The Ronnie Earle Clemency Program

Bryon York – From June 20, 2005

Ronnie Earle, the Texas prosecutor who has indicted associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in an ongoing campaign-finance investigation, dropped felony charges against several corporations indicted in the probe in return for the corporations’ agreement to make five- and six-figure contributions to one of Earle’s pet causes.

A grand jury in Travis County, Texas, last September indicted eight corporations in connection with the DeLay investigation. All were charged with making illegal contributions (Texas law forbids corporate giving to political campaigns). Since then, however, Earle has agreed to dismiss charges against four of the companies — retail giant Sears, the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel, the Internet company Questerra, and the collection company Diversified Collection Services — after the companies pledged to contribute to a program designed to publicize Earle’s belief that corporate involvement in politics is harmful to American democracy.

Some legal observers called the arrangement an unusual resolution to a criminal case, at least in Texas, where the matter is being prosecuted. “I don’t think you’re going to find anybody who will say it’s a common practice,” says Jack Strickland, a Fort Worth lawyer who serves as vice-chairman of the criminal-justice section of the Texas State Bar. Earle himself told National Review Online that he has never settled a case in a similar fashion during his years as Travis County district attorney. And allies of DeLay, who has accused Earle of conducting a politically motivated investigation, called Earle’s actions “dollars for dismissals.”

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