US court dismisses one of two indictments against former Texas governor

Updated: 2015-07-25 16:34


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HOUSTON, July 24 (Xinhua) -- The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin city of the southern US state of Texas, the state's highest criminal court, dismissed on Friday one of the two felony indictments against former Texas Governor Rick Perry and a current Republican presidential candidate.

The charge of coercion of a public servant was, in a 96-page ruling, declared by the court to be a violation of Perry's rights of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, according to local TV station ABC13.

Perry, who was indicted on that charge in August 2014 -- and could have spent up to 10 years in prison if he had not proven victorious in his appeal -- still faces a second, separate charge accusing him of abuse of his official power in the office of governor, a job he left in January. The charge carries a 99-year maximum sentence for those found guilty of violation.

Perry has paid more than 2 million US dollars to a top-tier legal team headed by Tony Buzbee, who suggested that the second charge is of lesser significance than the charge now eliminated by the court. Buzbee also said that future court proceedings will "have no impact whatever" on the campaign trail and Perry's time spent in his run for the Republican Party's 2016 Presidential bid.

"One down, one to go," Buzbee said at a Houston news conference, according to the reports. "The court today threw out what we believe to be the greater of the two charges," he added.

The charge of coercing a public servant arose when Perry was accused of attempting to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, to resign after her arrest on a drunk driving charge, vetoing several million US dollars in state funds budgeted for her office which oversees public corruption investigations into Texas and federal officials.

Prosecutors claim that Perry's actions were a misuse of his veto power as governor of the state.

Throughout his legal wrangles stemming from the two charges, Perry, who insists that the case against him is politically motivated, has only made one court appearance.

Perry and his legal team appealed after making numerous, ultimately rejected attempts to get the charges dismissed for constitutional reasons by the Republican trial judge.

Whether or not the 3rd District Court of Appeals' decision will be appealed by the prosecution is uncertain. Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor leading the case, said that his legal team stands ready to proceed on the second count even though Perry could appeal that charge as well when that court returns from summer recess.

Perry is Texas's longest serving governor, holding the state's top position from 2000 to January 2015. His resume includes a 1972-1977 stint in the US Air Force, where he flew C-130 tactical airlift aircraft in Europe and the Middle East. Before serving as lieutenant governor to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Perry served multiple terms as both Texas commissioner of agriculture and in the Texas House of Representatives.

His 2008 run for the U.S. presidency was marred by much-publicized gaffs and misstatements he later attributed to medication for back pain. In his current campaign for that office, he touts his experience in border security and a right-wing, conservative agenda.