Texas Gov. Rick Perry's attorneys file motion to dismiss felony charges against him
Rick Perry (screenshot)

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Attorneys for Texas Governor Rick Perry filed a motion on Monday to dismiss two felony charges of abusing his power, saying it is unjust to prosecute the leader of the state over a political dispute by trying to criminalize a veto.

Perry, a possible candidate in the 2016 Republican presidential race, was indicted earlier this month for trying to use the veto to force the resignation of a prosecutor in Travis County, a Democratic stronghold in the Republican-dominated state.

"Subjecting any sitting governor to a criminal prosecution and injecting the judiciary into a political dispute would be an unprecedented assault on this cherished separation of powers," the motion filed in a Travis County district court said.

Perry, the longest-serving governor in the state's history, became the target of an ethics investigation last year after he vetoed $7.5 million in funding for the state public integrity unit run from the Travis County district attorney's office.

His veto was widely viewed as intended to force the ouster of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she had pleaded guilty to drunken driving and remained in office. He was charged with abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public official, a third-degree felony.

Perry has called the charges politically motivated. His critics contend he wanted to dictate the public integrity unit's actions, allowing cronyism to fester in his administration.

Perry has sought to parlay attention over the indictment into a fresh political push, making speeches last week in the crucial presidential primary state of New Hampshire, where his dismal showing in 2012 led him to drop out of the presidential race.

Perry, who in surveys of Republicans has ranked among the bottom of possible presidential primary candidates, has portrayed himself as the victim of a partisan political prosecution.

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Perry needs to avoid going to trial because the court proceeding could prove damaging, especially if a parade of his operatives testify about the political dealings that went into the veto.

"Unless his lawyers can get the indictment quashed, get the indictment thrown out by a judge before the trial begins, the trial will kill him as a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2016," Jillson said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott)