Friday, October 31, 2008

What about Ted Stevens?

Interesting debate snippet on C-SPAN this morning showing Senator Stevens saying in a debate lat night in Alaska that he was "not convicted". Obviously this is wrong, as Senator Stevens "has" been convicted and what he meant was "this is not over, I am appealing and expect to be vindicated". This of course is what he should have said, if he had any regard for the truth.

With regard to his appeal, a couple of things jump out at me. First, the prosecutorial misconduct was severe, as the Judge's repeated chastisement of the proseuction makes evident. Second, keeping the trial in Washginton D.C. just doesn't seem right. The basis for this venue is that the finanical filing was done there, but all the witnesses were in Alaska and it just seems somehow wrong to try the man in D.C., far away from his home. I think these two factors combined will give him good chances on appeal.

I can't help but think of a case from decades ago, the case of Jimmy Hoffa. I studied this case in law school, and my criminal law prof, who at the time of the decision had been on the D.C. Court of Appeals as a clerk, said there was no way the Justices were going to overturn that conviction, based on the strength of the political winds blowing against Hoffa. What the prosecution had done in that case was truly outrageous, as they had planted an undercover informant in the defense's camp before and during the trial, and if it had been anybody else but Hofffa, that would surely have caused the conviction to be reversed based on the extreme misconduct by the prosecution.

The Stevens case seems just the opposite to me. Here you have an 84-year-old man, with a lifetime of public service, and no prior criminal rcord. It seems that the Court of Appeals will bend over backwards in this case to find a way to overturn the conviction.

All that aside, I can see how the jury could have convicted Stevens. He testified in an arrogant and combative manner, and some of his claims seemed truly incredulous. Generally if the jury doesn't like you, you will get convicted, and this is what happened here.

The financial form Stevens and all Senators have to fill out is an important part of the post-Watergate ethics rules, and Stevens just didn't take it seriously. It would have been an easy matter for him to pick up the phone, call his friend, and say "Are you going to send me a bill for that work you did, or is it a gift?" Stevens testified he had repeatedly asked for a bill, which means he really convicted himself, because it showed he was fully aware that he had not paid for the work done on his home. When he went to fill out the disclosure form, he could and should have gotten it straight once and for all if this was a gift or not, and then he could have made the proper disclosure. The fact that he did not do this shows his arrogance and disregard for the rules we all have to live by.

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