AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – State District Judge Bob Perkins took a long vacation before settling in to oversee criminal proceedings that could bring down one of the Republican Party’s biggest players – U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.

When he returned to a media frenzy, he joked that he should have stayed in Italy.

“Judges tend to be hesitant about taking real high-publicity cases,” he said. “It definitely complicates your life.”

It got more complicated Friday, when DeLay appeared in court on conspiracy and money laundering charges. DeLay’s legal team filed motions asking the judge to recuse himself because of his multiple donations to Democratic candidates and organizations, including 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry and Moveon.org, a liberal interest group waging a “Fire Tom DeLay” campaign through radio ads.

“He’s an active Democrat, as he has every right to be,” said DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin, a self-described yellow dog Democrat. “But he has supported causes and persons that have been in direct opposition to Congressman DeLay.”

DeLay is accused of circumventing state election law to funnel corporate money into the 2002 Texas legislative races. The fundraising helped the GOP gain control of the Texas House and set the stage for lawmakers to adopt a new congressional district map that put more Texas Republicans in Congress.

Perkins gave to MoveOn.org last year, before the group’s DeLay campaign.

He made it clear in court that he didn’t believe his political contributions would hinder his ability to preside over the case, but he agreed to delay proceedings until another judge decides if he should stay. Judge B.B. Schraub, a Republican, is expected to review the motion within two weeks.

Perkins, 57, told The Associated Press he supports Democrats because “it’s my belief that the common man, people in the middle class and people that are poor, if they’re going to get any help, there’s more chance that they’re going to get it from Democrats.”

But he wasn’t always a Democrat.

As a 16-year-old growing up in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Eagle Pass, Perkins campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The teenager was drawn to Goldwater’s tough foreign policy notions. Goldwater lost to Texas Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1964 election.

Perkins also counts Republican Teddy Roosevelt among his idols. The avid history buff easily recounts Roosevelt’s populist ideas and eventual break from the existing Republican establishment to form the Bull Moose party.

His ideas began to change when he moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas, where he graduated from law school in 1973. During college, Perkins, who speaks Spanish with a near flawless accent, liked to hang out in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood. It reminded him of home and it’s where he met his first wife.

Friends there persuaded Perkins to make his first run for public office, a 1974 bid for justice of the peace, as a Democrat. They liked the idea of a bilingual attorney representing the 65,000-person precinct, he said. Perkins won.

Since then, Perkins has presided mainly over murder trials, but he has also overseen high-profile cases involving politicians.

In 1992, he fined former House Speaker Gib Lewis, a Democrat, $2,000 after Lewis pleaded no contest to failing to disclose a business investment on campaign finance reports. Perkins said he considered that Lewis did not plan to run for re-election.

In a 1995 case involving Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perkins recused himself because he had made a $300 campaign contribution to her Democratic opponent. Hutchinson was acquitted of official misconduct and record-tampering charges.

DeGuerin, DeLay’s attorney, also represented Hutchison, and he filed the motion that led to Perkins recusing himself in her case. District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat heading up the investigation against DeLay, was also the prosecutor in Hutchison’s case.

Roy Minton, a longtime Austin attorney who has argued cases before Perkins, said he has been impressed with the judge’s knowledge of law.

“I’ve never felt that he was making a decision … based on his personal feelings of the defendant,” said Minton, a Democrat representing Republican Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was subpoenaed by one of the grand juries investigating DeLay.

But DeGuerin said that’s not enough.

“A judge should avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” he said.


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