AUSTIN, Texas – The same judge, the same prosecutor, the same defense attorney, the same Republican complaints of political payback, and the same courtroom strategy. The case against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) is playing out like a rerun of a Lone Star court drama that unfolded in 1993-94.
Back then, it was Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (search) fighting for her political life against Democratic District Attorney Ronnie Earle (search). Ultimately, she was acquitted of misconduct charges with the help of defense attorney Dick DeGuerin (search).
DeLay, another Texas Republican, has hired DeGuerin to defend him as well, and DeGuerin is employing some of the same legal and media tactics that worked last time -- accusing the district attorney of misconduct, branding the case a political vendetta and demanding the removal of a Democratic judge for alleged bias.
The parallels between the cases are striking.
"It's like `Twilight Zone.' You're seeing the same pattern," said Brian Berry, a GOP consultant who was Hutchison's campaign manager when she first ran for Senate.
Delay is under indictment on conspiracy and money-laundering charges for allegedly funneling illegal corporate contributions to GOP candidates for the state Legislature. Texas law generally forbids the use of corporate money for campaigning.
Hutchison was charged with using state dollars, employees and computers for personal and campaign purposes when she was Texas treasurer in 1991 to 1993. She was also accused of tampering with state computer records to cover the alleged abuses.
In both cases, Earle brought charges against a prominent Republican after the GOP won a crucial Texas election. Both times, the district attorney was accused of trying to settle political scores.
When she was indicted, Hutchison had just won a Senate seat long held by Democrats, including Lyndon B. Johnson and Lloyd Bentsen. She joined Phil Gramm in the Senate, giving Texas two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction.
DeLay reached the highest levels of power in Congress as majority leader after the 2002 election. With his help, the GOP took control of the state Legislature and then pushed through a congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004.
"Kay changed the face of politics in Texas by becoming the second Republican senator. ... Tom DeLay changed the face of politics by taking over redistricting. It's not coincidence," DeGuerin said.
In both cases, Earle insisted the charges were not politically motivated; he was just doing his job.
In Hutchison's case, DeGuerin got state District Judge Bob Perkins, a Democrat, removed because Perkins had donated to Hutchison's political opponent. DeGuerin also got the trial moved to Fort Worth.
Now, DeGuerin is asking that Perkins be removed from the DeLay case for contributing to John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, the Democratic Party and the liberal group MoveOn.org. A hearing on the request is set for Tuesday. DeGuerin also wants the trial moved out of Austin.
In addition, DeGeurin has accused of Earle misconduct, arguing among other things that Earle shopped the DeLay case around to grand juries until he found one that would indict the congressman.
In Hutchison's case, the defense attorney contended that a raid by prosecutors in which they seized computer and phone records from her state treasurer office was conducted improperly, and that the evidence was inadmissible.
DeLay supporters say they expect his case will end like Hutchison's.
Hutchison was acquitted in 1994 after Earle decided not to go forward with his case. The district attorney cited the judge's refusal to rule on the admissibility of the evidence before trial. Those close to Hutchison say that was just an excuse.
"The case was shoddily conceived," Berry said. "And he lost it.