DeLay's chances of returning to leadership hampered by Earle appeal

The Texas district attorney prosecuting Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) on charges of money laundering appealed a recent ruling yesterday in a move that could significantly affect  the former majority leader's return to leadership.

Ronnie Earle, the Democratic district attorney of Travis County, Texas, appealed a ruling last week by Judge Pat Priest to dismiss the conspiracy charge against DeLay. The appeal could postpone a potential trial in the case for months unless Priest allows DeLay to separate the money laundering charge from that of conspiracy.

DeLay is trying to prevent a race within the Republican Conference to permanently replace him as majority leader. DeLay and his supporters were hoping to clear the case against him by the time House members return  for legislative business at the end of January.

"The decision to appeal shows that Ronnie Earle is only interested in persecution by prosecution and has nothing but contempt for the court's respect of fairness and due process," DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said in a statement released following the appeal.

DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, filed a motion last week for Priest to separate the money laundering charge from the conspiracy charge in the event that Earle appealed the ruling.

The appeals process creates one more step for DeLay and his legal team and could threaten his standing within the conference if members vote to have a leadership race to replace him.

Priest threw out one conspiracy charge against DeLay after his lawyers successfully argued that conspiracy was not part of that state's election law in 2002 when the former majority leader and his associates allegedly funneled $190,000 in corporate campaign donations to seven Republican statehouse candidates.

"The judge's decision to swiftly dismiss Ronnie Earle's baseless and manufactured indictment last week was the correct decision then, and it will be the correct decision when this hopeless attempt to appeal is ultimately rejected," Madden said.