Judge's politics questioned in DeLay case
By APRIL CASTRO /
State District Judge Bob Perkins took a long vacation before settling in to
oversee criminal proceedings that could bring down one of the Republican party's
biggest players — U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.
The national media frenzy that awaited him prompted him to joke that he and his
wife, Cyndy, should have stayed in Italy.
"Judges tend to be hesitant about taking real high publicity cases," he said.
"It definitely complicates your life."
It got more complicated before DeLay appeared in his court Friday on conspiracy
and money laundering charges.
DeLay's legal team filed motions asking the judge to recuse himself because of
his multiple donations to Democratic candidates and organizations, including
2004 presidential candidate John Kerry and Moveon.org, a liberal interest group
waging a "Fire Tom DeLay" campaign through radio ads.
"He's an active Democrat, as he has every right to be," said DeGuerin, a
self-described yellow dog Democrat. "But he has supported causes and persons
that have been in direct opposition to U.S. Rep. Delay."
Perkins, who gave to MoveOn.org last year and before the group's DeLay campaign,
makes no apologies about his political leanings. While he said they won't affect
his ability to judge a case fairly, he agreed to delay proceedings until another
judge decided whether he should stay on the case.
"The best way for me to handle this is to get in touch with Judge Schraub and
ask him to hear it," Perkins said at DeLay's arraignment.
"This is going to continue to be an issue anytime there's a Republican defendant
or a Democratic judge or vice versa."
B.B. Schraub, presiding judge of the third administrative judicial region, will
review DeLay's motion within the next two weeks, an assistant said. Schraub is a
Republican who has been in the job since 1991.
Earlier in the week, Perkins told The Associated Press that he supports
Democrats because "it's my belief that the common man, people in the middle
class and people that are poor, if they're going to get any help, there's more
chance that they're going to get it from Democrats."
Perkins, 57, wasn't always a Democrat, though.
As a 16-year-old growing up in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Eagle Pass,
Perkins campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The
teenager was drawn to Goldwater's tough foreign policy notions. Goldwater lost
to Texas Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1964 election.
And it's Republican Teddy Roosevelt that Perkins, an avid history buff, counts
as one of his idols. He easily recounts Roosevelt's populist ideas and eventual
break from the existing Republican establishment to form the Bull Moose party.
Those conservative, Republican ideas began to change for Perkins when he moved
to Austin to attend the University of Texas, where he graduated from law school
During college, Perkins, who speaks Spanish with a near flawless accent, liked
to hangout in a heavily Hispanic Austin neighborhood. It reminded him of home
and it's where he met his first wife.
Friends in that neighborhood persuaded Perkins to make his first run for public
office, a 1974 bid for justice of the peace. They liked the idea of a bilingual
attorney to represent the 65,000-person precinct, he said.
During that election is where Perkins said he got his first education on
campaign finance law.
"I was told one thing about campaign election laws — you couldn't take corporate
money," Perkins said.
Since then, Perkins has presided over a couple of high-profile cases involving
politicians, such as former House Speaker Gib Lewis and Republican Sen. Kay
In 1992, Lewis, a Democrat, pleaded no contest to failing to disclose a business
investment on campaign finance reports. In exchange, Lewis was fined $2,000.
Perkins said he took into consideration that Lewis did not plan to run for
Perkins recused himself from a 1994 case against Hutchison, because he had made
a $300 campaign contribution to her Democratic opponent.
Hutchison was acquitted of official misconduct and record-tampering charges.
DeGuerin, DeLay's attorney, also represented Hutchison, and he filed the motion
that led to Perkins recusing himself in her case. District Attorney Ronnie
Earle, a Democrat heading up the investigation against DeLay, was also the
prosecutor in Hutchison's case.
Perkins has mainly presided over murder trials. He was the judge in last week's
trial for a University of Texas student who killed his piano teacher by stabbing
and slashing her more than 200 times because he thought she was controlled by a
computer chip in her brain. The student was found not guilty by reason of
Roy Minton, a longtime Austin attorney who has argued cases before Perkins, said
he's been impressed with the judge's knowledge of the law.
"I've never felt that he was making a decision ... based on his personal
feelings of the defendant," said Minton, a Democrat representing Republican
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was subpoenaed by one of the grand juries
DeLay is accused of circumventing state election law to funnel restricted
corporate money into the 2002 Texas legislative races. The Republican
fundraising helped the GOP gain control of the Texas House, and set the stage
for the Legislature to adopt a DeLay-engineered congressional district map that
put more Texas Republicans in Congress.
State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, a Democrat who first met Perkins in the early
1970s, said the judge's decision to let someone else decide whether he could
hear DeLay's case shows he's a "conscientious, objective person."
"I've watched him on the bench sometimes," Barrientos said. "He is by-the-book,
no politics or anything."
But DeGuerin said that's not enough.
"A judge should avoid even the appearance of impropriety," he said.