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Conspiracy case delayed after judge removed for conflict of interest

Nov. 2, 2005

by APRIL CASTRO, the Associated Press

AUSTIN -- The judge in Republican Rep. Tom DeLay's conspiracy case was removed at the congressman's request Tuesday because of the judge's donations to Democratic candidates and causes.

Senior Judge C.W. "Bud" Duncan ruled in favor of DeLay without comment.

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Associated Press
U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and his wife, Christine, leave court Tuesday in Austin after his motion to have Judge Bob Perkins recused from his criminal case was granted.
The case now goes back to Administrative Judge B.B. Schraub, who will appoint a new judge to preside over DeLay's case.

Throughout the proceedings, DeLay sat in the front row behind defense attorneys with his wife and aides.

He often smiled, and he occasionally chuckled when Democrats said negative things about him in their testimony. He gave no comment as he left the courthouse.

The ruling came after a four-hour hearing in which attorneys for the former House Republican leader argued that state District Judge Bob Perkins' political donations called his impartiality into question.

Perkins, a Democrat, has contributed to candidates such as John Kerry and the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org. He did not attend Tuesday's hearing and did not return a phone call seeking comment.

"The public perception of Judge Perkins' activities shows him to be on opposite sides of the political fence than Tom DeLay," defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said during opening statements.

Perkins had declined to withdraw from the case, and prosecutor Rick Reed argued at the hearing that DeLay had to prove that a member of the public would have a "reasonable doubt that the judge is impartial" before Perkins could be removed.

"Judges are presumed to be impartial," Reed said.

Judges are elected in Texas and are free to contribute to candidates and political parties. DeGuerin said no one contended Perkins did anything wrong, but "to protect the integrity" of the judicial system, he could not preside over a trial for someone to whom he was opposed politically.

"We got a fair hearing. We had a judge that listened to both sides. This will engender respect for the judiciary," DeGuerin said.

District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who heads the criminal investigation into DeLay's fund-raising activities, watched in the courtroom while his deputies questioned witnesses.

He got up at the end of the hearing and chided DeLay's attorneys for repeatedly calling it a political case."

"This is not a political case; this is a criminal case," Earle said. "Mr. DeLay stands charged with a felony."

Earle declined to comment further because of DeLay's pending motion to get the site of the trial change. The recusal issue has come up for Perkins before.