AUSTIN – Prosecutors who brought criminal charges against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay denied on Wednesday allegations by his attorneys that investigators inappropriately coerced a grand jury to indict the former House majority leader.
DeLay's attorneys have asked that money laundering and conspiracy charges against DeLay, a Republican, be dropped because District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, "browbeat and coerced" grand jurors into filing criminal charges as part of a political vendetta.
A pretrial hearing for DeLay is set for Tuesday. Attorney Dick DeGuerin said he has asked Judge Pat Priest to hold off ruling on the misconduct motion against Earle until Priest rules on DeLay's request to see grand jury records related to the indictments.
"Without those disclosures or your authority to make inquiry of grand jury members, we cannot go forward on that matter," DeGuerin wrote in a letter to Priest this week.
In court filings Wednesday, Earle said he "denies the accusations and further asserts that no improper activities or violations of the law occurred."
DeLay was indicted on a conspiracy charge Sept. 28 in a campaign finance scheme related to the 2002 Texas legislative elections. A second grand jury considered the case after questions were raised about the law on which the conspiracy charge was based, which went into effect in 2003. That panel did not indict.
Days later, a third grand jury indicted DeLay money laundering charges, which carry five years to life in prison on conviction, and conspiracy. Earle has said he went to the third grand jury after finding new evidence.
DeGuerin contends that Earle unlawfully participated in the second grand jury's deliberations, and that Earle tried to force those grand jurors to indict DeLay.
A House rule forced DeLay to step down from his post as majority leader after he was indicted. DeGuerin said he will request an early December trial start in an effort to save DeLay's leadership post. If the case is not settled by the time Congress returns in January, lawmakers could elect a new majority leader, squashing DeLay's hopes of returning to the post.
DeGuerin also has requested that Priest move the trial away from liberal-leaning Travis County and to Fort Bend County near Houston, where DeLay lives.
DeLay is accused of funneling $190,000 in restricted corporate money from his Texas political action committee to an arm of the Republican National Committee, which then gave the same amount of money to Texas legislative candidates. The direct use of corporate money for political purposes is against the law in Texas.