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Originally published November 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 22, 2005 at 3:46 PM

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Judge declines to rule on dismissing charges against DeLay

Rep. Tom DeLay will have to wait for a decision on whether conspiracy charges against him will be dropped without a trial, a judge said today.

The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas – Rep. Tom DeLay will have to wait for a decision on whether conspiracy charges against him will be dropped without a trial, a judge said today.

At a hearing, Senior Judge Pat Priest said he wanted to read written responses from both sides before making his ruling, and didn't say how long it might take. The hearing on various motions was continuing today.

DeLay, fighting to regain his post as House majority leader, appeared in court before Priest for the first time as his legal team tried to get the charges accusing him of violating state campaign finance law dropped. Among other things, he is arguing that the conspiracy charges were based on a law that wasn't even on the books when the alleged conspiracy happened.

"There's no such thing in 2002 as conspiracy to violate the election code," lawyer Dick DeGuerin argued today.

Prosecutor Rick Reed disputed that argument, saying the Legislature was just clarifying the law in 2003 and that state law has long defined conspiracy as an agreement to commit any felony.

Priest was appointed to the case after DeLay's attorneys succeeded in having the first judge removed because of his campaign contributions to Democratic candidates and causes.

He and Republican fundraisers John Colyandro and Jim Ellis are accused of operating a 2002 campaign finance scheme that prosecutors say funneled $190,000 in restricted corporate money to seven Texas House candidates in violation of state law.

DeLay is accused of sending the money to an arm of the Republican National Committee, which then gave the same amount of money to Texas legislative candidates. The direct use of corporate money for political purposes is illegal in Texas.

"It was basically a negotiated swap," Reed said in court. "It was done in this manner in order to disguise the fact that this ... had been negotiated."

DeLay would not talk to reporters as he entered the courtroom with his wife.

DeLay wants the charges dismissed or resolved in his favor by January. Under House rules, he was forced to give up his leadership post after he was charged in September with a felon. But he could regain it if he is cleared before Congress returns to session early next year.

Ellis' attorney, Mark Stevens, argued that the state's money laundering statute applies only to cash. The campaign contributions in question were checks, he said.

Among other things, DeLay's attorneys also want to have the trial moved from liberal-leaning Austin, where they say he cannot get a fair trial, to his home county of Fort Bend.

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