The Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the last remaining charge against former Gov. Rick Perry this week.
He did not commit a crime in threatening to block funds for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit unless the district attorney resigned.
In so doing, did the state’s highest court for criminal matters confirm what Perry’s lawyers, supporters and even some liberal East Coast newspapers had said from the beginning: that the charges were political?
In her lead opinion, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller quoted with apparent sympathy complaints by Perry’s lawyers and supporters about “criminal charges of dubious legal viability (and/or politically motivated origins).”
Her opinion is 52 pages long, and at points a bit technical.
I will leave an assessment of its merits to professionals.
But I’ve been covering politics for close to 50 years, and I know a fair amount about their trappings.
Let’s follow this case from its beginning.
The complaint that led to the charges was filed by Texans for Public Justice, a liberal Austin watchdog group.
Score one for the conspiracy theorists.
But because Perry’s alleged crime was to threaten to cut funding for the Travis County district attorney’s office, that body had to recuse itself.
It therefore fell to the presiding judge for the Austin region, District Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, to appoint a judge to oversee an investigation.
Stubblefield, a Republican in conservative Williamson County, had been appointed presiding judge by none other than Gov. Perry.
Hardly a liberal, he had denied the DNA testing of a bandana in the infamous case of Michael Morton, who years later was freed from prison after the bandana was finally tested.
To preside over an investigation and court proceedings in the Perry case Stubblefield appointed Republican senior District Judge Bert Richardson.
The highly-regarded Richardson had first been appointed to the bench by, yes, Gov. Perry.
To investigate the case Richardson appointed Michael McCrum, a San Antonio lawyer who had served as a police officer and a federal prosecutor.
In 2009 he was nominated for U.S. attorney in San Antonio.
Never having shown political leanings, he was backed by both Republican U.S. senators as well as some Democrats.
After a lengthy investigation, McCrum presented his evidence to a Travis County grand jury.
They indicted Perry on two counts.
Travis is a liberal county.
Perry’s lawyers asked Judge Richardson to throw out the indictments, but he declined.
Perry’s lawyers took the matter to the Austin Court of Appeals.
The three-judge appeals panel was made up entirely of Republicans.
It threw out one count, but said the other one could only be appealed after a trial.
Justice Bob Pemberton, who wrote the opinion, had also been appointed to the bench by Perry.
He donated $1,000 to Perry’s 2002 campaign, and he had clerked for one of Perry’s defense lawyers.
The seven members of the Court of Criminal Appeals who tossed the other count this week are all Republicans.
But a Republican member of the court vigorously dissented.
“The opinion of the Court stretches constitution, case law, and statute beyond where I am willing to follow,” wrote Judge Cheryl Johnson, a board-certified criminal law specialist.
She has been on the court since 1998 and is married to a retired police lieutenant.
Also dissenting was Judge Lawrence E. Meyers, who recently switched to the Democratic Party.
His criticism was more stinging.
“After reading the majority’s opinion, it seems clear to me that it has decided to employ any means necessary in order to vacate the two felony counts against Governor Rick Perry,” Judge Meyers wrote.
So there you have the bits of political evidence: On one side a liberal watchdog organization and a grand jury in a liberal county.
On the other, five Republican judges presiding over the investigation and affirming one of two indictments — and, in the end, seven Republican judges tossing it out.
Conspiracy? You be the judge.