This article is the first in a three-part series that will follow the progress of Governor Perry’s case and address its potential effects.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has been arrested and indicted on one count of abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to ninety-nine years in prison. He was also indicted on one count of coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony with a ten-year maximum sentence. On August 19, 2014, Gov. Perry turned himself in to authorities. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to the indictment, Perry intentionally misused government property with the intent to harm District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. It states that in mid-June of 2013, Perry wrongfully withheld more than $200,000 that the state legislature had approved to fund the Public Integrity Unit. Around the same time, the indictment alleges that Perry coerced Lehmberg to resign her position by threatening to veto legislation that would provide funding for her office.
As expected, Gov. Perry has hired an all-star team of lawyers, including Ben Ginsberg, Bobby Burchfield, and Thomas R. Phillips, among others. Ginsberg’s resume is impressive: he served as counsel to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida election vote recount, and co-chaired President Obama’s election administration committee. Burchfield, an extremely accomplished Washington appellate trial lawyer, has argued before the United States Supreme Court twice. Phillips was Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court for sixteen years.
Perry has characterized the charges as an “outrageous” political attack, which undoubtedly plans to be his legal team’s theme at trial. It has been speculated that one of the key defense strategies entering trial will be to focus on Lehmberg’s inappropriate behavior in office. Lehmberg was arrested in April 2013 for drunk driving and the video of her time in jail will send a powerful message to a potential jury.
This story is far from over and has serious political implications. All reports indicate that Governor Perry was gearing up for a run for President in 2016, and his recent arrest will be the first major roadblock.