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Judge declines to rule immediately in DeLay case

Decision on whether to throw out charges to come in 2 weeks

From Steve Turnham
CNN

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U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and his wife, Christine, arrive Tuesday at an Austin, Texas, courthouse.

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Tom DeLay
Austin (Texas)

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- The judge in the money-laundering and conspiracy case against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay declined to rule Tuesday on a motion to dismiss the charges against the Texas Republican, saying he would need two weeks before he came to a decision.

"I had a pretty good idea 24 hours ago what I thought about this case. Having listened to some pretty good lawyers, I'm confused," said Senior Judge Pat Priest.

DeLay has maintained his innocence and asked for a speedy trial if he is unable to get the charges dismissed.

But Priest said that if the charges stand, "I doubt very seriously we can take this case to trial before the end of the year."

Earlier Tuesday, DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, had asked the judge to throw out the money-laundering and conspiracy charges against his client and two co-defendants.

"No crime occurred, and no crime was charged," Dick DeGuerin told the judge as the Travis County district court hearing began.

Priest came out of retirement to preside over the case after an earlier judge was removed amid defense accusations that he was a partisan Democrat.

The case concerns the 2002 transfer of $190,000 in corporate money from a political action committee created by DeLay to the national Republican Party in Washington, which then sent $190,000 back to Texas Republican state candidates.

It is illegal under Texas law for corporations to contribute to political campaigns, but DeGuerin argued that the money sent to the RNC was not the same money as was returned to Texas, so no violation occurred.

He also argued that the state law under which the charges were filed did not take effect until 2003.

Priest appeared to be anticipating a full trial when he laid out ground rules for allowing cameras in the courtroom at trial. He has banned cameras in the preliminary hearings.

The judge also expressed some frustration with the number of indictments against DeLay and co-defendants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.

"I share your confusion," Priest told the defense attorney. "Several of these indictments ... are re-indictments of earlier indictments."

The prosecution team, led by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, said it would not abandon earlier indictments until Priest has ruled on whether the central indictments can go forward.

The longtime Houston-area congressman was forced to give up his leadership post in the House of Representatives after his indictment in September, a move he argued has hurt "the regular order and conduct of national legislative business."

DeLay has accused Earle, a Democrat, of launching a partisan vendetta against him.

Earle denies the allegation of partisanship, pointing out that 12 of the 15 officials he has prosecuted on corruption charges have been Democrats.

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