Attorneys for former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay pleaded his innocence in front of a Texas Appeals Court Wednesday morning.
A panel of judges heard about 90 minutes of arguments from both sides of the case. DeLay’s attorneys say they are not fighting to save the former congressman’s reputation or even excuse his actions. They are simply arguing DeLay did not break the law, or at least their interpretation of the law.
“While you may believe that what Tom did was wrong, unethical, knuckle-headed or whatever, it wasn't illegal, and in this country, in case I didn't get that memo, we don't put people in prison for conduct that is not criminal," defense attorney Brian Wice said.
DeLay was convicted in 2010 for money laundering. He was accused of funneling corporate money into Texas house races in 2002. His defense argued that the jury which convicted DeLay did not know enough about election law.
The majority of Wednesday’s argument focused on interpretation of a campaign finance law.
"The statue at the time did not include checks as funds, which meant by definition it couldn't be criminal proceeds. I thought about somebody saying what about that being a technicality. You know what my old judge from whom I clerked Sam Houston Clinton used to say a technicality is a point of law your opponent didn't know," Wice said.
Since his conviction, the former lawmaker has not been a stranger to the limelight, having served as a contestant on the reality show Dancing with the Stars.
DeLay did not make an appearance at the Austin Courthouse, his lawyers say he did not want to distract.
"We think it makes more sense to have a more common sense interpretation of the money laundering law at the time just writing a check or a money order is not going to turn money laundering to no crime at all," assistant district attorney Holly Taylor said.
Since his conviction, DeLay has been out on bond. Now, his future lies in the hands of a three-judge panel, hoping they will overturn the prison time he is facing.
If the panel confirms the conviction, DeLay's team can appeal to the Criminal Court of Appeals.
The Criminal Court of Appeals is the highest court of appeals for the criminal process.