Politics/Law/Government

Presumed guilty in Illinois

What the hell has happened to “innocent until proven guilty” in the state of Illinois? Since when did mob rule – composed of the Illinois state legislature, much of the state and national media, and even President-elect Barack Obama himself – replace the rule of law?

Governor Rod Blagojevich may – may – be guilty of corruption. If what the FBI has released to the press is representative of their case against him, then Gov. Blagojevich probably is guilty. But not only is that a big “if”, Gov. Blagojevich’s case is looking more and more like “trial by media” instead of trial by jury. Even in the absence of any proof of guilt, the Illinois state legislature is already working on an impeachment, and the state constitution doesn’t appear to have many constitutional limitations on when the legislature can initiate an impeachment.

From what I’ve heard, Rod Blagojevich treats other state politicians like dirt. That makes him a jerk and an asshole. It doesn’t make him a felon. And accusations of corruption don’t constitute proof thereof. Springfield, Illinois has apparently become the Roman Colosseum, replete with gladiators. Time will tell if a better metaphor might be a human sacrifice to the false god of political purity.

It’s too much to hope, I’m sure, that the mob calling for Gov. Blagojevich’s head will wait for a conviction before burning down the Governor’s Mansion (metaphorically speaking, of course). But the fact that nearly everyone is calling for the head of a man who is presumed innocent says many things about our country – none of them good.

24 replies »

  1. I’ll have to agree with you there, Brian. I’d be hard put to explain away his recorded phone calls, but we should first let the judicial system do its thing before we warm up the tar and fluff the feathers.

    It’s worth noting how Obama addressed this. He said Blagojevich should step down because he no longer has the people’s trust. “The President-elect agrees with Lt. Gov. Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois.”

  2. I understand the point about effectiveness, Djerrid, but that doesn’t change my point at all – Gov. Blagojevich should be nearly as effective right now as before he was indicted. The fact he’s not means that the system is busted and that his political enemies are going out of their way to rake him over the coals.

    If Obama felt the need to issue a statement at all (he could have stayed silent or used a surrogate for an unofficial statement), he should have been strictly neutral and called for the primacy of the rule of law. Instead he took a side, and I find that very… disappointing.

  3. I’m all in favor if due process. However, given the evidence that we have in hand, there’s simply NO WAY he can continue to perform the duties of his office effectively while the case is resolved. This is especially true where the “governor appoints Obama’s replacement” part is concerned – no possible appointment by Blago right now could be credible.

  4. I agree that, given the specific charges, it’s not possible for Blagojevich to appoint Obama’s replacement. So he turns over that duty to someone else, calls for a special election, or whatever.

    That’s one thing he can’t do. That shouldn’t negate his effectiveness on everything else. I’m not saying that, because of how screwed up this whole thing is, it doesn’t. I’m saying it shouldn’t.

    We’re witnessing the ruination of a man’s life due to a trial by media, and his career is ruined even if he’s acquitted of the corruption charges. That. Is. Not. Right.

  5. Hey, you know me and how I feel about trial by media. But this is NOT the same as a simple case being brought against a private citizen. There you have THE LAW. Here you have THE LAW plus a variety of professional ethics structures, and those will play out alongside whatever legal or civil proceedings might ensue. If you commit a crime, you face the police and judicial system. However, depending on a variety of factors, you may ALSO have breached your employer’s compliance regs. So you may be found innocent, but get fired. Or get convicted and stay in your job. Who knows.

    Blago is now dealing with parallel investigations and processes, and the codes attending the office of the governor are not the same as those attending criminal proceedings against a private citizen.

  6. One more thing, Brian.

    I agree that, given the specific charges, it’s not possible for Blagojevich to appoint Obama’s replacement. So he turns over that duty to someone else, calls for a special election, or whatever.

    Actually, no he doesn’t – that’s part of the problem. He won’t step off and act in the way you describe. He seems to be insisting that he’s still by god gonna be the guv.

    So I’m sure a good measure of what strikes you as objectionable is aimed at getting him to behave appropriately.

  7. Some people say they’ve heard tapes of Blagojevich on the phone. What tapes? All I’ve heard are the mouthings of a zealous federal prosecutor. Chicago land has been gangland for a long time. Hell, Sandburg wrote poems about it. Let the trial jury in the box decide.

    Another thing. Why did the zealous federal prosecutor decide to announce the investigation before the deal was done on the seat? Just exactly who is “candidate #5?” What did the tapes record of the conversations between Blagojevich and BHO’s chief of staff? Inquiring minds want to know just how high up this goes!

