HOUSTON – Attorneys for convicted ex-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay asked for a new trial Wednesday, alleging some jurors in the case already had made up their minds before deliberating or didn’t follow the judge’s instructions in deciding the case.
DeLay remains free on bond as his legal team prepares to appeal his conviction for his role in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002. He was sentenced last month to three years in prison by Senior Judge Pat Priest.
But before his appeal, DeLay’s attorneys asked Priest to grant a new trial.
DeLay’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said interviews of jurors who convicted the ex-lawmaker in November on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering uncovered “rather disturbing things that happened in the jury room.”
DeGuerin alleges there were one or more jurors who were saying DeLay was guilty before deliberations began.
One female juror “was very abusive of (other jurors) and was saying often and loudly that the testimony of witnesses wasn’t evidence and they could only consider the documents (presented at trial). That’s misconduct, ignoring jury instructions,” DeGuerin said.
The names of the jurors were redacted from the motion to protect their identities, DeGuerin said. The jurors’ names were not released during the trial and the panel declined to speak with reporters after its verdict last year.
Steve Brand, one of the prosecutors with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in Austin who tried DeLay, said the motion had no merit.
“We don’t feel they raised any meritorious legal grounds by which they can prevail,” he said.
Brand declined to comment on the allegations of juror misconduct or other specific legal issues raised in the motion.
Wednesday’s motion also asks that DeLay’s conviction be set aside because defective instructions were made to jurors when they got the case, DeGuerin said.
DeLay’s legal team also alleges the state’s election code was misapplied by prosecutors in the case and that DeLay’s First Amendment rights might have been violated by Texas’ ban on corporate campaign contributions.
The First Amendment claim is based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision from last year that said laws barring corporations from making political donations to candidates violate free speech.
After a month-long trial in November, a jury determined DeLay conspired with two associates to use his Texas-based political action committee to take part in a swap of $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee. The RNC then sent the same amount to seven Texas House candidates. Under Texas law, corporate money can’t go directly to political campaigns.
Prosecutors claimed the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House. That enabled the Republican majority to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004, strengthening DeLay’s political power.
DeLay contended the charges were politically motivated and the money swap in question was legal. DeGuerin says DeLay committed no crime and believes the convictions will be overturned on appeal.