Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tom Delay: Political Prisoner (Part 2)

In commenting here Wednesday about former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's shameful money laundering prosecution of Tom DeLay, I noted that:

"The election code conspiracy charge [against DeLay] was almost immediately thrown out because there was no such crime in existence in Texas, as Earle should have known, and as the state’s highest criminal court later confirmed."

R. K. Weaver sent in a comment disagreeing with my analysis. According to Weaver:

"While it is true that there is no express 'conspiracy' provision in the Election Code, there is a general 'conspiracy' provision in the Penal Code which, on its face, and historically was considered to apply to all crimes in Texas. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, an elected body that is entirely occupied by Republicans, held for the first time in the history of Texas law, and contrary to abundant precedent, that this provision was limited to Penal Code crimes and was not applicable to the thousands of crimes that exist outside the Penal Code. That decision is generally considered by Texas lawyers to be absurd on its face and blatantly political. Unfortunately, it is also not terribly uncommon. There is a good reason that this court is referred to as 'the clowns on the Colorado.'" [emphasis added].

"When Earle indicted DeLay for conspiracy to violate the criminal provisions of the Election Code he was acting on established and well known Texas legal principals. DeLay's victory before the Court of Criminal Appeals was more about the political landscape in Texas than about the state of the law. I anticipate that when the current case gets before that court they will once again carve a 'DeLay exception 'to the law." [emphasis added].

Weaver is mistaken.

Title 4, Section 15.02 of the Texas Penal Code is the general criminal conspiracy statute. In 1977, long before Tom DeLay's rise to prominence, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court in Texas authorized to rule on criminal cases, held in Baker v. State, 547 S.W.2d 627 (Tex.Cr.App.1977), that Section 15.02 (the general conspiracy statute) could not be applied to a criminal offense defined by another law (that is, defined by a law located outside of the Penal Code) unless the other law explicitly referenced the Penal Code. The non-Penal Code offense at issue in Baker was the Texas Controlled Substances Act. Baker followed a similar holding in Moore v. State, 540 S.W.2d 140 (Tex.Cr.App. 1977), which had found Section 15.01 of the Penal Code, the general attempt statute, inapplicable to the Controlled Substances Act. Both rulings were based on a strict reading of Penal Code Section 1.03(b) which stated in part that “[t]he provisions of Titles 1, 2 and 3 of this code apply to offenses defined by other laws, unless the statute defining the offense provides otherwise.” Since the conspiracy and attempt statutes were contained in Title 4, they could not apply to the Controlled Substances Act, the Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned, unless the Controlled Substances Act provided otherwise. The Controlled Substances Act did not provide otherwise, and did not contain its own attempt or conspiracy provisions. (The Texas Legislature later amended the Controlled Substances Act and it now expressly references Title 4 Penal Code offenses.) Both Baker and Moore were written by Tom G. Davis, a widely respected mainstream jurist. Judge Davis was a Democrat, as were all of the judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals at the time. In reversing Baker’s conviction and ordering the prosecution dismissed, Davis ruled that “[t]he complaint and information in the instant case do not allege an offense against the laws of this state."

Baker was still the law in Texas in 2005, when Earle brought his indictment against DeLay, and had been the law for 28 years. The pertinent portions of the conspiracy statute (Section 15.02) and of Section 1.03(b) remained the same. Earle’s original indictment of Tom DeLay charged that DeLay conspired in October of 2002 to violate the Texas Election Code. The Election Code is not a part of the Penal Code. In 2002, the Election Code did not contain a conspiracy provision or reference or incorporate Section 15.02. In other words, under authority of Baker and Moore, one could not conspire to violate the Election Code. The Election Code was amended, effective September 1, 2003, to permit application of Title 4 offenses, including the Section 15.02 conspiracy statute. But the amended version could not be applied to DeLay’s alleged conduct without violating Ex Post Facto principles. Ergo, Earle’s original indictment of DeLay did not, in the words of Tom G. Davis, “allege an offense against the laws of this state.”

According to a story in the Washington Post, Earle did not learn that there might be a problem with the original charge until his assistants told him about it, shortly after the indictment was returned. How sad. The Penal Code went into effect in 1973. The Election Code was enacted in 1975. Earle was elected Travis County District Attorney in 1976. Baker was decided in 1977. DeLay was indicted in 2005. When Earle found out about his mistake, he did not drop the Election Code conspiracy charge, which would have been the right thing to do. He re-indicted DeLay, using a new grand jury under dubious circumstances, but kept the Election Code conspiracy charge in the indictment. The trial court properly threw it out. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed in a 5-4 opinion. 

(wisenberg)

 

January 15, 2011 in Celebrities, Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions, Money Laundering, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Corruption in Florida?

At the end of this past year, the Statewide Grand Jury in Florida issued its first Interim Report - Statewide Grand Jury Makes Anti-Corruption Recommendations in First Interim Report(Report is here) According to the press release issued at that time -

"Key recommendations of the Statewide Grand Jury include:

- Expanding the definition of public employees to include private employees contracted by government entities that perform government services;
- Creating sentencing enhancements for offenses committed by officials who use their public position to facilitate their crimes;
- Creating an independent State Office of Inspector General, responsible for hiring and firing agency Inspectors General;
- Expanding definition of criminal bid tampering to include bid-rigging schemes; and
- Authorizing the Ethics Commission to initiate investigations with a supermajority vote of commission members."

