AUSTIN — Texas’ highest criminal court on Wednesday tossed out the remaining charge against former Gov. Rick Perry in the abuse-of-power case against him.
The case centered on whether Perry, a Republican, improperly used his gubernatorial veto power over state budget dollars try to force out a Democratic prosecutor after her messy, high-profile drunken-driving arrest.
When Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg served time but declined to resign after the 2013 incident, Perry vetoed state funding for the public integrity unit that she had overseen.He said she had lost the public’s confidence.
The government watchdog group Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint over Perry’s veto, leading to his indictment in 2014. The group said Perry had authority to veto money but that he overstepped in trying to leverage that power to force out Lehmberg.
Perry said he acted properly.
Perry’s legal team fought for more than a year to get the case dismissed without a trial, winning half the battle last year when the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals tossed one of the two counts against him. The lower appellate court ruled that the law underlying that coercion charge violated the First Amendment.
The state had urged the Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the charge alleging coercion of a public servant. Perry, meanwhile,fought the remaining count against him, which alleged abuse of official capacity.
The state had said—and the 3rd Court had agreed—that it was too early in the case to address Perry’s arguments against that abuse-of-power charge, saying according to precedent set by the high court, that only could happen after evidence was heard at a trial.
Eight judges on the nine-member Court of Criminal Appeals decided the case.
Judge Bert Richardson didn’t participate in the decision because he presided over Perry’s case at the trial court level, an assignment he got before being elected to the high court. He had declined to dismiss the case before trial, saying his hands were tied by the law and previous rulings by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.