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July 1, 2006
Ronnie Earle Gets Some Comeuppance

A federal judge issued a little-noticed ruling that spells trouble for Travis County DA Ronnie Earle and his obsession with Tom DeLay. Dryly calling Earle's efforts "innovative", Judge Mike Lynch ruled that political groups broke no state laws against political coordination, one of the keystones of Earle's efforts to indict DeLay (h/t: CQ reader Gregg G):

A state district judge dealt a crippling blow Thursday to the nearly four-year prosecution of the Texas Association of Business, throwing out a felony indictment against the state's largest business organization.

District Judge Mike Lynch ruled that 2002 pre-election ads produced by the group did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of Texas legislative candidates. Travis County prosecutors had said the group broke state election law by using corporate money to support candidates.

Lynch's ruling put in doubt two other similar indictments pending against the organization by also discounting prosecutors' alternative theory that the ads became illegal when the association coordinated them with other political groups. Lynch called the prosecutors' argument "innovative" but concluded that state law does not cover it.

Austin lawyer Roy Minton, who represents the business association, predicted that Lynch's decision ultimately would be the end of the lengthy prosecution: "I believe the basic position the court has taken is going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the state to prosecute TAB."

Even as critics warned that the ruling would open the floodgates to more secret money in state politics, District Attorney Ronnie Earle said he would pursue prosecution of a fourth indictment accusing the association of making an illegal contribution to its own political action committee. He also will probably appeal Lynch's ruling.

Illegal coordination goes to the heart of Earle's case against DeLay as well, and relies on the same legal interpretations. Lynch called Earle's arguments a "convoluted maze" that kept defendants in the dark about what laws they had supposedly violated. "You cannot make a silk purse out of this sow's ear," Lynch scolded Earle as he dismissed the charges. Even attorneys representing Democrats noted that the criminal application of these laws overreached.

DeLay and his legal team have to take some grim satisfaction from Lynch's ruling. He revealed Earle as an "innovator", which in less polite terms means someone who makes up law for his own purposes. His years-long political vendetta against DeLay and the Republican Party appears to have finally come up against a clear application of the law.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 1, 2006 12:05 PM

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