  8. I’ve thought about this a bit. While I agree with Brian in theory, I also think that once you are elected into public office, the rules kinda change. This guy’s actions no longer just impact him and those nearby, they impact an entire state and country. I think there ought to be some sort of mechanism that allows federal prosecutors to “pull rank” in cases like this. Unfortunately, I can also see how this kind of power could easily be abused. I haven’t been able to figure out where I’m comfortable on this one.

  9. Brian,

    You make excellent points. Let the guy be judged by a jury, not the media.

    I often have wondered why the feds stopped the investigation before any payoff or actual deal was made. Usually, they follow these type of investigations all the way. Perhaps someone in a very high place was afraid where the investigation would lead. Stranger things have happened in Illinois politics.

    Jeff

  10. I see both sides of this, but i think that the fundamental element is the connection to the president elect and his staff. Without that, it would just be another crooked politician. With it the media is fishing for something bigger.

    I’m very much for a jury (or legislative) trial rather than a media circus, but politicians should be held to a higher standard. No, they should hold themselves to a higher standard. These are supposed to be our leaders, yet they consistently behave like the worst elements of society AND expect to get away with it. In many ways, the media is all that we have…would that it were run by serious journalists rather than infotainment moguls. Let’s not forget that Nixon was pretty much tried in the media.

    (I should note that i have not been following this closely at all, so i’m only speaking in generalities.)

  11. By your reasoning the U.S. Congress jumped the gun when they drew up three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974? After all he had not been tried and convicted in a criminal court of law yet. You set the bar for impeachment far too high. The wheels of justice can turn at a glacial pace and the citizenry would be forced to endure the rule of unfit politicians while waiting for a criminal conviction. Blagojevich can and should be judged unfit to hold office or serve the public trust and he should be impeached on that basis without the need to for a criminal trial and conviction.

  12. hahaha now that’s 2 funny – “mob rule”

    yes, sadly to say there is so much we don’t know, but remember who said it 1st, they’ll uncover a link between Blago and “The Ant”.

    hahahaha, mob rule, too funny.

  13. dean has it right. Impeachment isn’t just “done”, it’s its own process, and doesn’t have the same level of requirements as “criminal law” does. And, you don’t get “impeached” without hearings to get facts.. but you have to start the process at some point. Don’t trust the AP (which is the source you cited for the impeachment statement) to give you comprehensive information (in fact, the failed media is why America is so screwed today).

    If this guy is guilty, it will cost him prison time. If there’s evidence to show serious impropriety (but not meeting the criminal statute standards), he could reasonably loose office and not go to prison.

    What we have are “serious allegations”, and you don’t just ignore those until a court gets around to dealing with it. Would you leave an accused child molester in charge of caring for children behind closed doors? … Man, I hope your answer is no..

  14. Agreed. Just like a civil suit is a completely different beast than a criminal trial – rules, procedures, evidentiary standards, the whole shebang. And like Savantster said, if there’s significant smoke, it doesn’t make much sense to leave the suspected arsonist in charge of the fire truck while we figure it out.

  15. No, you don’t leave them in charge – but neither do you fire them or ruin their lives. There’s something called “administrative leave” for a reason – you can’t leave someone accused of a crime in charge, but you’re not willing to fire them without cause either.

    I don’t dispute that Blagojevich is an asshole, but ruining his life before he’s been convicted just because he’s an asshole is flat-out unethical and probably immoral. There is a middle ground, but no-one – not the people calling for his head nor Blagojevich himself – are availing themselves of it.

    If Blagojevich is impeached and he’s found not guilty of corruption, I hope that he sues the State of Illinois for millions of dollars. He probably wouldn’t win, but I can dream that the lawsuit would give other government “leaders” pause in the future.

    The thing that pisses me off the most about this is actually the trial-by-media aspect of it. Even if Blagojevich is found not guilty in the end, his political career is nearly certainly over. And people with political aspirations will become even more mild-mannered and circumspect about their opinions than they already are, leaving We The People with even less information upon which to vote intelligently. The only people who will ever get elected are those who kiss ass and speak in meaningless platitudes, and that’s not good for the state of the Republic.

    The Blagojevich circus is as much an example of what’s wrong with the country as what’s right.

  16. There’s something called “administrative leave” for a reason…

    Blagojevich won’t voluntarily go on administrative leave and who can make him take administrative leave if he doesn’t want to?

    …you can’t leave someone accused of a crime in charge, but you’re not willing to fire them without cause either.

