AUSTIN, Texas – Texas' chief justice said Friday his decision to appoint a Democrat to preside over Republican Rep. Tom DeLay's campaign-finance case stands, despite prosecutors' objections to the justice's political connections.
In a letter to District Attorney Ronnie Earle (search) and defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin (search), Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson said that the duty to make judicial appoints rests with him.
On Thursday, Jefferson named Senior Judge Pat Priest (search), a Democrat from San Antonio, to oversee DeLay's conspiracy and money laundering trial. The former House majority leader is accused of illegally funneling corporate contributions to Republican candidates for the state Legislature.
If it is shown that Priest cannot preside impartially, the assignment of Priest — but not the power of the chief justice to assign — can be challenged, Jefferson wrote.
The judge who was originally assigned to the case was removed Tuesday at DeLay's request because of his contributions to Democrats. Then the administrative judge who was supposed to pick a new judge for the case withdrew at Earle's request because of his contributions to GOP candidates.
The responsibility for picking a judge then fell to Jefferson.
Prosecutors complained that Jefferson, too, had ties to Republicans that could pose a potential conflict.
Among other things, Jefferson's 2002 campaign treasurer, Bill Ceverha, was treasurer of DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee. Jefferson also received a $25,000 donation from the Republican National State Elections Committee, a group at the heart of the money laundering charge against DeLay.