Gov. Perry Facing Abuse of Power Charges

Friday, 16 Aug 2013 01:03 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A Texas judge has ordered an investigation into whether Gov. Rick Perry may have abused his powers or broke the law when he vetoed a bill cutting funding for state public corruption investigators.

San Antonio Judge Robert Richardson told the The Austin American-Statesman he plans to appoint a special prosecutor as early as next week to look into claims by Texans for Public Justice that stem from a drunken-driving arrest in April of a county district attorney.

The Republican governor's office Thursday denied there was any wrongdoing on his part related to the case, which involves allegations that he threatened to cut funding for the investigative office headed by the district attorney.

According to the North Dallas Gazette, the complaint against Perry was filed after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was placed under arrest for drunken driving.

Her office houses Texas Public Integrity Unit, which investigates criminal ethics violations. The office has been involved in high-profile cases over the years that include the 2010 prosecution of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on campaign finance charges. It is currently investigating activities involving the state's $3 billion cancer research facility.

Republicans, including Perry, demanded that Lehmberg resign after her arrest, but instead she refused, pleaded guilty, and served half of a 45-day jail sentence.

In demanding her resignation, Perry reportedly declared in public that he would eliminate $3.7 million in state funding for her office if she stayed on. He vetoed the money in June, saying he could not support funding for an office that had lost public confidence.

In its two-page complaint, the public watchdog group Texans for Public Justice accuses Perry of coercion of a public servant, bribery, abuse of official capacity, and official oppression.

"Gov. Perry violated the Texas Penal Code by communicating offers and threats under which he would exercise his official discretion to veto the appropriation," wrote Craig McDonald, executive director of the watchdog group.

According to media reports, Travis County commissioners voted to lay off nearly three dozen staff members in the public corruption office after Perry vetoed funding for the office. The unit has been forced to at least 54 of its more than 400 active cases because of the cuts, according to the CBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth.

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