    You are trying to apply labor law to elected officials and it just doesn’t work like that. But if you wanted to force the analogy between an elected official and a civil servant then Blagojevich is an “at-will employee”.

    …but ruining his life before he’s been convicted just because he’s an asshole is flat-out unethical and probably immoral.

    If swift justice is not in Blagojevich’s best interest he can drag out the criminal proceedings for years, easily well past the expiration of his current term. How is it unethical or immoral for the electorate to want an unfit official removed from office through impeachment before then? Would you feel the same way about a recall election? Why or why not? Impeachment and recall elections are a necessary part of democracy and neither requires the conviction of a crime as a precondition. They are tools for removing an elected official because they have been judged to be no longer fit to serve the will of the people.

    There is a middle ground…

    What is the middle ground? The only alternative you have given us is Blagojevich taking administrative leave until the criminal case comes to resolution. He won’t do that and no one can force him to. Now what?

    If Blagojevich is impeached and he’s found not guilty of corruption, I hope that he sues the State of Illinois for millions of dollars.

    Wait, what?!? That has got to be one of the most misguided hopes ever to be expressed in written form. Do you really think that will have the desired outcome? You want us to be afraid to hold elected officials accountable for fear of being sued? It just seems likely that this would embolden the Blagojevich’s of the world.

    The thing that pisses me off the most about this is actually the trial-by-media aspect of it. Even if Blagojevich is found not guilty in the end, his political career is nearly certainly over.

    That is the media’s function. If they did not shine their light into the dark recesses of politics worse things than Blagojevich would begin to fester in our democracy. The media is the court of public opinion and the standards of that court in relation to elected officials is impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. An elected official can be found to be unfit to hold office and therefore impeachable or recallable for any number of reasons besides a criminal conviction. The mere appearance of impropriety can be just cause.

    Even if Blagojevich is found not guilty in the end, his political career is nearly certainly over.

    “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I’m saying. And if I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself.” — Governor Rod Blagojevich
    His career was over when he uttered those words, regardless of any criminal action. He can be judged by those words alone to be unfit to hold any office much less the highest office of the state of Illinois.

  17. So far as I can tell, the state of Illinois has the ability to impeach a Governor for pretty much any reason at all. There’s not even something as vague as “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Illinois state constitution, so state officials can be impeached for jaywalking, snoring, or being homosexual if the state legislature feels that makes the official “unfit.” Does that feel right to you? It certainly doesn’t to me.

    The media’s function may be to shine a light into the darkness, but that doesn’t make the media investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury. Facts are the domain of journalism (or rather they should be), legality is the domain of courts.

    I’d be less offended by this if the state of Illinois had guidelines for what was an impeachable offense and what wasn’t. A recall isn’t even in the same league, though – to borrow your own “at will” idea, the Governor serves at the will of the people of Illinois, not at the will of the Illinois state legislature.

    The rule-of-law creating body in Illinois has imposed a subjective “I know it when I see it” standard on impeachment of the governor. Can you honestly not see the irony, the hypocrisy, of that?

    What I hope comes out of this is that the state of Illinois – and frankly other states as well – develops guidelines for when governors and other officials are required to step aside temporarily and what justifies the official’s impeachment. And so yes, if a lawsuit brought that about, it’d be worth it. I have no idea whether a lawsuit would have that result, but that result would be more likely, IMO, with a lawsuit behind it than without one.

    Every employee deserves a few protections, even elected ones. Otherwise employees could be found “unfit” because of their gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, disability, or religion.

  18. Does that feel right to you?

    Yes it does.

    Is it [impeachment] not designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men? — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper No. 65

    Facts are the domain of journalism (or rather they should be), legality is the domain of courts.

    In Federalist Paper No. 65 Hamilton arguers for why the powers of impeachment are vested in the legislature and not in the courts. Is your argument that the media is not reporting facts? Or are you arguing that impeachment powers belongs in the courts?

    I’d be less offended by this if the state of Illinois had guidelines for what was an impeachable offense and what wasn’t.

    I like that impeachment is messy and fraught with uncertainty. It is an ugly and difficult process and that’s the way it has been for over 200 hundred years and that’s the way it should continue to be. When you try to draw a box around impeachable offenses you will inevitably exclude things that should be included, either now or in the future.

    …the Governor serves at the will of the people of Illinois, not at the will of the Illinois state legislature.

