Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Abrupt End to Philadelphia Corruption Trial as Defense Calls No Witnesses Amid Claimed Brady Violations

The corruption prosecution of former Philadelphia City Treasurer Corey Kemp, two Commerce Bank executives, and two other defendants ended suddenly on Monday when each defendant rested without calling any witnesses.    Defense counsel argued that the government failed to turn over exculpatory (Brady) reports in a timely fashion, a point one prosecutor conceded.  Amazingly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said in court, "Mistakes were made . . . I apologize for it."  The defense strategy would appear to be to emphasize the prejudice from that failure if the jury convicts on any of the counts rather than mount a defense and open up the harmless error avenue for upholding the verdict. Indeed, the government is already describing the undisclosed exculpatory evidence as "six little items out of a sea of evidence."  (See Philadelphia Inquirer story here).  The defendants may also have determined that the government's case is so weak that the risk of conviction is not great, and therefore the Brady argument, if needed, will be easier to establish.  Reports are that the government's case has not gone well, with strong wiretap evidence against Ronald White -- who died after being indicted -- and not much direct evidence against the other defendants.  It looks to be a conspiracy with the hub missing, so the empty chair (or "blame the dead guy") defense works in the defendants' favor.  Moreover, by maintaining a unified front, the defendants do not have to worry about pointing fingers at one another.  Closing arguments are set to begin Thursday. (ph)

                                                                              

UPDATE (4/6): An interested observer of the trial sent the following information regarding my statement that there is not much direct evidence connecting the defendants to the corruption.  With permission, I pass along the following useful observations about the government's case:

There has been evidence of improper or questionable benefits going to Corey Kemp; however, the evidence also showed (a) Kemp did not have the power to give anyone bond deals; the most he could do was put people on a recommended list, and the recommendations then had to approved by (and were often changed by) his boss (Janice Davis, city finance director), her boss (George Burrell), and ultimately Mayor Street; (b) Street made it clear to Janice Davis and others than people recommended by Ron White should be favored; (c) it is therefore questionable that the benefits to Kemp deprived the city of Kemp's honest services, because he presumably would have followed Street's directions and favored White's people even if he had not received those benefits.  I agree that there is not much direct evidence of criminal conduct by the other defendants.

(ph)

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