Experts: Supreme Court ruling won't affect Blago case

July 21, 2010 8:11:09 AM PDT
A Supreme Court ruling came down Thursday that former governor Rod Blagojevich has been anticipating for months. But the High Court ruling on a so-called honest services fraud law may not end up being a free pass for Blagojevich after all.

Blagojevich was hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down a law that prohibits the theft of honest services, which was largely the basis for his arrest and the original charges against him. But the Supreme Court didn't do that. While Thursday's decision does narrow the scope of the law, it doesn't appear to have any effect on the current case against the disgraced Illinois governor.

"I think the Blagojevich case if virtually unaffected by this and it's a perfect example of where prosecution should take place. The allegations in that case are that he used his public office to get money to get bribes to get kickbacks to extort people. The Supreme Court says that's fine, you'll charge an honest services fraud in that case its fine," said Ronald S. Safer, Schiff Hardin LLP.

Former Chicago federal prosecutor Ron Safer says that the decision could benefit others convicted under the honest services law.

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling's case was sent back to a lower appeals court Thursday to determine whether the conviction should be thrown out as Skilling wants and or his 24-year sentence reduced. And former Sun-Times publishing tycoon Conrad Black, now in prison, was convicted of crooked business practices that deprived corporate shareholders of his honest services. Black wasn't charged with taking bribes or kickbacks, just being dishonest. And the court said Thursday that isn't enough and reversed Black's conviction.

"A lot of the conduct that prosecutors charged as honest services does not fall within the statute, the court held that it is limited to bribery and kickbacks which I suppose has always been illegal and people had notice of," said Marc Martin, Conrad Black attorney.

"It certainly ratchets back the criminal arena to where it should be to things that are clearly crimes because once you stray from that area then you get to areas where a politician may not live up to our idea of ideals. But, vote him out of office. But that doesn't, in all cases mean, that they should be put in jail," said Safer.

And that brings us back here. Rod Blagojevich's trial continued Thursday uninterrupted by the Supreme Court decision, despite his lawyers asking for a delay.

Earlier this year prosecutors, concerned about a decision such as the one the came down Thursday, re-indicted Blagojevich on additional, broader charges that don't rely on theft of honest services.

Could the Supreme Court ruling help Blagojevich's predecessor, imprisoned governor George Ryan? Even though Ryan was convicted of crimes in addition to theft of honest services, his lawyer, Jim Thompson, tells ABC7 he doesn't know yet whether a new motion might be filed on Ryan's behalf.


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