Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Feds want a conviction, any conviction

It was with interest that I read the news item published Monday by the Chicago Tribune's website -- federal prosecutors are likely to come up with a new indictment against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to try to ensure that the "guilty" verdict they are desperately seeking will not result in a case that the Supreme Court of the United States has to reject.

Blagojevich and his fans (they are few, but I must admit I am not as negative about his behavior the way that some in our society seem to be these days) have encouraged talk of "honest services" crimes that they say unjustly crinminalizes government behavior.

THEY WANT TO create the perception that any conviction against Blagojevich that might arise from his trial (likely to occur during the late summer and early autumn of 2010 -- right before Election Day) is inherently unjust.

I'm not sure how much this idea should be applied to Blagojevich's actions, but I must admit to seeing cases in recent years where government activity that didn't seem to meet someone's ideological beliefs wound up being criminalized when a prosecutor was willing to get involved.

At worst, people are being punished for not living up to a criminal prosecutor's ideological beliefs. At best, people are being punished for having their government incompetence classified as criminal.

It was along this very issue that federal prosecutors on Monday said they plan to file a written explanation of how they plan to address the "honest services" issue in Blagojevich's case.

THAT NEW FILING could result in a new indictment. In short, different charges that Blagojevich must go on trial for.

Some people might say that this is merely a prosecutor clarifying the criminal charges against a defendant -- which isn't unusual. Charges whose substance was weak might be tossed out, or reduced to charges for which the evidence more clearly justifies a vote to convict by whichever dozen citizens ultimately wind up losing a couple months of their lives in order to determine whether or not former Gov. "Milorod" is "guilty" as charged.

What caught my attention, though, was the claim by prosecutors that this change in charges, should it occur, will not throw off their schedule one bit.

They still say they want to begin the process of picking a jury for Blagojevich by June, even though the former governor has tried legal maneuvers (unsuccessfull, thus far) to get any trial delayed a few months.


Could it be that Blagojevich isn't in the mood to have his life's legacy become that he was the guy whose name got used as a campaign tactic by Republicans across Illinois to try to snatch votes away from Democratic opponents?

I would think any change in charges would be reason enbough to cause a delay in trial. But prosecutors seem determined to get this process going. They want to be able to ratchet up another conviction onto their prosecutorial records.

For those who think I'm being cynical about their motives, all I can say is that I have encountered enough prosecutors at both the state and federal levels to know that the ones who aren't serving a couple of years as an "ASA" or "A-USA" to give themselves a line on the resume to bolster their future campaigns for elective office are doing so because they have the "fighter pilot" mentality -- they like compiling a list of convictions.

IT'S ALMOST LIKE a batting average for prosecutors -- "Prosecutor A" has XX convictions on his record, just like a fighter pilot would tell you how many "enemy" airplanes he has shot down.

I'm sure someone within the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago will gain professionally from a Blagojevich conviction. Just look at what the conviction of former Gov. Otto Kerner did for his prosecutor -- James R. Thompson went on to become Illinois governor himself, kicking off a string of 26 straight years of GOP governors in Illinois that didn't end until Milorod came along in 2002.

What also makes this intriguing in the timing.

For the Supreme Court of the United States is going to hear arguments related to the "honest services" issue on Tuesday in Washington.

THERE ARE SEVERAL cases pending before the nation's high cvourt (including the appeal of the conviction of former Chicago Sun-Times owner Conrad Black) where someone is arguing that the idea of criminal punishmenbt for someone because their business venture was not successful is unjust.

This possible restructuring of Milorod's criminal charges amounts to trying to keep a serious substantive issue from interfering with a prosecutor's ability to get a criminal conviction due to Blagojevich's boorish behavior.

Ultimately, the minds of many people are going to be satisfied only by a conviction against Blagojevich -- not that it matters much to them what the conviction is for. So long as Blagojevich has several more years of legal appeals in his future filedd from within a prison somewhere, they will be happy.

And if the tone of that statement comes across like I think Blagojevich's critics are a little too tightly wound for their own good, you'd be correct.


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