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With lawyers for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, challenging his impartiality because of contributions he made to Democratic groups, 331st District Judge Bob Perkins opted on Friday to let another judge decide whether he should be recused. Perkins, a Democrat, announced from the bench that he will ask Judge B.B. Schraub of Seguin, presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region, to assign a judge to hear the recusal motion that DeLay’s defense team filed on Thursday. Recently returned from a vacation in Italy, Perkins set a light tone for DeLay’s first appearance before him after being indicted on conspiracy and money-laundering charges. After entering the packed courtroom and taking the bench, Perkins quipped, “With this big of crowd today, I really must say that I should have stayed in Italy.” But the hearing quickly turned to business when Perkins considered the recusal motion. DeLay, the former U.S. House majority leader who had to step down from the leadership post after he was indicted in September, alleges in the recusal motion that Perkins made contributions in the fall of 2004 to the Democratic National Committee and MoveOn.org, a nonprofit organization. According to its Web site, MoveOn.org focuses primarily on education and advocacy on important national issues and also has a political action committee. DeLay asserted in the recusal motion that MoveOn.org solicited contributions for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in 2004 by asking donors to “send a message to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay … who quarterbacked last year’s redistricting battle that split Travis County three ways.” The Texas Legislature drew new congressional districts that favored Republican candidates in 2003. DeLay founded the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee, another defendant in the case, which helped raise money for GOP candidates who ran for the state House of Representatives in 2002. Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s lead counsel, says in an interview that two organizations funded by MoveOn.org are selling T-shirts featuring DeLay’s mug shot. Referring to DeLay’s recusal motion, Perkins said, “It seems to me this is going to continue to be an issue anytime there’s a Democratic judge hearing a Republican defendant.” The issue should be decided, he said. “It just doesn’t look right,” DeGuerin said of Perkins’ contributions during a news conference after the brief hearing. But Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle told reporters, “I think what this means is if a judge had contributed to Crime Stoppers, he couldn’t hear a burglar’s case. … We don’t live in a country where a political party determines justice.” Perkins had little choice with regard to the recusal motion. Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 18(c) requires that after a motion to recuse a judge is filed, the judge either must recuse himself or request the regional administrative judge to assign a judge to hear the motion. Dianne Griepentrog, administrative assistant for the 3rd administrative region, says Schraub probably will hear the motion himself. “He hears almost all recusal motions filed in the 3rd region,” she says. Griepentrog says Schraub probably will set a hearing on the motion within a couple of weeks. Schraub is a Republican whom Gov. Rick Perry reappointed to the administrative post in 2002. Perkins recused himself from presiding over the trial of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, after she was indicted in 1993 for allegedly tampering with physical evidence and tampering with a governmental record. Perkins had contributed to Hutchison’s Democratic opponent, Richard Fisher. Steve Bickerstaff, a Texas election law expert and adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law, says he doesn’t think the decision whether to recuse Perkins this time will hinge on whether the judge made contributions to candidates. What makes this different, is MoveOn.org has taken a position on DeLay, says Bickerstaff, who is writing a book on the Legislature’s 2003 redistricting and the DeLay case. The judge who hears DeLay’s case must decide whether to move the case out of Travis County. Also on Thursday, DeLay’s attorneys filed a motion for change of venue. DeLay alleges in that motion that “extremely strong political feeling” against him in Travis County would make it extremely difficult for him to get a fair trial in the county. Earle disagreed. “I believe in the essential fairness of the people who live in Austin,” he said during a brief news conference. Outside the courthouse, however, several Austin residents waved posters stating their opposition. Chris Levack, who identified himself as a builder and sculptor, carried a poster that read: “Hey DeLay, Welcome to Waterloo.” “This is my greeting card to Tom DeLay,” Levack says. “I’m disgusted with the way [Travis County] was redistricted.”

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