    The legislature holds impeachment powers. You may not like how they wield those powers but that’s not a reason for stripping them of that power. The legislature also serves at the will of the people and they too can be removed from office for abusing their powers or violating the public trust.

    Can you honestly not see the irony, the hypocrisy, of that?

    I can honestly say that I do not see irony or hypocrisy in that standard.

    Every employee deserves a few protections, even elected ones.

    You continue to incorrectly conflate elected officials with civil servant employees.

  19. Just so I’m clear here, you think it’s OK for a legislature to have the ability to remove an elected official because they’re black, or gay, or Catholic if the legislature finds those characteristics define the official as unfit for holding elected office? Because that’s what you just said was OK.

    And I’m not conflating civil servants with elected officials, I’m conflating elected officials with all employees, public and private. All employees have some protections, even in at-will employment states. And an entirely unconstrained (except by the opinions of the legislatures involved) impeachment process offers literally no protections.

  20. To be clear I meant that the Illinois impeachment laws are okay with me as they are. The classes you list as examples are already protected by federal laws and we don’t need more state laws to protect them. If Blagojevich does get impeached for being black, gay or Catholic though then I’ll damn sure get in line to defend him and I’ll contribute $1,000 to his legal defense fund. If nothing else I think a strong argument could be made under Title VI of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that would rain a world of hurt down upon any state legislature that was stupid enough to make a ruling based on the grounds of race, religion or sexual preference. Trying to paint me as a racist or bigot is just a straw man to distract from the real argument.

  21. I’m not trying to paint you as a bigot, dean. I’m pointing out a hole in your logic, because so far as I can tell, there are no restrictions in the Illinois constitution or legal code for what could constitute fitness for duty. Which means that, absent any federal restrictions, the state legislature could impeach Blagojevich for being black, gay, or Catholic.

    And what you’ve just said is that you support some limits on the legislature’s power of impeachment, and thus some protections for elected officials against the unrestrained power of a legislature to impeach.

    Now we’ve got that out of the way, we can start talking about what restrictions on a legislature’s impeachment powers are reasonable, what restrictions reach too far, and whether there should be restrictions on the Congress’ ability to impeach too, not just on state legislatures. IMO, proven felony criminality is almost certainly a qualifier for “unfitness”, but simply accusation, as in the case of Blagojevich, isn’t enough. The question is where do we as a nation draw the line. And what does this whole sordid affair say about the state of our culture?

  22. Which means that, absent any federal restrictions, the state legislature could impeach Blagojevich for being black, gay, or Catholic.

    Yes they could. But there are existing laws that would punish that action. I really, really don’t understand the argument you are trying make with this line of reasoning. Impeaching someone on that basis is already illegal and passing more laws to make it even more illegal would accomplish what?

    And what you’ve just said is that you support some limits on the legislature’s power of impeachment, and thus some protections for elected officials against the unrestrained power of a legislature to impeach.

    I’m not opposed to limits. I’m opposed to more limits on top of those that already exists. If someone decides to do something illegal then making that thing even more illegal is unlikely to stop them. The best that can be expected from such “dog-pile” legislation is that it avoids the harmful effects of the law of unintended consequences.

    Now we’ve got that out of the way, we can start talking about what restrictions on a legislature’s impeachment powers are reasonable…

    If we had an example of an unjust impeachment that was passed – not merely one that was considered by a legislature and voted down – then we could begin the discussion. I don’t believe that anything so far in the Blagojevich matter qualifies.

    The most obvious example is Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I was horrified at that impeachment but he did lie under oath. On that basis I don’t believe the Clinton impeachment was unjust. The injustice in that case occurred in the proceedings that forced President Clinton to answer highly private, personal and irrelevant questions under oath in the first place.

    IMO, proven felony criminality is almost certainly a qualifier for “unfitness”, but simply accusation, as in the case of Blagojevich, isn’t enough.

    What is enough? Requiring a criminal conviction is unrealistic because the case could drag on for years without resolution. Then, if he is convicted does the Illinois legislature have to wait until all his appeals are exhausted? Given enough money the entire process could easily drag on for a decade.

    The question is where do we as a nation draw the line.

    Where do you draw the line? Short of a criminal conviction what would be a basis for impeachment that you would give your stamp of approval to?

  23. If everyone is so worked up about impeaching him and the state government not going about things in “an acceptable manner” why don’t the people of IL call for a recall election? Obviously the majority of people in IL are tired of his b.s. and would like to move on. IL just continues to look more ridiculous to the rest of the US every day. How can he be effective if no one wants to work with/associate with him?

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