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7th Circuit Criticizes Baseless Wis. Prosecution


In the latest salvo in the ongoing clash over the apparent political purge of eight U.S. attorneys, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a written opinion (PDF) today in a case that some see as presenting the flip side of the issue.

The 14-page opinion, authored by Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, finds that the facts of the case simply did not establish requisite intent to criminally convict Wisconsin state employee Georgia L. Thompson of fraud. While her decision to award a state contractor to the low bidder may have technically violated some bidding rules, he wrote, “there is not so much as a whiff of a kickback or any similar impropriety.” Hence, “the sin is civil (if it is any wrong at all) when a public employee manipulates the rules, as Thompson did, to save the state money or favor a home-state producer that supports elected officials.”

Later, he writes, “The idea that it is a federal crime for any official in state or local government to take account of political considerations when deciding how to spend public money is preposterous.”

The case has prompted scathing criticism of U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic of Milwaukee, who some see as having railroaded an obviously innocent state employee in order to promote a political agenda favoring the Republican party. (For details, see this New York Times news analysis and this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.)

However, Easterbrook also suggests that federal legislation is at fault. “This prosecution, which led to the conviction and imprisonment of a civil servant for conduct that, as far as this record shows, was designed to pursue the public interest as the employee understood it, may well induce Congress to take another look at the wisdom of enacting ambulatory criminal prohibitions,” he writes. “Haziness designed to avoid loopholes through which bad persons can wriggle can impose high costs on people the statute was not intended to catch.”

A hat tip to tpmmuckraker.com, which alerted us to the release of the opinion.

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