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As DeLay trial opens, court tries to keep politics off jury

Former House leader Tom DeLay (left), in court yesterday, is accused of funneling corporate funds to GOP races. Former House leader Tom DeLay (left), in court yesterday, is accused of funneling corporate funds to GOP races. (Ben Sklar /Getty Images)
Associated Press / October 27, 2010

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AUSTIN, Texas — Potential jurors in the corruption trial of former House majority leader Tom DeLay were quizzed yesterday about whether their political beliefs could interfere with their ability to make an impartial decision in the case.

Jury selection began yesterday, about five years after DeLay was indicted on charges he illegally funneled corporate money to help Republicans in Texas legislative races in 2002.

DeLay smiled and held the hand of his wife, Christine, as he entered a courthouse in Travis County earlier in the day.

“I feel great, absolutely great,’’ said DeLay, one of the most polarizing politicians during President George W. Bush’s administration. “I’m not worried at all.’’

DeLay’s lawyers tried to get his trial moved, on grounds that he could not get a fair trial in Austin, the most Democratic city in one of the most Republican states. DeLay has said the charges were politically motivated by Ronnie Earle, a Democrat and former Travis County district attorney who originally brought the case. Earle retired in 2008.

Gary Cobb, the lead prosecutor, told the jury pool his office has prosecuted all kinds of politicians, pointing out that a Democratic state lawmaker was being tried in an adjacent courthouse yesterday.

“Mr. DeLay is a Republican. I’m a Democrat. This case has nothing to do with that. All that matters is, ‘Can you put political feelings you may have [aside] and give both sides a fair trial?’ ’’ Cobb said.

Most in the jury pool said they could be fair, but one man who said he was a Democrat doubted his own impartiality because of his “distaste for the Republican Party and the way they behave.’’

Testimony in the case was set to begin Monday, the eve of Election Day, with the trial lasting at least three weeks.

Since his indictment in 2005, DeLay has been mostly out of public view except for a stint competing on ABC’s hit show “Dancing With the Stars.’’ He withdrew after an injury. DeLay now runs a consulting firm.