DeLay Makes First Court Appearance

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay makes his first appearance in an Austin court to face campaign-finance charges. But an attorney for the Texas Republican called for a new judge due to political concerns, postponing DeLay's arraignment indefinitely.

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Congressman Tom DeLay made his first court appearance in Austin today. The former House majority leader was stripped of his post following his indictment on campaign finance charges. But little was accomplished today as DeLay's lawyer asked the judge hearing the case to step aside because of potential bias. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has the story.

WADE GOODWYN reporting:

The courtroom scene took less than five minutes from start to finish. Congressman DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, has filed motions for a change of venue and for Judge Bob Perkins to step aside. Judges in Texas are elected, and Perkins is a Democrat who has given contributions in the past to liberal organizations like DeGuerin argued the judge should recuse himself, but Judge Perkins didn't seem to be completely convinced.

Mr. DICK DEGUERIN (Tom DeLay's Attorney): But I noticed yesterday, to which you have contributed, was selling T-shirts with Mr. DeLay's mug shot on it to raise money.

Judge BOB PERKINS (Austin, Texas): Well, let me just say I haven't ever seen that T-shirt, number one. Number two, I haven't bought it. Number three, the last time that I--number three, the last time I contributed to MoveOn that I know of was prior to the November election last year when they were primarily helping Senator Kerry.

GOODWYN: Perkins told DeLay's team that he will allow another judge to decide the issue of whether he should step aside. DeGuerin also wants the trial out of Austin, Texas, because of that city's liberal reputation.

Mr. DEGUERIN: And I'm confident that with a fair trial and a fair tribunal, the jury will find that Tom DeLay has not committed a crime.

GOODWYN: Austin District Attorney Ronnie Earle disputes that Judge Perkins should be removed or that the case must be heard by a Republican judge for Tom DeLay to get a fair trial.

Mr. RONNIE EARLE (Austin District Attorney): This judge has a record of fairness to all who come before his bench. Membership in a political party does not determine the quality of justice in this country.

GOODWYN: While Ronnie Earle and his defense counterpart Dick DeGuerin held their press conferences outside the courtroom, Tom DeLay was having none of that. So he and the press corps trooped three blocks over to the state capitol so that the congressman could have a more appropriate backdrop for his comments.

Representative TOM DELAY (Republican, Texas): You may be surprised to hear this from me today, but I find this is a very good day. For the first time in over three years I was provided the opportunity to go before a court and refute these baseless charges that are the result of a political vendetta being acted out by Ronnie Earle.

GOODWYN: DeLay cast himself as an innocent victim of a vindictive partisan prosecutor who was acting at the behest of the Democratic Party.

Rep. DELAY: Because of actions that I took through the democratic process to rid this very Legislature of years of unfair gerrymandering by Texas Democrats, I became a target for Ronnie Earle. And because Ronnie Earle and the Democrat Party could not beat me at the ballot box and could not beat me on the floor of the House of Representatives, they are now desperately trying to challenge me in a courtroom. In short, I have been charged for defeating Democrats.

GOODWYN: With the 2006 elections just a few months away, Tom DeLay says he wants a speedy trial, but his lawyer's motions to change judges and venues practically ensure that's not going to be the case. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Austin.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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