HOUSTON — Texas played musical judges in former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) criminal conspiracy case, as a DeLay-promoted judicial circus unfolded.

First in a dizzying rapid-fire change of judges, state district Judge Bob Perkins, an Austin Democrat, was removed from the case because he had made donations to organizations which DeLay’s legal team maintained were opposed to DeLay, such as MoveOn.org. In Texas, district judges are elected in partisan elections. Next, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, forced presiding Judge B.B. Schraub to withdraw because of his monetary support of Republicans.

Schraub turned to Texas Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, a Republican, to name the trial judge for the DeLay case. According to the Austin American-Statesman, a group called Texans for Public Justice disclosed that Jefferson’s campaign treasurer, Bill Ceverha, was the treasurer for DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority, which endorsed Jefferson in 2002. A separate civil lawsuit found that Ceverha violated the law by failing to report corporate donations made by DeLay’s committee during the 2002 elections. Jefferson received a $2,000 donation from DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority.

On Nov. 4, Jefferson appointed San Antonio Senior Judge Pat Priest to preside over DeLay’s trial.

Minutes later, prosecutor Earle filed a motion requesting Jefferson recuse himself because of his conflicts of interest.

Priest, a retired judge, is still active and has said he is a Demo-crat. He presided over a trial in which he sentenced to prison county officials accused of stealing from their governments. He also ordered a television reporter to jail for refusing to comply with his order to surrender notes in a capital murder case in which a police officer was killed.

Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s attorney, a Democrat who supports musician Kinky Friedman for governor of Texas, has indicated that his first motion before Priest will be to move the trial from Travis County to DeLay’s home of Fort Bend County. They argue that DeLay cannot get a fair trial in Travis County, which DeLay attempted to split up into three congressional districts in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett.

Earle said the initial removal of Judge Perkins “was unprecedented and has caused a public perception that the defendant in this case is getting special treatment. For this matter to be assigned to any judge outside of Travis County would only intensify this perception of favoritism and special treatment.”

The Houston Chronicle summed it up in an editorial: “With the zany legal developments this week, the DeLay case seems to be spinning out of control … before it has begun in earnest. Texans must hope that Judge Priest will use his experience and judgment to conduct a fair and tightly supervised proceeding that ends the judicial circus set off by Perkins’ removal.”

A letter to the editor in the Chronicle commented on DeLay: “First he went judge shopping. Now he is county shopping. … Next he’ll want an all-Republican jury made up of friends and family.”

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