24 Charges, One Pissant Conviction | Bleader

24 Charges, One Pissant Conviction



Sometimes the justice the courts come up with seems amazingly beside the point.

What did they get Al Capone for? Cheating on his taxes. What did they get Jon Burge for? Perjury.

Then again, tax fraud was the one opening Capone gave the good guys, and the U.S. attorney in Chicago took it. Perjury was the one opening a much later U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, had against Burge, because the statute of limitation had taken police torture off the table.

So neither conviction belongs in the same category as Rod Blagojevich's conviction Tuesday on a single count of lying to the FBI. There were 23 other counts, and they had a lot more meat on their bones, but the jurors were deadlocked on all of them.

Here's what this cheesy conviction can be compared to. When the Supreme Court tossed the theft of honest services law out the window, only one of the four counts of which Conrad Black had been convicted survived unscathed. That was the obstruction of justice count — having to do with 13 boxes of papers Black made off with in Toronto.

But we're all grownups here. If Black's conviction is overturned on the three counts of fraud, how can he possibly be sent back to prison for impeding the prosecution of crimes the courts now say he didn't commit?

Likewise, what judge would send Rod Blagojevich to prison for five years for lying to the FBI about crimes he's still presumed innocent of?

So we'll see. Fitzgerald just submitted to trial judge Amy St. Eve a 28-page brief arguing that her "erroneous honest-services instruction [to the jury] was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" and the fraud convictions should stand. He wants Black back in prison.

And he hopes to see Blagojevich there too. The Blago jury didn't find the former governor not guilty of anything, and Fitzgerald immediately announced that he intends to retry the case. With five years now hanging over his head, maybe Blago will want to cut a deal. Maybe Fitzgerald will let him, if he reads too many editorials remarking on the cost of a second trial.