A judge dismissed a conspiracy charge Monday against Rep. Tom DeLay but refused to throw out the far more serious allegations of money-laundering, dashing the congressman's hopes for now of reclaiming his post as House majority leader.
Texas Judge Pat Priest, who is presiding over the case against the Republican, issued the ruling after a hearing late last month in which DeLay's attorney argued that the indictment was fatally flawed.
When he was indicted in September, DeLay was required under House rules to relinquish the leadership post he had held since 2003. While Monday's ruling was a partial victory for DeLay, he cannot reclaim his post because he remains under indictment.
The ruling means the case will move toward a trial next year, though other defense objections to the indictments remain to be heard by the judge.
DeLay declined to speak with reporters Monday evening as he entered a campaign fundraiser with Vice President Dick Cheney at a Houston hotel.
But DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the court's decision "underscores just how baseless and politically motivated the charges were."
In a written statement, Earle's office said prosecutors were studying the ruling and had made no decision about whether to appeal. Prosecutors have 15 days to challenge the decision.
DeLay, 58, and two GOP fundraisers, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, are accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to 2002 Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature.
Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns, but it can be used for administrative purposes.
The judge upheld charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Those charges involve an alleged attempt by DeLay to conceal the source of the campaign contributions by funneling the money through his own political action committee and then an arm of the Republican National Committee.
In trying to have those charges thrown out, the defense argued that the Texas money laundering law does not apply to funds in the form of a check, just coins or paper money.
In the meanwhile the alleged campaign-finance scheme had far-reaching political effects, the AP reports.