WASHINGTON – Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's legal team asked a court Friday to throw out his indictment, arguing that a Texas district attorney "attempted to browbeat and coerce" grand jurors into filing criminal charges.
Prosecutor Ronnie Earle (search) "and his staff engaged in an extraordinarily irregular and desperate attempt to contrive a viable charge and get a substitute indictment of Tom Delay before the expiration of the statute of limitations," DeLay's attorney Dick DeGuerin (search) said in a court filing alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
"These claims have no merit," Earle said in a statement. "Because of the laws protecting grand jury secrecy, no other comments can be made. The investigation is continuing."
DeGuerin alleged that Earle unlawfully participated in grand jury deliberations when he went to a second grand jury last week to seek a second indictment against the Texas Republican. He also said Earle illegally discussed grand jury information and encouraged others to do the same.
DeGuerin alleged that Earle turned to the coercion tactics to get the second grand jury to change its decision not to indict DeLay (search) so there would be no public record of a rejection.
DeGuerin said the indictment forced DeLay to step down from his job as majority leader, the No. 2 position in the House, for a crime that did not exist in Texas law.
DeLay was indicted Sept. 28 on a charge of conspiracy as the grand jury's term was expiring. But questions were raised about whether the law on which the indictment was based was in effect at the time of the alleged conspiracy.
Earle went to a second grand jury still in session, but that grand jury declined to indict. On Monday, a third grand jury indicted DeLay on money laundering charges, which carry a punishment of five years to up to life in prison.
The indictments against DeLay triggered a House Republican rule that forced him to step aside — at least temporarily — from his post as majority leader.
Both indictments focused on an alleged scheme to move money around to conceal the use of corporate contributions to support Texas Republican candidates. Texas law prohibits corporate donations to support or oppose state candidates — allowing the money to be used only for administrative expenses.
Two people familiar with the proceedings of the grand jury that returned a "no bill" in the DeLay case told The Associated Press that Earle tried to persuade the grand jurors that DeLay tacitly approved the scheme and that the prosecutor became angry when they decided against an indictment. The people familiar with the proceeding insisted on anonymity because of grand jury secrecy.
DeGuerin also alleges that Earle "unlawfully incited" William Gibson, the foreman of the grand jury that indicted DeLay on conspiracy, to talk publicly, on the record, to the media to bias the public and sitting grand jurors.
He alleged Earle discussed ongoing proceedings with some members of that same grand jury to find out whether they would have returned the conspiracy indictment if they knew it "had no basis in law."
It is against the law to discuss what goes on inside a grand jury.
Gibson said Friday that Earle did call him but that he only advised him on what he could and could not discuss publicly. He said Earle never asked him about the conspiracy indictment.
"He didn't tell us what he was going to do. The only thing his department told me was, 'Mr. Gibson, we are going to present this matter to a new grand jury."'
DeGuerin also alleges Earle told the third grand jury that indicted DeLay on money laundering charges what the initial grand jury said "to persuade them to issue a replacement indictment."
"Such 'additional information' is not evidence and thus its use before a grand jury violates" Texas law, DeGuerin said.
Earle has said that it is up to a judge to decide whether the conspiracy charge is applicable.
He also has said he went to the third grand jury that returned the money laundering charges after finding new evidence.