AUSTIN, Texas – Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is getting the trial he's been seeking for five years that he says will clear him of allegations that he illegally funneled campaign money.
Now he wants the case moved out of liberal Austin.
"I doubt I can get a fair trial here in Travis County. I think I'm more hated in Travis County than any other politician," DeLay told reporters Tuesday after a judge decided he can be tried before two co-defendants.
DeLay called Austin the "last bastion of liberalism" in the Republican-leaning state.
DeLay was indicted in 2005 on charges that he illegally sent $190,000 in corporate money through the Republican National Committee to help elect GOP Texas legislative candidates in 2002. He pleaded not guilty to money laundering and conspiracy charges and says he has done nothing wrong.
Senior Judge Pat Priest did not set a trial date but said DeLay would be tried before his co-defendants, noting that DeLay had been demanding a trial since his indictment.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that they'll press lesser charges of election code violations against co-defendants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — essentially severing their cases from DeLay's.
A hearing on the change of venue request and a motion to dismiss the charges resumes Wednesday. Priest has closed some of the court's sessions to the public because he said they dealt with secret grand jury proceedings.
Defense attorneys asked that Priest throw out the charges against the three men, arguing that then-District Attorney Ronnie Earle did not act properly in seeking the indictments in 2005. The judge did not rule on the defense request but earlier in the day rejected other motions to dismiss charges. Five years ago, Priest threw out a conspiracy charge against the three men on a legal technicality.
DeLay began pressing for an immediate trial in late 2005 to try to save his leadership post in Congress. He resigned in 2006 from the suburban Houston congressional seat in Sugar Land that he had held for two decades.
"This is a political maneuver by a rogue district attorney, and I had to leave Congress because of it. And if I'd have gotten my trial speedily like I think I'm entitled to, I may still be in Congress, and I may still be in the leadership in Congress," DeLay said.
He said his next goal is to get his trial moved to his home county, conservative Fort Bend in the Houston area.
DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, called to the witness stand a Democrat and longtime Austin attorney who said DeLay wouldn't be able to get a fair trial in Travis County, where so many people didn't like DeLay's role in congressional redistricting.
"If you had a popularity contest he would come out on the bottom," said Broadus Spivey, a former president of the State Bar of Texas who has selected juries in hundreds of cases.
DeLay, 63, was once known as "The Hammer" for his heavy-handed style. He learned just last week that the Justice Department was ending a federal investigation into his ties to disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff without filing any charges against the former congressman.
Defense attorneys argued the indictments in Texas should be thrown out because of "outrageous government conduct."
DeGuerin said Earle shopped among grand juries seeking quick indictments and didn't provide grand jurors with all the information they should have been given. Ellis' attorney, Jonathan Pauerstein, said Earle demonstrated "highly inappropriate conduct" by doing magazine interviews and going on television programs such as "60 Minutes" in a "self-aggrandizing" fashion to talk about politics.
But prosecutor Holly Taylor argued that Earle did not step out of bounds when he spoke publicly about the case. She said a district attorney is permitted to keep the public informed and warn of a public danger. She also noted that Earle prosecuted Democrats as well as Republicans.