AUSTIN, Tex. — It has the makings of a legal dream team.
On the roster in Gov. Rick Perry’s fight against a felony indictment is Ben Ginsberg, a high-powered Washington lawyer who was counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, represented George W. Bush in the decisive Florida vote recount in 2000 and was co-chairman of President Obama’s committee on election administration. Bobby Burchfield, a partner and trial appellate lawyer in the Washington office of McDermott Will & Emery, has vast experience in complex corporate litigation and twice argued before the Supreme Court. David L. Botsford of Austin is a well-known criminal law specialist. Thomas R. Phillips served as the chief justice on the Texas Supreme Court from 1988 to 2004 and is now a partner in the Baker Botts law firm in Austin.
At the helm of this team is Tony Buzbee, a Houston legal powerhouse who has won hundreds of millions of dollars in awards for his clients and expresses his driving principle with a two-word slogan on his firm’s website: “Just win.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry’s booking photo after turning himself in on abuse of power charges.Credit Austin Police Department
The indictment, returned by a grand jury on Friday in Travis County, Tex., stemmed from Mr. Perry’s efforts to force the resignation of Rosemary Lehmberg, the county’s district attorney, after her arrest on a drunken-driving charge. Mr. Perry threatened to veto funding to her office unless she quit, a threat that he ultimately carried out by vetoing $7.5 million earmarked for the Public Integrity Unit that was intended to fight official corruption.
Mr. Perry, the first sitting Texas governor to be indicted in nearly a century, spoke briefly on Tuesday evening before making his way past reporters and television cameras at the Travis County Courthouse to be photographed and fingerprinted. Mr. Perry, wearing a dark suit and tie, was smiling as he stood for his mug shot. His entry into the state’s criminal justice system had the atmosphere of a campaign stop as sign-waving and chanting supporters greeted him outside the courthouse. He said he was entering with “head held high” and vowed to fight the charges “with every fiber of my being.”
“I believe in the rule of law,” he said. “We will prevail.”
Mr. Perry’s lawyers — who will be paid into the millions, at least in part by taxpayers — bring specific skills to the defense table, and all offer résumés brimming with legal accomplishments. Mr. Burchfield has never lost a jury trial; his clients have included United Airlines, the American Automobile Association and the National Football League. He also represented the Republican National Committee in a First Amendment challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
Mr. Phillips, who served on the bench for more than a quarter-century, has represented scores of appellate clients since returning to private practice in 2005. Mr. Botsford, a prominent 37-year criminal lawyer and former president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers, represented Mr. Perry in the grand jury phase of this case.
Since the indictment was returned on Friday, Mr. Perry, the state’s longest serving governor, has blasted the charges as an “outrageous” political attack, a theme that his legal team will reiterate as the case heads to trial.
Mr. Buzbee — a fiercely combative 46-year-old former Marine — said he had no doubt that Mr. Perry, 64, would ultimately prevail.
“Just win. That’s pretty much my goal,” Mr. Buzbee said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, a day after introducing the defense team at a news conference in Austin. “I don’t do anything halfway, I don’t live life halfway, I don’t handle cases halfway, I don’t have fun halfway. I do everything 100 percent. That’s kind of my motto. People don’t hire lawyers to lose, and they certainly don’t hire me to lose.”
Mr. Buzbee, who was once described in a New York Times Magazine profile as one of the most successful trial lawyers in the country, has garnered a multitude of major victories, including the largest jury verdict ever against BP after the floating rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 people and releasing an estimated 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. Among other legal highlights is a victory on behalf Jimmy Buffett to protect the singer-songwriter’s trademarks and intellectual property. The case summary noted that Mr. Buzbee stopped the infringing company “in its tracks,” had the owner temporarily jailed and negotiated “an extremely favorable” settlement.
The governor has “put together a very powerful legal team which work alongside his equally powerful message team,” said Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, the Austin watchdog group that filed the complaint that led to the indictment. “The question — Who is going to pay for this high-powered legal expense? — I think lots of taxpayers are hoping they are not on the hook for the governor’s high-priced criminal defense team.”
Mr. Buzbee is a longtime Perry supporter who has contributed to political campaigns and served as a debate coach during the governor’s ill-fated presidential run in 2012.
A key element of the defense strategy will be to focus on the behavior of Ms. Lehmberg, who had a blood alcohol level of three times the legal limit when she was arrested in April. During the lawyers’ introductory news conference, Mr. Buzbee showed portions of a video that he said showed the district attorney slurring her words and behaving in a condescending manner to officers.
Beyond that, Mr. Buzbee isn’t revealing much about strategy and declined to say whether he would file a motion to dismiss the indictment or seek a change of venue. “You’ll know my first motion when I file it,” he said.