All Eyes on Perry in First Courtroom Appearance
A Thursday pre-trial hearing on Gov. Rick Perry's abuse-of-power indictment will focus on whether the criminal prosecutor in the case was properly sworn in and if a transcript of grand jury testimony should be made available for inspection by the judge.
But all eyes will instead be on Perry, who is expected to make his first appearance in court.
The governor's last trip to the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center in Austin involved a rally, a booking photo that became an instant meme and a trip for frozen custard. By comparison, his appearance on Thursday before Visiting Judge Bert Richardson is expected to be much more subdued.
Perry was indicted on Aug. 15 on two felony counts related to his actions while in a standoff with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, one in a long line of Democrats who have held that job. He's charged with abusing his official power by threatening to veto $7.5 million in state funds for the public integrity unit inside Lehmberg's office — a division that investigates corruption among Texas elected officials — unless she stepped down following a 2013 drunken driving conviction. Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed the money.
Perry's lawyers initially wanted their client excused from all pre-trial hearings. ButRichardson has said that if a hearing involves a matter where evidence is to be introduced, the defendant must be present. On Thursday, Perry's defense lawyers will present evidence they believe shows Michael McCrum, the San Antonio lawyer appointed to be the special prosecutor in the case, did not properly take an oath of office, making all his actions — including his successful indictment against the governor — null and void.
Both McCrum and Richardson have said the prosecutor took the oath of office and was sworn in properly.
Lawyers for Perry are also asking that a transcript of grand jury testimony be provided to Richardson. They believe it will prove that the grand jury was made privy to private conversations the governor had with his staff about the veto, discussions they say are protected from prosecution by the "speech and debate" clauses reserved for lawmakers in federal and state law.
Legal observers will also be watching for any signs that Richardson, a Republican who was elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday, may not stay on as judge in the case.
When asked about it on Thursday, Richardson said simply, "No comment."