Thursday, July 8, 2010

Peterson and Black want to get sprung from jail – in their wildest of dreams

Conrad Black is the newspaper publisher who used to control the Chicago Sun-Times who never would have wanted to be perceived as a little guy – not many Canadians-turned Brits who become a Lord would identify with everyday people.

Drew Peterson is the former suburban Chicago cop who probably thinks he’s the ultimate common guy – one who can’t help it that young women find him appealing.

BUT BLACK AND Peterson have one thing in common these days. The two of them seem to think they’re about to get out of jail while they go about proving that they are the true victims when it comes to the criminal cases pending against them.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled recently in ways that make it more difficult for corruption cases to proceed. Actual bribery has to be proved – not just the fact that something stupid happened.

Black seems to think that will reduce the amount of time he should have to serve in prison, possibly taking his sentence from its current six-plus years to just over two years (which just happens to be the amount of time he has been locked away in federal correctional centers).

Peterson learned this week that his trial will have to be postponed. It was supposed to begin this month, but the prosecutors in Will County are appealing a court ruling related to the use of hearsay as testimony in criminal cases.

PROSECUTORS HAD PLANNED to use such hearsay to make up for the fact that Peterson’s most recent wife is still missing and merely presumed dead – rather than an actual corpse buried away somewhere.

But the drawback to that is that Peterson’s attorneys can now seek a motion asking for the one-time Bolingbrook police sergeant to be released from the Will County Jail while the criminal case is pending in the courts.

Listening to the so-called legal experts, they want us to believe that it is a long-shot that either Black or Peterson will be released from their respective jails anytime in the near future.

But I can’t help but wonder if we run a chance of seeing either one of them any time soon walking the streets of the Chicago area. It was on Tuesday that Black’s attorneys filed the necessary paperwork to ask a judge in U.S. District Court to allow Black to post bail while judges figure out if the Supreme Court ruling truly applies to his case.

ON THE SAME day, Peterson’s attorneys let it be known they think their client should be let out of jail in Joliet while the prosecutors appeal whether court rulings related to hearsay testimony should have any bearing on that criminal case.

Actually, Black would be the last person I would ever expect to see around here. I always sensed when his company ran the Sun-Times and all the suburban newspaper properties they acquired throughout the last two decades that Lord Black of Crossharbour saw us as being a bit drab, and our newspapers as the major U.S. property he acquired when his early 1990s bid to purchase the New York Daily News fell through.

From a newspaper perspective, it would have been intriguing to see a Black-run Daily News take on the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post. Instead, we got to see Black and his aides bleed dry our local newspapers into their current shrivelled-up status.

In Peterson’s case, his attorneys think it is only fair that he be set free, since prosecutors have already have had the beginning of the trial postponed once (it was supposed to begin last month), and that putting it off indefinitely a second time is somehow cruel, if not quite unusual.

PETERSON’S ATTORNEYS ENGAGED in their own cheap-shot rhetoric, telling the Chicago Tribune that prosecutors are getting “cold feet” and are “chickening out” because of their failure to just go ahead and begin the trial.

I have to admit that I think both Peterson and Black have interesting legal theories. I’m not willing to write them off as completely absurd.

Black is dealing with the concept of “honest services,” and to what degree is someone’s professional screwups worthy of criminal charges. Peterson is dealing with “hearsay” testimony in that prosecutors want to have people testify about what Drew’s fourth, still-missing, wife told them about the death of Drew’s third wife.

I have a problem with the idea of hearsay being permitted in a court proceeding. Our judicial system is supposed to hold prosecutors up to a high ideal, and allowing hearsay here could take us down a path by which it becomes too acceptable in other criminal cases.

LIKEWISE, A PART of me worries (particularly when it comes to political corruption cases) about whether people could use a broad interpretation of “honest services” to start going after their political opponents and imprisoning them for not being of the “right” ideological beliefs.

In theory, I can understand why the two men want out of jail, although it sounds like it has been a more pleasant experience for Black (who has been able to publish his writing while incarcerated) than it has for Peterson (who has been kept in isolation so as to keep other inmates from trying to enhance their reputations by attacking – if not killing – him).

Yet I’m skeptical that either judge, whether in the federal court or the circuit court in Will County, is going to be willing to let either one of these men out of jail anytime soon. Release for either of them will draw so much hostile public attention.


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