POLITICS
11/10/2014 01:57 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

Rick Perry Gets Support In Felony Case From Bipartisan Lawyers

Erich Schlegel via Getty Images

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov 10 (Reuters) - A bipartisan and high-profile group of lawyers on Monday filed a brief seeking to have abuse of power felony charges against Texas Governor Rick Perry thrown out, arguing the indictment against him is constitutionally flawed.

Perry, seen as a possible Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential race, has said he was within his rights as governor in vetoing funds for a county prosecutor, a veto that resulted in the two felony charges being laid against him.

"Reasonable people can disagree on the political tactics employed by both Governor Perry and his opponents. But to turn political disagreement into criminal prosecution is disturbing," said the amicus brief filed at a court in Austin by more than a dozen lawyers.

"Both counts of the indictment are unconstitutional and must be dismissed," said the brief, whose signers included Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who investigated Democratic President Bill Clinton, and Paul Coggins, a former U.S. attorney appointed by Clinton.

The longest-serving governor in the state's history, Perry became the target of an ethics investigation last year after he vetoed $7.5 million in funding for the state public integrity unit run from the district attorney's office in Travis County, a Democratic stronghold in the heavily Republican state.

Perry's veto was widely viewed as intended to force the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she had pleaded guilty to drunken driving.

Perry was indicted in August by a grand jury in Travis County over his funding veto for the ethics watchdog, which has investigated prominent Texas Republicans. He was charged with abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony that can bring up to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public official, a third-degree felony.

The special prosecutor in the Perry case, Michael McCrum, has said the grand jury found probable cause that Perry acted improperly in trying to force out a democratically elected official from office.

Perry made his first court appearance in the case last week for a pretrial hearing, where his lawyers sought to have the charges dropped.

Perry did not seek re-election this month as he tests the waters for another presidential run. He dropped out of a gaffe-filled campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination but has been attempting a political comeback.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Eric Beech)

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