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Former GOP leader Tom DeLay to ask court to overturn conviction

October 10, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

HOUSTON -- Former U.S. House Majority Leader-turned-reality-show-contestant Tom DeLay is due to make the case for his innocence in a Texas appeals court Wednesday.

DeLay, 65, who was convicted of money laundering in 2010, is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. before a three-judge panel of Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, his attorney told the Los Angeles Times.

DeLay was found guilty by an Austin jury of conspiring to circumvent campaign finance laws to funnel $190,000 in corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature via the Republican National Committee in 2002. His conviction followed a 2005 indictment on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering that led him to resign from his position in the House.

DeLay, once known as “the Hammer” for his aggressive tactics, has spent the last two years free on bond, working to have his conviction overturned and appearing, for a time, as a contestant on the TV series "Dancing With the Stars."

If the onetime exterminator’s conviction is upheld, he faces a sentence of three years in prison and five years' probation.

The case has been politically charged from the start. Three Republican justices on the appeals court’s six-judge panel initially recused themselves, and Democratic Judge  Diane Henson was later replaced after DeLay argued that she was biased against him based on comments she made during a speech at the state Democratic convention in 2006.

Now two Republican judges and one Democrat are set to hear DeLay’s case. 

DeLay’s Houston-based attorney, Brian Wice, said he expected to get a fair hearing before the panel.

“Are we in a position to win? Absolutely. The playing field will be level,” he told The Times from Austin.

He said the case against DeLay was a product of political vendettas by Democrats, including those prosecuting him.

“This case is not about high-end golf outings, inside-the-Beltway cocktail parties and fundraisers. One of the greatest tricks the prosecution in this case ever pulled was convincing the jury this wasn’t political. This was payback,” Wice said, for DeLay’s success in redistricting Texas to the benefit of Republicans.

Wice said DeLay did not launder money according to Texas law at the time, which applied to funds only in the form of cash and not checks. (The law was later changed to include checks.)

“Whatever Tom did back in 2002, it wasn’t against the law. It may have offended some people, it may have infuriated some people, particularly the former district attorney and the present district attorney. But the law is clear — it wasn’t money laundering,” Wice said.

Among those expected to attend Wednesday’s hearing will be Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based watchdog group that assisted the prosecution and whose complaints helped lead to the investigation of DeLay's political action committee.

“The politics are on DeLay’s side tomorrow, but not the law,” McDonald said in an interview.

He said the state appeals court, which is known for being slow to rule, could take months to issue a decision, and both sides are expected to appeal if it doesn’t go their way.

“We’re hoping that justice works out and that he does pay his dues to society. The impact of his crime is still with Texas and it’s been with Texas for 10 years now,” McDonald said, referring to redistricting. “We hope the punishment will come someday.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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