Friday, September 30, 2005

Behind the legalese: the “Delay” indictment

In the aftermath of this week’s Grand Jury indictment the exempt media has declared victory for the Democratic Party and defeat for all things labeled “Republican Majority.”  A sampling of headlines tells the story: “DeLay Indictment Big Trouble for Bush,” “DeLay indictment gives Democrats an opening,” and “DeLay may be straw that breaks GOP’s back.” That last headline may be especially revealing, because a closer inspection of Wednesday’s indictment reveals that it is little more then a straw – for Leader Delay anyway.

The indictment is four pages long and lists a number of felony accusations for two Texas men, John Colyandro and James Ellis.  Both are accused of breaking state election law with regard to fundraising and breaching pertinent parts of the Texas Election Code (Subchapter D).  Violation of the election code is a third degree felony in the state of Texas (Section 276.001, 2(b)) and both Colyandro and Ellis were thus charged in the indictment.  

Delay was not.  

In fact, the indictment refers to Delay very infrequently and does not demonstrate that the Majority leader had any knowledge of the actions of Colyandro and Ellis.  

The fact that he is named as a defendant should not cause consternation among Republican supporters because, as founder of a Political Action Committee, Delay would naturally be named as a defendant.  Just as when election law was being contested in Florida after the 2000 election, Katherine Harris was named as a defendant, even though everyone knew she had done nothing illegal. The fact that Delay is named as a defendant does, in and of itself, not constitute an accusation of wrongdoing.

Wednesday’s indictment does, however, refer to Congressman Delay beyond the mere statement of his being a defendant.  

Pages three and four point out that Delay “waived the application of Articles 12.01 and 12.03” under the Texas Penal Code.  That sounds really bad.  To have to waive your rights under a criminal procedure does not sound positive… until you read Articles 12.01 and 12.03.  All those sections refer to is a really generic punishment clause (saying that nothing in the code deprives the court of any civil authority) and a Classification of Misdemeanors.  You read that right, MISDEMEANORS.  While Colyandro and Ellis are both being charged with felonies, the Majority leader may be facing a minor fine and “legal disability or disadvantage.”  That doesn’t sound like the “straw that breaks the GOP’s back,” or an “opening” for Democrats.

The worst possible interpretation of the indictment is that Delay is charged with a Misdemeanor that has no lasting legal affect and would not keep him from holding office or serving as Majority leader.  More likely, Delay was named as a defendant because he is an associate of Colyandro and Ellis.  Remember, just because the Grand Jury referrers to those sections and mentions him as a defendant does not mean that Delay is actually charged with anything or that the accusations against him are substantive.

One perspective being propagated in the blog world is that the indictment mentioned Delay in order to temporarily remove him from office (House rules require that leaders under investigation resign their office temporarily in order to avoid conflicts of interest).  

Regardless of the politics behind this indictment and liberal’s intransigent response, know that very little will probably come of this.  Instead of jumping to conclusions, declaring victory and assuming guilt until innocence is proven, let’s all let the process of Justice run its course and leave slander for a more worthy man.

NOTE: Special thanks to Rosemary for her input.  Without her advice, this post would have been a lot more technical.