The criminal case against former Gov. Rick Perry was officially dismissed on Wednesday, weeks after Texas' highest criminal court ordered that it be dropped.
The occasion triggered another round of sniping between attorneys on each side.
Judge Bert Richardson, who presided over the case in Travis County and now serves on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, signed an order dismissing the abuse-of-power indictment related to a 2013 veto threat.
The case against the longest-serving governor in Texas history centered on a threat to veto $7.5 million in state funds for the public integrity unit of the Travis County district attorney's office, and questions about whether he abused his authority — allegations that he had called a "baseless political attack." The unit was charged with investigating and prosecuting state corruption.
After Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in 2013, Perry threatened to veto state funding for the integrity unit unless she first resigned. She refused to step down, and Perry vetoed the funding.
Perry and his lawyers successfully argued that he was acting within the powers of a governor and did nothing criminal.
Tony Buzbee, an attorney for Perry, told the Tribune that his client deserves an apology, and he vowed to fight for more transparency in the grand jury process that led to Perry’s indictment.
“You’re put through a two-year ordeal, and you ultimately win, but you ultimately lose,” he said of the legal saga that loomed over Perry’s final days in office and dogged his failed run for president.
Richardson said the case had not been a pleasant experience, according to the San Antonio Express-News. “I didn’t ask for this job and I didn’t want it,” he said, according to the Express-News. Richardson declined to comment further to the Tribune.
Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor in the case, said he still believed that Perry committed a crime — and had drafted and printed copies of a motion for an amended indictment. But on Tuesday afternoon, he decided to halt the effort, saying the high court's ruling had "muddied" the criminal statute at issue.
“It was our position, and our feeling that the law had been so muddied that it was not the just thing to do with any citizen," he said.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in February that courts could not limit veto power and that prosecuting Perry over his action violates “the separation of powers provision of the Texas Constitution” and infringed on his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
McCrum contended that the case was not about veto power itself but Perry's actions prior to his veto. Perry, McCrum maintained, illegally tied his power to eliminate state funding for the public integrity unit to his demand that Lehmberg resign, effectively setting up a quid-pro-quo arrangement that crossed the line into an abuse of power.
“We felt there was a clear basis, factually, that he committed a crime,” McCrum said.
Buzbee called the prosecutor’s statements “all kinds of foolishness,” and suggested that he had “personal animus” toward Perry.
"Is there anybody at any point saying, you know, 'I’m sorry'?” he said. “Instead, we have some guy stand up and say, 'I still think a crime was committed.'"
Buzbee said he hoped to ultimately get a copy of the information McCrum presented to the grand jury, which is normally secret. He declined to reveal how he planned to do it.
Buzbee said he was considering taking other actions against McCrum, or related to the case, but wouldn’t specify what those might be.
“One thing I’m not going to do is go off half-cocked like Mr. McCrum did,” he said. “I’m going to make sure if I do anything, that I have my ducks in a row."
McCrum called Buzbee's comments "just more colorful diversionary tactics. "
"I’m 100 percent confident that everything I did was appropriate. I have no concern whatsoever about his threats," he said. "It’s a common tactic to take the attention off your client who has created criminal acts — to try to deflect the attention onto the prosecutor."
Disclosure: Tony Buzbee was a major donor to The Texas Tribune in 2012.