grand jurors. They typically indict who they’re told to indict, and in Travis County, Texas, the prosecutor wanted a big headline: “Rick Perry charged with corruption,” or “Perry faces up to 105 years in prison.” The prosecutor, one Rosemary Lehmberg, got her headline in type as big as a boxcar, but as the “rest of the story” plays out she and her foolishly partisan Democrats may soon regret it.

This sordid story goes back to the night of April 12, 2013, when an Austin motorist saw the car in front of him weaving into opposing traffic lanes. He called the cops. The police responded at once, and the erratic car pulled into the parking lot at a church. The driver, in slurring speech, threatened the officers: “Y’all are going to jail, not me.” The driver was Ms. Lehmberg, who subsequently tested at three times the legal limit of alcohol in her bloodstream. She was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 45 days in jail.

Demands quickly grew for her to resign, as unfit for office. This seemed obvious to everyone. The Austin Police Officers Association said it no longer had confidence in her. Gov. Perry said he would veto an appropriation of $7.5 million, which had been set aside to finance an ethics and integrity section in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, to monitor the conduct of state officials, unless she resigned. But she adamantly refused and 16 months later asked her grand jury to indict the governor for “abuse of official capacity” and “coercion of a public servant” using his veto to deny the money to the district attorney’s office.

It’s clear who abused official capacity to coerce a public servant, and it isn’t the governor. Mr. Perry must not retreat, and so far he has not and does not seem likely to do so. “I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto,” he said Saturday. “Given that choice again, this is exactly what I would do.” If he should be convicted it would send a clear message to every governor in America that he or she, Republican or Democrat, could be arrested and convicted for carrying out official duty that displeases a district attorney. Exercising judgment is what governors are paid to do.

This is not the first time the Travis County prosecutor’s office has gamed the state’s justice system, targeting politicians they don’t like. Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, was indicted and convicted for “money laundering” because he directed legal political contributions to state legislative candidates. His conviction was overturned on appeal.

It’s easy for both state and federal prosecutors to hide exculpatory evidence, pile on charges and seek convictions rather than justice. If this case against Mr. Perry opens eyes to the need for restraints on the likes of Rosemary Lehmberg, the nation will owe her its ironic “thanks.”



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