Texas Gov. Rick Perry assembles all-star legal defense team
AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he is fighting a criminal indictment with the law on his side — not to mention a team of high-powered attorneys with formidable records in big cases.
His lead attorney took on BP after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Another argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and won changes to campaign finance laws. Joining them is George W. Bush’s former lawyer during the Florida recount that decided the 2000 presidential election.
That doesn’t even include the Austin attorney who’s been paid at least $80,000 in taxpayer money since a grand jury was first seated in April to consider abuse of power allegations against Perry, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Now, as Perry plans trips to Washington and New Hampshire this week to continue courting GOP voters, it’s unclear how much of the tab the public will keep picking up.
“Which of these lawyers will be paid for by the state of Texas and which will be paid by other funds, whether it be a defense fund or whatnot, that hasn’t been sorted yet,” said Tony Buzbee, a Houston attorney.
Perry did not attend Monday’s unveiling of his new all-star defense team at an upscale Austin hotel. But they said the longest-serving governor in Texas history won’t hide from the charges, and promised to publicize when Perry will complete the unflattering process of being booked, fingerprinted and having his mug shot taken.
Perry on Friday became the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. He is facing charges of coercion and official oppression that carry a maximum sentence of 109 years in prison for carrying out a threat to veto funding for the state’s public integrity unit last summer.
The governor has emphatically stood by his veto and denied all wrongdoing. The judge overseeing the case, Republican Bert Richardson, decided against issuing an arrest warrant and instead granted a simple legal summons. That still means a booking is in Perry’s future.
In an email Monday night, Michael McCrum, the San Antonio-based special prosecutor presenting the case against Perry, said that Friday, as well as Aug. 29, had been discussed as possible dates for an arraignment. But he also said Perry may waive his arraignment altogether.
Felix Browne, a spokesman for the governor, said no arraignment date had been confirmed — and that Perry wouldn’t need to appear personally.
Buzbee is a well-known name in Texas courtrooms, winning millions of dollars for clients who sued BP over a refinery explosion near Houston in 2005. Bobby Burchfield argued before the Supreme Court last fall in a case in which justices ultimately freed individuals to give more money to political candidates.
Ben Ginsburg represented Bush in the Florida recount — and also co-chaired President Barack Obama’s bipartisan committee on election administration.
“Like the overwhelming majority of people who have discussed this issue, and I’m talking about both Republicans and Democrats, I find this prosecution both outrageous and inexplicable,” Burchfield said.
Some Democrats disagreed. The head of the Texas Democratic Party, Will Hailer, said Perry was indicted “by a Republican-appointed prosecutor and a jury of his peers because of coercion and abuse of power.”
A grand jury in Austin, a liberal bastion in otherwise largely conservative Texas, indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto $7.5 million in funding for the state’s public integrity unit after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign following a drunken driving arrest. The ethics unit is housed under Lehmberg’s office.
No one disputes that Perry has the power to veto measures approved by the Legislature, but his threat to do so before actually carrying it out prompted a complaint from a left-leaning watchdog group.
The grand jury met for months before handing down its indictment, and Perry’s $450-per-hour defense attorney, David L. Botsford, was paid using state funds.
Aides said the case wouldn’t prevent Perry from maintaining his packed upcoming schedule, which includes visits to the key presidential battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the next two weeks. Perry also has a Thursday speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter @pauljweber.