Image: Bob Perkins
Harry Cabluck  /  AP
Democratic state district Judge Bob Perkins, seen on Oct. 19, has made multiple contributions to the Democratic Party.
updated 11/1/2005 4:15:14 PM ET 2005-11-01T21:15:14

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

A new judge will be appointed to preside over the case, a judge who came out of retirement to hear the dispute ruled.

The ruling came after a 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.

“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 told Judge C.W. Duncan, who was called out of retirement to decide the matter.

Perkins had declined to withdraw from the case, and prosecutor Rick Reed argued at the hearing that DeLay must 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 contends Perkins did anything wrong, but “to protect the integrity” of the judicial system, he should not preside over a trial for someone to whom he is opposed politically.

Previous recusal
The issue has come up for Perkins before. He voluntarily stepped aside in a 1994 case against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Perkins had made a $300 contribution to Hutchison’s political opponent. Hutchison, also represented by DeGuerin, was ultimately acquitted of misconduct charges.

Delay’s lawyers cited 34 contributions Perkins has made to Democrats since 2000, including donations to Kerry and to MoveOn.org, a group that has waged a campaign against DeLay.

Perkins has said that his contributions to MoveOn.org were made before it launched its anti-DeLay campaign. Prosecutors also argued that six of the contributions were wrongly counted twice by DeLay’s attorneys.

DeLay’s attorneys subpoenaed Perkins to testify, but Duncan said he would not have to take the stand. Perkins argued that his participation would threaten the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

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DeLay smiled as he walked past journalists outside the hearing room but didn’t speak.

DeLay was forced to step down as House Majority leader after he was charged with criminal conspiracy and money laundering in an alleged campaign finance scheme to help put more Republicans in the Texas House and Congress.

Judge subpoenaed, not required to testify
DeLay’s attorneys subpoenaed Perkins to testify, but Duncan ruled in favor of Perkins’ motion that he not be required to testify. Perkins argued that his participation in the proceedings would threaten “public confidence in the integrity and the impartiality of the judiciary.”

DeLay’s attorneys cited 34 political contributions Perkins has made to Democrats since 2000, including donations to MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group that has waged a campaign against DeLay.

Perkins has said that his contributions to MoveOn.org were made before it launched its anti-DeLay campaign. Prosecutors also argue that six of the contributions were wrongly counted twice by DeLay’s attorneys.

DeLay and his associates are accused of funneling corporate donations through Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee founded by DeLay, to an arm of the Republican National Committee, which sent it back to seven GOP candidates running for the Texas Legislature in 2002. Texas law prohibits corporate money from being used directly in political campaigns.

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