The criminal case against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay now hinges on two money-laundering charges after Texas' highest criminal court refused Wednesday to bring back a conspiracy charge.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 5-4 against reinstating a count of conspiracy to violate the state's election code.
The former congressman resigned last year amid allegations that he violated campaign finance laws to funnel $190,000 in corporate contributions to Republicans in the state's 2002 legislative elections.
A state district judge threw out the conspiracy charge in December 2005 after defense lawyers argued that the law DeLay was accused of violating didn't take effect until 2003. A regional appeals court upheld the judge's decision.
Two charges — money laundering and conspiring to launder money — remain against the former congressman.
DeLay said Wednesday's ruling brought him "thankfully closer" to a resolution of the charges and repeated his longstanding contention that the prosecution is politically motivated.
"What (Travis County prosecutor) Ronnie Earle accomplished is no rookie error. It's a political attack using our legal system as the primary weapon," DeLay said in a statement issued from Virginia, where he now lives.
"The damage he has done to my family and my career cannot be rectified, but the courts have recognized a significant portion of the injustice and ruled accordingly," he said.
Earle released a statement Wednesday saying he will ask the court for a rehearing on the quashed conspiracy charge.
"The public policy considerations surrounding this decision are larger than this one case. Criminal conspiracy prosecutions allow for the prevention of crime before it occurs," Earle said.
Judge Pat Priest, who originally tossed out the charge, said that if the Court of Criminal Appeals granted a rehearing, it would further delay DeLay's case in the trial court.
An opinion filed by the four dissenting justices Wednesday agreed with prosecutors, saying that any felony offense is subject to the Texas penal code conspiracy provision.
"Common sense requires this result," the opinion said.
Pleased, but sorry it took so long
DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said he was pleased with Wednesday's ruling but sorry it took so long.
"Ronnie Earle indicted Tom DeLay for a crime that didn't exist, wasn't on the books," DeGuerin said.
Lawyers are arguing about the remaining charges before an appeals court, and no trial date has been set. DeLay, who represented Houston's southwest suburbs for more than 20 years, is charged along with co-defendants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.
Texas' 2002 legislative elections gave the GOP a majority in the state House of Representatives, giving the party its first speaker, Tom Craddick, since Reconstruction.
In 2003, Craddick and other Republicans pushed a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay through the Legislature, and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law.