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Judge Dismisses One of Three Charges Against Rep. DeLay

By Ralph Blumenthal 
and Carl Hulse
THE NEW YORK TIMES


HOUSTON

A Texas judge dismissed one charge against Rep. Tom DeLay on Monday but let stand two more serious charges, all but dooming DeLay’s hopes of regaining his post as House majority leader when Congress resumes in January.

The judge, Pat Priest of San Antonio, handed DeLay and two co-defendants a partial victory in dismissing charges of conspiracy to violate the election code by making an illegal corporate contribution.

But Priest left standing charges of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money against all three.

The decision moves DeLay and his co-defendants, the Republican fund-raisers John D. Colyandro and James W. Ellis, a big step closer to facing trial — perhaps as soon as January — on felony charges that carry long prison terms and fines.

The charges involve $190,000 that the state says was collected from corporate donors in 2002 and, in violation of Texas election and money laundering laws, routed through Republican political action committees to seven Republicans running for the Texas House. The judge ruled that the conspiracy provisions of the state election code did not take effect until a year after the charged violations. But he rejected defense challenges to the money laundering charges and ruled that they could go to trial.

The political stakes were underscored with the arrival in Houston on Monday afternoon of Vice President Dick Cheney, who appeared with DeLay at a previously scheduled political fund-raiser. The event was closed to reporters. Several hundred protesters jeered outside the fund-raiser, held at the Westin Oaks in the Galleria shopping mall.

After the judge’s decision, which came just as about 300 guests were arriving for the $500-a-ticket-and-up function, DeLay’s office in Washington released a statement that sought to put a positive spin on the ruling and once again attacked the Austin prosecutor who bought the charges, the Travis County district attorney, Ronnie Earle.

“The court’s decision to dismiss a portion of Ronnie Earle’s manufactured and flawed case against Mr. DeLay underscores just how baseless and politically motivated the charges were,” the statement said. Along with DeLay’s earlier success in disqualifying a previous judge accused of Democratic political partisanship, the statement said that the ruling “represents yet another legal victory” and that DeLay was “encouraged by the swift progress of the legal proceedings” and looked forward to his eventual exoneration.

Earle declined to comment on the ruling, saying it was under study. The state has 15 days to appeal for reinstatement of the dismissed election law charges. DeLay cannot appeal until after a trial, Priest said.

A defense lawyer involved in the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of a concern of antagonizing the judge, conceded that the ruling could be read as a substantial victory for the prosecution.

But Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s chief lawyer, insisted, “we won more than they did,” contending that the remaining charges would be “impossible to prove.