Supreme Court Could Save Blagojevich

The law would seemingly cover a salaried employee's phoning in sick to go to a ball game

By Andrew Greiner
|  Monday, Nov 30, 2009  |  Updated 11:45 AM CDT
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1999-2009: The Decade of Indictments

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich | Indicted: 2008. Former Gov. Blagojevich was arrested by FBI agents in Dec. 2008. The month following his release he was impeached by the Illinois House of Representatives and forced to leave office. His trial is scheduled to start in the summer of 2010.

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Rod Blagojevich should flash that cheesy grin of his toward the Supreme Court, because they may save at least part of his hide this month.

The country’s high court is considering scaling back or eliminating the “honest-services fraud” law that holds public officials’ feet to the fire over unethical perks like free tickets and appointing family members to lucrative posts, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The law has been effective in Illinois corruption trials, helping to convict characters like Gov. George Ryan and others.  One former prosecutor told the Tribune that it’s the state’s “go-to statute.”

But if the court were to eliminate the law, it would alter how the prosecution could attack Blagojevich. At least five of the 16 felony indictments against Blagojevich would fall under the “honest-services fraud” law.

"If the court were to gut the statute, the prosecution would have to think long and hard about how to restructure the case. (Honest-services fraud) is the core operating theory of the case," he said.

“Honest services” is also the key element to cases against Jack Abramoff, New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and scores of corporate chiefs.

Opponents of “honest-services” say that the law is too vague and is not specific about when a easy friendships cross the line into criminal, thereby allowing prosecutors to take down public officials over minutiae.

Justice Antonin Scalia already sounded off on the law, when he wrote the dissenting opinion in the upheld conviction of Chicagoan Robert Sorich and two other city officials.

The law "invites abuse by headline-grabbing prosecutors" who can turn minor ethical lapses into a crime that carries a long prison term. Honest-services fraud is so broad it "would seemingly cover a salaried employee's phoning in sick to go to a ball game," Scalia wrote, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Blagojevich shouldn’t get too excited about the potentially repealed law saving his coif.  Included in the Federal indictments against the former governor is a racketeering charge that is not in question. 

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