The bribery case involving Rick Perry's potentially illegal efforts to coerce Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to leave her office just took another interesting turn.
State Rep. Joe Deshotel, Democrat of Beaumont, has requested a formal legal opinion from Attorney General about whether Texas tax dollars may be used to fund Perry's criminal defense.
Perry has already hired a very serious and very expensive criminal defense attorney, David L. Botsford, who runs approximately $450 an hour. Now, the question remains if the taxpayers of Texas have to pick up the tab.
Read the letter and get caught up on Perry's bribery scandal below the jump.It's no secret that Rick Perry has long been trying to strangle the Public Integrity Unit, which is housed in the Travis County DA's office and has the ability to investigate and prosecute officials across the state. The PIU is currently investigating the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, which is one of Perry's signature projects, and has produced a felony indictment.
Perry used DA Lehmberg's DUI incident last year as cover for line-item vetoing the PIU funds, after making what Texans for Public Justice believe is an illegal abuse of power, because it violates a state law pertaining to criminal abuse of office, bribery, coercion of a public servant and official oppression.
Now that a grand jury has been seated to consider the allegations against Perry, and Perry in turn has lawyered up, it merits asking if a state that can't seem to fund public education or sufficient public health services should really be paying for the criminal defense of a lame-duck governor.
As a committee chairman, Rep. Deshotel has the statutory authority to request a formal opinion from the AG on the issue of Rick Perry's legal defense. That's exactly what he did today. Read the letter here (PDF).
The letter also addresses a number of other important legal questions, not limited to but including:
- Is Rick Perry required by the Constitution to use only the Attorney General or a District or County Attorney to defend him in a criminal matter that involves his capacity as Governor?
Under what authority can the governor decline to be represented by the AG, a DA, or a County Attorney?
If authority to hire private counsel for the governor exists, how would the Attorney General authorize payment for such private counsel?
Should the grand jury hand down an indictment, the cost of Perry's legal defense could quickly spiral into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, new information has emerged about how hard Rick Perry fought to get DA Lehmberg to step down. Perry initially said Lehmberg was unfit to remain in office, though his negotiations to remove her from her position involved allowing her to remain in another position within the DA's office.
It looks more and more as if this case was a clear instance of Rick Perry attempting to illegal coerce a public official, and that Perry was desperate to score a political win regardless of what concessions he had to make.
Now, the big question is if Texas taxpayers have to pay for Perry's outside legal costs, or if he's even allowed a private attorney under the Texas Constitution. We'll keep you posted as this story develops.