January 21, 2006

The tire-slashing case deflates.

There was a plea bargain in the Milwaukee tire-slashing case:
After a two-week felony trial culminating with notes from a conflicted jury, four Kerry-Edwards campaign workers - including the sons of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and former Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt - had their charges in the Election Day 2004 tire-slashing reduced to misdemeanors and accepted the deal....

If they pay a collective $5,317.45 restitution by their April 26 sentencing, Assistant District Attorney David Feiss will recommend all four get probation. Misdemeanor property damage carries a possible maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

The sudden plea offer came at 2 p.m., after the jury - which had been deliberating since Thursday afternoon - sent a note that "people that are adamant about their decision and are not budging."
The American Mind reacts and collects the reactions of other bloggers. They don't seem too happy.

Here's Jessica McBride:
Election fraud cases can be extremely difficult to prove. In the case of the tire slashings, the state by necessity had to rely on the testimony of out-of-state operatives who allegedly hadn't all been entirely cooperative on the front end. The prosecution was probably justifiably worried about potential outright acquittals of all, and decided it was better to convict the defendants of something, than nothing. It's hard to argue with that.

But the frustrating thing is that McCann's office has been notoriously ineffective in prosecuting election violations overall, and the vast majority of the allegations in Wisconsin have been lodged in his jurisdiction and ended up not prosecuted or under-played....

In an extremely open election system like ours (same-day registration and no photo ID requirement), it's important to have aggressive, tough prosecution of election-law violations so that there's SOME deterrent against people doing it.
Rick Eisenberg says:
Judge Brennan was absolutely correct in observing that six hours is not a long time to deliberate after a seven day trial and undeniably right in telling them to continue. It really is hard to avoid at least the suspicion that the DA's office saw this as an opportunity to bail on what it saw as a no-win situation. I don't see how it is a reasonable compromise by a prosecutor who wants a conviction. Why, after devoting just about all the resources that you are going to have to devote, would you, essentially, let the defendants go at the first small sign that you might not win?


JohnF said...

I think the important thing is the admission of guilt--that these guys did the deed. The penalty (misdemeanor/felony, jail/probation, etc.) seems much less important to me.

This case caught everyone's eye because it was another example of democrats trying to illegally screw republicans. Well, the plea proves the case. The rest is sort of a ho-hum for me.

whit said...

By John's logic, all one need do after committing the crime is to admit guilt and suffer the lightest possible consequences. I wonder how he would feel if he were the victim.

Ann Althouse said...

John: They entered a no contest plea, so your satisfaction is misplaced.

ChrisO said...

I realize this case is of more importance to some of you than to me because it took place in Wisconsin. But really, john, "another example of democrats trying to illegally screw republicans?" This case pales in comparison to the New Hampshire phone jamming case, which was planned at high levels within the Republican party. The tire slashing case was wrong and an embarrassment to the Democrats, but I suspect there's a lot of these kind of cases around the country every election. We're always reading about people being caught stealing other candidates' signs, etc. Is there more to this case that those of us in other parts of the country haven't heard?

RogerA said...

Hmmm--so the Wisconsin folks are in the same legal category as Spiro Agnew (he was in all the papers thirty some years ago). I have no doubt that both political parties engage in such actions--which says more about the nature of our political system than it does about the legal issues.

brylin said...

Without the plea, an acquittal or a hung jury was the likely outcome because the evidence of individual guilt wasn't overwhelming. So the plea with restitution and probation was the best result attainable.

Even with a no-contest plea, there is a stigma for the defendants. And this result should have some deterrent effect for future elections.

JohnF said...

Oops! I thought it was a guilty plea to misdemeanors.

I take it all back.

Thanks for the correction, Ann.

ChrisO said...

Is the fact that one defendant was acquitted an indication that the DA had a sense of how the case was going to go?

Serenity Now said...

Ann, I suspect that most non-lawyers regard guilty and no-contest pleas as essentially the same thing. As far as the public will be concerned, these folks admitted their crimes.

Gabe said...

John said...
This case caught everyone's eye because it was another example of democrats trying to illegally screw republicans.

Here, here, and here are articles detailing recent attempts at voter suppression in African-American neighborhoods. No party identifications of the perpetrators are noted - Presumably these are also other examples of Democrats screwing Republicans by suppressing the African-American vote (1/10ish of which would go to Republicans).

