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Texas' top criminal court set to decide whether former Gov. Rick Perry should stand trial


AUSTIN, Texas — Attorneys for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged the state's highest criminal court Wednesday to dismiss felony abuse-of-power charges that the Republican blames in part for foiling his short-lived 2016 presidential run.

After two hours of arguments, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals gave no timetable for ruling whether Perry should face trial in the case that has dragged on since August 2014 — about five times longer than his second unsuccessful White House bid.

Perry didn't attend the crowded hearing in a courtroom behind his old Texas Capitol office, but his high-powered lawyers told judges that enough was enough.

"The danger of allowing a prosecutor to do this is mind-boggling," Perry attorney David Botsford said.

Perry is accused of misusing his power in 2013 when he vetoed funding for local prosecutors after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, an elected Democrat, refused calls to resign following a drunken driving arrest. He was indicted a year later by a grand jury in liberal Austin and faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Perry has denounced the charges as a partisan attack. But in a lively back-and-forth with an eight-judge panel, all but one of whom is an elected Republican, Perry's legal team didn't raise claims of political retribution and instead framed the veto as a rightful constitutional power.

Special prosecutors say that's for a trial to determine — and not for the court to settle now. Judges met that with a tone of skepticism, with Republican Judge Kevin Yeary pressing at one point whether going through with a trial would be "wasting everyone's time."

Perry was originally indicted on two counts, but a lower court has already thrown out the other charge of coercion of a public servant. Prosecutors are asking the court to not only order a trial on the remaining charge but also reinstate the other one.

State prosecuting attorney Lisa McMinn challenged claims that the governor's veto falls under legislative immunity from prosecution.

"To say it's a legislative act strains credibility," McMinn said.

In September, Perry became the first major candidate of the 2016 race to give up on the White House. The longest-serving governor in Texas history had launched his campaign just three months earlier, but he struggled to raise money and get a second look from voters after his first run in 2012 flamed out after poor debate performances.

He has blamed the criminal case for his early exit, telling Fox News after dropping out that it had a "real corrosive effect on our ability to raise money."

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