A Week After Perry's Indictment, Legal Case Begins

Mugshot of Governor Rick Perry, booked on two felony counts at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
Mugshot of Governor Rick Perry, booked on two felony counts at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

After a week of defiance, press conferences and an unusual rally to mark his booking on felony charges, Gov. Rick Perry’s legal team makes its first courtroom appearance on Friday, kicking off the more mundane legal process that could begin to offer a better glimpse at the case against the governor.

A week ago Perry was indicted on two felony counts — coercion of a public servant and abuse of official capacity — over his threat to veto $7.5 million in state funds for Texas' public integrity unit. Perry wanted Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, whose office oversees that unit, to resign following a drunken driving arrest. She declined and he followed through on the veto. 

The governor, who walked to the Travis County courthouse to be booked on Wednesday, quickly entered a not-guilty plea and waived his right to hear the formal charges read at an arraignment scheduled for Friday morning. But his attorney David Botsford and special prosecutor Michael McCrum will appear for a short legal housekeeping check-in hearing in Austin with Visiting Judge Bert Richardson, a Republican.

Perry, who is traveling in New Hampshire, will not be in attendance.

And while nothing is expected to occur beyond scheduling the next court date, the next level of speculation – what does the prosecution have, and will there be a quick move to trial? – has already begun.

“If I was on the Perry defense team, I would be asking for the quickest trial date I could get,” said Paul Coggins, a defense attorney with the Locke Lord law firm and a former U.S. attorney in Dallas. “Let’s load it up in 30 days. Let’s go.”

Coggins, a Democrat, said the next thing to watch for is Perry’s team challenging the Texas statute behind the two felony counts. 

"They’ll take a swipe at the statute,” he said. “The statute is too vague. You’re going to do that at least. I think the judge is going to have some real issues with the statute.”

The two-page indictment gave few clues as to how grand jurors were convinced Perry may have done something illegal. And Coggins said that unless McCrum can prove to jurors that Perry’s veto threat was illegal, it will go nowhere.

“Based upon what we know so far, if there isn’t some incredibly powerful, smoking gun that we’ve heard nothing about, then I don’t think this case should have gone to the grand jury,” Coggins said. 

Not so fast, says Bill Mateja, a defense attorney in the Dallas office of Fish & Richardson. Mateja is a former federal prosecutor who knows McCrum, the San Antonio defense attorney tapped by Richardson, well.

“I’ve worked with Mike McCrum,” Mateja said. “I cannot believe that Mike McCrum decided to indict Rick Perry based solely on Rick Perry playing politics. I can believe that Mike McCrum indicted Rick Perry because there is something more than we’ve seen.”

Mateja, who described himself as a conservative Republican and a Perry supporter, said that if McCrum’s case doesn’t show more than what is already known, then it’s a “bad indictment.”

Both Mateja and Coggins believe the Perry defense team’s first move will be to try to get the indictment dismissed.

“The governor is going to say, 'I had the authority to not only threaten to veto and veto this appropriation because the Texas Constitution says I have this authority,'” Mateja said.

“I think a judge is going to have to take a look at it and try to decide what you’ve alleged states a crime,” Coggins said.