This report comes at an interesting time, as the American Law Institute is gearing up for a new project called Principles of Government Ethics.

(esp)

January 14, 2011 in Corruption, Government Reports, Grand Jury, News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In the News & Around the Blogosphere

Andrew M. Harris, Bloomberg, Conrad Black Won't Be Retried on Honest Services Fraud Charges, U.S. Says

Amy Forliti, Law.com, (AP), Federal Judge Adds Probation to $296 Million Guidant Plea Deal-Prosecutors are calling the deal the largest criminal penalty ever against a medical device company

Jenna Greene, BLT Blog, SEC Reaches $119 Million Settlement with Charles Schwab

Stephanie Ebbert, Boston Globe, Congressman Tierney's Wife gets 30 Days in Jail for Tax Fraud (article notes that prosecutor "argued that Tierney had suffered enough")

Brian Rogers, Houston Chronicle, A voice for the poor in court (interview with Alex Bunin)

(esp)

January 13, 2011 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tom DeLay: Political Prisoner

The Washington Post reports here on the three year prison sentence handed down Monday to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by Texas state judge Pat Priest. DeLay was found guilty last November by an Austin jury of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering under Texas criminal statutes.

The prosecution of DeLay by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and his successor has been nothing less than a travesty of justice. This is really not about Tom Delay. You can love him or you can hate him. It is instead about our collective glee whenever a person of an opposing ideology gets indicted.

Earle originally indicted DeLay for conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to violate the state election code. The election code conspiracy charge was almost immediately thrown out because there was no such crime in existence in Texas, as Earle should have known, and as the state’s highest criminal court later confirmed. The money laundering charge, and the conspiracy charge on which it is bottomed, should have never been brought either. Here’s why.

Delay's alleged laundering activity was accomplished through the writing of checks. DeLay was accused and convicted of knowingly conducting, supervising, and facilitating a transaction involving the "proceeds" of criminal activity in violation of the state money laundering statute, Texas Penal Code Section 34.02. In 2002, the year of the alleged offense, Section 34.01 of the Penal Code provided that "‘Proceeds’ meant "funds acquired or derived directly or indirectly from, produced through, or realized through an act." Section 34.01 defined "funds" as follows.

"‘Funds" includes:

(A) coin or paper money of the United States or any other country that is designated as legal tender and that circulates and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issue;

(B) United States silver certificates, United States Treasury notes, and Federal Reserve System notes; and

(C) official foreign bank notes that are customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in a foreign country and foreign bank drafts."

So, in 2002 the "proceeds" of criminal activity meant "funds" acquired, derived, produced or realized through an act. "Funds" in turn included: coin or paper money designated as legal tender, circulating, and used as a medium of exchange; United States silver certificates, United States Treasury notes, and Federal Reserve System notes; and, official foreign bank notes used and accepted as a medium of exchange in a foreign country, and foreign bank drafts. Most conspicuously, "funds" did not include checks. This was no accident. The final version of the 1993 money laundering statute was far narrower than the draft first introduced in the Texas House of Representatives. The initial draft prohibited the knowing facilitation of a transaction involving "property" that was the "proceeds" of criminal activity. Property was defined broadly to cover tangible or intangible personal property as well as "a document, including money, that represents or embodies anything of value."

I am aware of no reported cases under the original Texas money laundering statute, prior to DeLay’s indictment, in which the proceeds of criminal activity were identified as checks. In the vast majority of the cases, the laundered proceeds consisted of currency. There were no reported cases even discussing whether a check could constitute laundered funds. The reason for this is obvious. Virtually no prosecutor in Texas thought that checks were "funds" under the old money laundering statute. 

In 2005, the Texas Legislature amended the money laundering statute and broadened the definition of "funds" to include "currency or its equivalent including an electronic fund, personal check, bank check, traveler’s check, money order, bearer negotiable instrument, bearer investment security, bearer security, or certificate of stock in a form that allows title to pass on delivery." The House Research Organization’s analysis of the amendment stated that it would "broaden the definition of ‘funds’ to include money other than cash." The analysis also notes, in the "Supporters Say" section, that "[u]nder current law, prosecutors may not prosecute offenders for money-laundering if the offender received a form of money other than cash, such as checks or money orders. This is inadequate as it prevents prosecution under this statute in an array of cases." The new bill "would fix this problem by covering money received in a variety of forms other than cash." It gets even worse. Members of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s own staff helped in the drafting of the 2005 amendment!

Of course DeLay could not be prosecuted under the 2005 version of the statute, for conduct that allegedly occurred in 2002, without violating the Constitution’s ex post facto clause. But that sort of problem did not bother Earle. He simply used the 2002 version, even though nobody thought back then that "laundering" via checks constituted laundering under Section 34.02.

The case is now headed for the higher courts. Here’s hoping that one of them does the right thing.

(wisenberg)

January 12, 2011 in Celebrities, Corruption, Current Affairs, Money Laundering, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)