How Will Price's Corruption Trial Affect His Election Against Caraway?

Last week was not good for John Wiley Price. Christian Campbell and Karen Manning, charged in connection with Price's federal corruption case, pleaded guilty to single counts and agreed to testify against Price. Campbell admitted funneling cash to Price's political consultant Kathy Nealy. Manning admitted to filing a false income tax return for her art gallery in the Cedars. Manning's gallery, according to federal accusations against Price, was used by Price to launder money. 

Campbell and Manning are set to become the faces of a case against Price until last week consisted of a mountain of documentary evidence. 

The two witnesses' bolstering of the case against Price raises an interesting question: What effect will his trial — and the trial's subsequent verdict —have  on his showdown with former Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway for the third seat on the Dallas County Commissioner's Court?

Texas has an early primary in 2016. It, and the election for Price's seat, is set for March 1. Price's trial is set for January 16. Lawyers we talked to expect two things: The case will start on time and that, while it will be long given the voluminous evidence, it won't be absurdly lengthy.

When U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn rescheduled the trial date out as far as she did in 2014 — she gave both sides about 18 months to prepare — she likely did so in order to avoid the need for additional rescheduling, Jeff Ansley, a former federal prosecutor, says.

The trial itself will likely last months, Ansley says, but will not extend past November 2016's general election.

Felons are ineligible to run for any office in Texas. So if Price takes a deal that includes a felony charge, he can't run. Caraway would be on his own on the ballot, although Price's dropping out would surely encourage some candidates to join the race.

If Price takes the case to trial, things will get messy.  His beating Caraway is not that outlandish of a possibility. Despite the cloud hanging over his head, Price wont 76 percent of the vote in a four-way race in the 2012 Democratic Primary. If that happens, and then Price gets convicted shortly thereafter, a couple of things could happen.

Price could see the writing on the wall and remove himself from the November ballot. A special primary election would be called, with Caraway sitting in the pole position. But Price could appeal any conviction, which would ensure his continued viability as a candidate. In order for a prospective officeholder to be ineligible to run, the Texas Election Code requires that he or she be finally convicted of a felony. That means all appeals must be exhausted, which could, conceivably, get Price close to or past the November 8, 2016 general election.

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