Jeffrey Skilling of Enron. Newspaper publisher Conrad Black.
Those are a pair of business executives whose professional failures left a lot of people worse off financially and angry, and the Supreme Court of the United States on Thursday issued a ruling that gives credence to the belief that the public outrage unduly influenced prosecutorial types to go after them – resulting in criminal convictions and prison time.
SO AS MUCH as it would seem odd for anyone to willingly want to make that duo into a trio, perhaps it is natural that Rod Blagojevich has an interest in the concept of “honest services” and when, if ever, such behavior should be considered criminal.
Blagojevich had been counting on an overwhelming ruling of support for Skilling and Black, hoping that it would knock the legitimacy out of many of the criminal charges that the one-time Illinois governor is now on trial for in U.S. District Court for Chicago.
The high court ruled that in Skilling’s case (he was one of the top-ranking Enron executives who saw his company wither away into insignificance under his watch), his professional failings were not necessarily criminal.
Yet the court didn’t overturn any convictions. It merely said the lower court that found him guilty in the first place would now have to re-review his case to see how many of the convictions stand up to a strict interpretation of the law.
IN SHORT, IT is a victory for Skilling in that it could significantly reduce the amount of prison time that officials would claim he should have to serve.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg got to write this court opinion, where she said that there had to be clear evidence of receipt of a bribe or some sort of kickback of financial value in exchange for someone’s negative professional conduct on the job in order for there to be a law broken.
In short, someone behaving stupidly is not automatically a criminal – even if that incompetence crosses over and has a negative impact on the public.
That would be helpful to Blagojevich if discussed broadly because he could claim to have never received anything significant. Then again, prosecutors are starting this week to show the evidence of people who say Blagojevich was obsessed with getting people to either give him a significant political post that would enhance his image and power or help him financially to create some sort of foundation that he could run once he left electoral politics.
THAT FOUNDATION THEORETICALLY would allow Blagojevich to do good work for the people, or it would allow him to pay himself a significant salary for working whenever he felt like it. A lot of this depends on one’s politically partisan interpretation of an official’s character to begin with.
Prosecutors already have altered the charges once against Blagojevich so as to make them less reliant on “honest services” fraud. They will claim their case stands up regardless of Thursday’s high court ruling.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel seems inclined to agree, refusing on Thursday to put a halt to the Blagojevich trial until people could further study the Supreme Court ruling.
So the Blagojevich trial continues, which made the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform happy. The good-government type group issued its own statement saying it wants “justice” to be done for Milorod.
“TESTIMONY IN THE trial to date certainly makes it appear as though Rod Blagojevich saw public office as a tool for forcing payments to benefit himself,” the group said.
Of course, the federal prosecutors, in their admitted desire to prevent Blagojevich from impacting the appointment of a replacement senator from Illinois for Barack Obama, prevented that so-called moment of payback from ever occurring.
Does this Supreme Court ruling mean that the prosecutors should have waited until Blagojevich made the Senate appointment – perhaps having U.S. marshals march into a press conference and arresting him at the moment he tried to make his decision public?
It certainly couldn’t have been any more humiliating for him that way than what really happened – picking him up at 6 a.m. at his house when he was getting ready to go jogging.
THE ONE THING that seems obvious about the Supreme Court’s ruling is that it will not significantly impact the conduct taking place in Zagel’s courtroom. Too many people have an interest in seeing this case proceed to an outcome of conviction for this to stop it.
Which means it likely will be that same Supreme Court that ruled Thursday that Skilling and Black may have had the “honest services” fraud law wrongly applied to them that will someday have to decide whether Blagojevich should be considered within that group as well.
Only Rod Blagojevich could find himself in a situation where he would eagerly want to turn a duo into a trio of people whom the public thinks of as scum-bags, regardless of what any court may say otherwise.