Here is an image of the flyer distributed in Milwaukee with erroneous information regarding elgibility to vote. (scroll down)

Finally, here is a fairly comprehensive rundown of the NH phone jamming scandel. If you are keeping score, the Republicans in NH (illegally) jammed the phone lines of the Democratic campaign headquarters effectively preventing their ride-to-the-polls program from operating for much of the day. Of course, the Democrats were trying to "screw" the Republicans by getting more votes, so maybe it was justified...

Sean Hackbarth said...

Slashing tires is a far cry from handing out leaflets with false information or messing around with phones.

Imagine if the parties were reversed. Had five white GOP operatives (two of whom were children of powerful politicians) slashed the tires of Democratic GOTV vans the story would have gotten daily coverage across the country instead of just in the Journal Sentinel and Court TV

Gabe said...

Sean - Please point out where in my post I excused the Wisconsin tire slashers as less serious than the phony leaflet hander-outers or the phone jamming.

I thought I was objecting to John's characterization of this as part of a long line of villinous Democrats "screwing" the chaste victimized Republicans by pointing out the many instances of Republicans engaging in dirty tricks.

You read me saying the Democrats actions were not as bad.

For partisans who cannot agree with the other side no matter what they say and for those who cannot read, I will be more clear:

Election tampering is bad, no matter who does it. Whoever does it should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and, in some cases the extent of the law should be made fuller.

That being said, implying, or saying straight out like John did, that this behavior is "another example of democrats trying to illegally screw republicans" without the context that Republicans try to illegally screw Democrats as well (as linked in my comment above) is patently false.

One last thing. You wrote, Imagine if the parties were reversed. Had five white GOP operatives (two of whom were children of powerful politicians) slashed the tires of Democratic GOTV vans the story would have gotten daily coverage across the country instead of just in the Journal Sentinel and Court TV

We don't have to imagine it. Insert "crippled the Democratic GOTV operation by phone-jamming their headquarters" for "slashed the tires of Democratic GOTV vans" and you have the NH phone-jamming incident.

Please point to the "daily coverage across the country".

Instead you get:

The Bangor Daily News

Bangor's NBC affiliate

The Boston Globe

Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, NH)

Portsmouth Herald News (not actually about the incident, just contains all of the words from the search)



The New Hampshire Gazette

The Manchester Union Leader (mentions the incident in passing)

The Eagle Tribune (Andover, MA)

[Google News Search of "New Hampshire Phone Jamming"]

Wow! Dig that daily national press coverage!

ChrisO said...

I read several stories about the tire-slashing in the Boston Globe, so I'm not sure what sort of "national coverage" you're compalining about. And I've seen several Republican apologists dismissing the New Hampshire case as a "phone prank." Campiagns spend big money on get out the vote operations, and often times the campaigh with the best operation prevails. Those Republican vans weren't being used for sandwich runs.

For those of you who didn't bother to click on gabe's links, the head of the New Hampshire Republican party and a Republican consultant have already gone to jail, and the New England chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000 was just found guilty. And when the incident happened, he was Northeast Political Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. I'd say this is more than "phone prank," and more serious than the tire slashing because it was planned at the highest levels of the Republican party. I can understand why people in Wisconsin are more concerned about the tire slashing, but really, there's no comparison.

Gabe said...

ChrisO - Thanks for actually clicking my links.

Just to reiterate, my position is that any illegal acts that interfere with people's ability to votes are wrong and should be punished.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that part of the problem is just that - the extremely loose voting requirements in WI. My view is that they lend themselves to people voting when they shouldn't (such as when they have already voted, don't live there, are dead, etc.) I was quite happy to be required to show my photo ID to vote in the last election in CO.

You are somewhat right that most non-lawyers don't distinguish between no-contest and guilty pleas. But legally, there is a small difference. In this case, both sides could essentially have their cake.

Prosecutors get a lot of "convictions" this way, trading misdemeanor pleas for felony prosecutions. Yes, the defendants often have less than a 50/50 chance at a conviction, if properly defended (which these guys probably were), but that still means a decent chance at prison time. Trading those odds for community service and a fine is usually a good trade.

ChrisO said...


Actually, I didn't have to click your links, only because I've been following this outrage for some time, particularly on Josh Marshall's site. Thanks for posting them, however, for those who may not realize what a big deal this is, despite the incredible liberal bias of the press. And yes, that's sarcasm.