AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals heard arguments on Wednesday on whether to dismiss an abuse of power charge against former Governor Rick Perry, who has said the case against him is politically motivated.
Perry, who unsuccessfully campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination this year and in 2012, is facing a first-degree felony charge that could bring up to 99 years in prison because of a funding veto he made in 2013 that was seen as being intended to force a local prosecutor to resign.
Lawyers for Perry, who stepped down when his term ended at the start of this year, told the court that Perry was acting within his powers as governor when he made the funding cut. A prosecutor in the case said that Perry acted unlawfully to pressure Lehmberg, who remained in office.
Perry did not attend the hearing.
The longest serving governor in Texas history was indicted on the two charges in August 2014 by a grand jury in Travis County, a Democratic stronghold in the heavily Republican state.
In July, a Texas state appeals court threw out a lesser charge against Perry for coercion of a public official, leaving only the abuse of power charge.
Perry first threatened and then vetoed $7.5 million for an integrity unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s office. Many said Perry played hardball politics to force out county District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she pleaded guilty to drunken driving.
Perry’s lawyers have sought for months to have the charges dismissed.
In September, Perry, struggling to raise money and languishing near the bottom in presidential opinion polls, became the first member of the crowded Republican field to drop out of the 2016 White House race.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis