Texas Governor Rick Perry
Texas Governor Rick Perry ()

Gov. Rick Perry has assembled a legal team of state and national power players to fight his felony charges.

Well-known Texas lawyers Tony Buzbee, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips and criminal defense attorney David Botsford will join two Washington, D.C., big-law attorneys who represent presidential campaigns.

Buzbee will lead the five-lawyer team to defend Perry against charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, which are related to Perry’s veto of funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit.

“Gov. Perry will fight this indictment 100 percent, and at the end of the day, he will prevail, because he’s on the side of the rule of law. The governor acted lawfully and properly exercised his power under the law,” said Buzbee, of the Buzbee Law Firm in Houston, during an Aug. 18 press conference in Austin. “We have formed a team here to defend an indictment that is absolutely improper.”

In June 2013, Perry vetoed $7.5 million in biennial funding for the public integrity unit. The move followed a drunk driving conviction in April 2013 of Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg.

A criminal complaint against Perry by Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group, led to Perry’s indictment on Aug. 15.

The indictment in State of Texas v. James Richard Perry said that between June 10 and June 14, Perry used “means of coercion” by threatening to veto Legislature-approved funding for the public integrity unit unless Lehmberg resigned as D.A. Perry intentionally tried to influence her in the performance of her duty “to continue to carry out her responsibilities as the elected district attorney for the County of Travis,” alleged the indictment.

Buzbee noted that he expects Perry to receive a court summons to appear and be booked into jail, but he’s not sure yet when it will happen.

During the press conference, Buzbee played a video that showed excerpts of Lehmberg behaving badly in jail on the night of her arrest. He said Lehmberg was responsible for $7.5 million in taxpayer money, and that Perry was responsible for making sure the money was wisely spent.

“That’s why he vetoed that line item of $7.5 million,” he said.

Team Perry

Buzbee noted that the exact details of who will pay for the legal team haven’t been worked out yet. The state will pay some of the bill, and other payments might come from somewhere else like a “defense fund.”

Botsford’s payments so far have come from general revenue.

Botsford said that even if Perry had announced from the steps of the Governor’s Mansion or Capitol that he didn’t approve of Lehmberg’s conduct and would not fund the unit unless she resigned, it wouldn’t have been illegal.

“Had that happened—and there is no evidence that here it happened—but had it happened, he would be entirely under his rights under the First Amendment and the Constitution,” said Botsford. “We will continue to fight for the rule of law and the governor’s right and power to exercise his duties.”

The two Washington, D.C. lawyers on the team are Bobby Burchfield and Ben Ginsberg.

Buzbee explained that Burchfield is a “nationally recognized” trial and appellate lawyer who has argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was general counsel for former President George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign.

Burchfield said Perry used his “clear power” under the Texas Constitution.

“He vetoed an entry in an appropriations bill. That was his right and duty based on his judgment,” said Burchfield, a partner in McDermott Will & Emery. “It was his decision as governor of Texas, and he had a First Amendment right to communicate those reasons for his decision.”

Buzbee said that Ginsberg for 30 years has represented gubernatorial congressional and presidential campaigns, including campaigns for former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

Ginsberg, a partner in Jones Day, said he’s been a lawyer for many years, and this case “goes furthest beyond the pale that I think I’ve seen in my time.”

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor in the case, said, “I have responses to everything they are saying that’s related to a legal matter. They said some pretty inflammatory things that don’t even merit a response. But as to the legal matters, I will respond to all those issues in court.”