By Will Weissert
AUSTIN — The special prosecutor who secured two felony abuse of power indictments against Gov. Rick Perry is facing his own legal problems after a decision by Texas’ highest criminal court to renew a contempt of court case against him.
Prosecutors filed a contempt of court motion against San Antonio-based attorney Michael McCrum in January, after a separate case the previous fall.
In it, one of McCrum’s clients was convicted of manslaughter for driving his car the wrong-way down an interstate with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, and sparking a head-on crash that killed two men.
McCrum was accused of telling his client’s former addiction counselor to “get lost for a while” and not be available to testify at the trial’s punishment phase.
That case and the subsequent contempt complaint came months after April 2013, when McCrum was first named special prosecutor in the case against Perry.
A contempt hearing began, but McCrum’s attorneys challenged it, arguing that prosecutors in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, missed the deadline to bring a complaint against him. That sent the matter to Texas’ 4th Court of Appeals, which in March sided with McCrum and found the deadline had in fact expired.
But a two-page ruling Wednesday from the 9-judge, Republican-controlled Court of Criminal Appeals directed the appellate court to vacate its order.
That order gives the lower court 30 days to vacate its ruling, but it wasn’t immediately clear when the contempt proceedings against McCrum would resume. Messages for Bexar County district attorneys were not returned Thursday.
McCrum also didn’t return messages seeking comment, but he’s previously denied wrongdoing. If convicted, the special prosecutor faces a maximum six months in jail.
A grand jury in Austin, a liberal bastion in otherwise conservative Texas, indicted Perry last month on charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, that carry a maximum penalty of 109 years in prison.
The Republican isn’t seeking re-election in November but hasn’t ruled out a second run for president in 2016 — and has dismissed the case against him as a political ploy. Many top national Republicans have lined up to support Perry.
The case stems from the governor threatening to veto funding for the state’s public integrity unit, which investigates official corruption, unless a Democratic district attorney who oversees the unit resigned following a drunken driving conviction.
The Democratic district attorney did not resign and Perry vetoed the funding.
That drew an ethics complaint form a left-leaning, Austin-based government watchdog group.
The matter was referred to Republican Bexar County Judge Bert Richardson who appointed McCrum as special prosecutor. McCrum spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that led to Perry’s indictment. He’s not discussed the case against Perry publicly, but also long insisted that it’s stronger than it appears.
The grand jury that indicted Perry was the second one seated in the case. An initial grand jury was convened earlier but its deadline expired — in part because McCrum was dealing with the contempt of court accusations.