AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Attorneys for former Gov. Rick Perry have asked a Texas appeals court to dismiss felony charges against the possible 2016 presidential candidate on free speech grounds, arguing that what’s “at stake is not just the freedom of one man.”
Separate from a response filed in district court this week, Perry’s legal team submitted more than 100 pages of briefs and proposed orders to the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals, which were processed Thursday. Perry’s attorneys said he was acting within his power as the state’s chief executive when he issued a 2013 veto pivotal to the case, and that anything he said on the subject is constitutionally protected since “freedom of speech protects the governor and the rest of the public from the chilling effect of vague and overbroad laws.”
Perry was indicted in August on charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant stemming from a veto of state funding for a public corruption division within the office of Democratic Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. That came after Lehmberg, whose county includes Austin, rebuffed the governor’s calls to resign following her conviction and jail sentence for drunken driving.
He left office last month, but Perry says he’ll announce as soon as May whether he’ll launch a presidential bid next year.
His 2012 White House campaign was derailed by a series of public gaffes, including the moment during a debate when he couldn’t name the third of three federal agencies he’d promised to shutter if elected.
“At stake is not just the freedom of one man,” the brief states. “The veto power will either be preserved and continue its vital role as a check on the other branches of government in this state, or its use will only be contemplated against the backdrop of possible criminal prosecution.”
The Third Court of Appeals is Republican-controlled. Its judges are elected, and a Democrat hasn’t won statewide office in Texas in 21 years.
Meanwhile, Perry’s attorneys have also repeatedly sought to have the case thrown out on constitutional and technical grounds by Republican Judge Bert Richardson, who is overseeing it in lower state District Court. The appeal to the Texas Third Circuit comes after Richardson’s ruling last month, that the case should continue.
In allowing it to proceed, however, Richardson directed the special prosecutor leading it, San Antonio defense attorney Michael McCrum, to clarify the charges.
McCrum did that and also previewed what a trial would look like should the case get that far, suggesting in filings that Perry sought to stymie the work of the public integrity unit, which investigates wrongdoing by elected officials, because he objected to Lehmberg’s management of it.
In the filing presented to Richardson on Monday, Perry’s attorneys said McCrum “should not be allowed to take inconsistent positions and insert facts not found by a grand jury into an indictment.”
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