May 7, 2020

"Supreme Court unanimously reverses 'Bridgegate' convictions."

Fox News reports:
The court recognized that the lane closures, known commonly as "Bridgegate," were done as political payback against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. for not supporting the reelection campaign of then-Governor Chris Christie. The problem, the court pointed out, is that this is not a violation of the statutes under which the defendants were charged.

"The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud. The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing—deception, corruption, abuse of power," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court's unanimous opinion. "But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct."
ADDED: Here's the opinion — Kelly v. United States.

AND: An excerpt from the opinion:
Federal prosecutors may not use property fraud statutes to “set[ ] standards of disclosure and good government for local and state officials.”... Much of governance involves (as it did here) regulatory choice. If U. S. Attorneys could prosecute as property fraud every lie a state or local official tells in making such a decision, the result would be... “a sweeping expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction.”... In effect, the Federal Government could use the criminal law to enforce (its view of ) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking. The property fraud statutes do not countenance that outcome. They do not “proscribe[] schemes to defraud citizens of their intangible rights to honest and impartial government.”... They bar only schemes for obtaining property....

[N]ot every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime. Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws....
ALSO: Professor Tribe reacts on Twitter: "Congress: let’s amend those statutes!"

That is, he wants the federal prosecutors to be able — in Kagan's words — to "use the criminal law to enforce (its view of ) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking."

35 comments:

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

lane closures.

Almost a practical joke.

Meanwhile the Bidens and the Clintons get away with decades of massive government criminality.

Big Mike said...

"But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct."

Whether this particularly egregious misconduct ought to be criminal is apparently not addressed.

rcocean said...

So, why did Kagan and the Left-wing bloc vote for this result? What's the lefty angle? How does it help the D's?

Because EVERY decision they make is motivated by their liberal politics.

John Cunningham said...

To Big Mike--it is not the business of a court to opine on what laws should be. It the duty of courts to apply laws as the legislature writes them. Didn't a famed jurist say something like, it is not the business of a judge to sit like a qadi under a tree dispensing justice?

Ray - SoCal said...

Agree 100%

May be they worry about this being used against Russian Conspiracy Coup Plotters.

Or perhaps Obama's Shutdown Theater.

Or some of the actions D's are taking against the CoronaVirus.

>rcocean said...
>Because EVERY decision they make is motivated by their liberal politics.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

A good case can be made that Trump's venality comes from spending too much time in New Jersey.

BarrySanders20 said...

The process is the punishment. Prosecutors have discretion to decide who to put through the meat grinder. Not guilty (in fact here, never should have been charged), but still ground beef.

victoria said...

Ouch, Chris. Retribution? No wonder he is part of Trumps inner circle.


Vicki from Pasadena

Wince said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wince said...

This case reminds me of the recent dismissal of federal charges in the so-called "Boston Calling" extortion scandal.

A lack of "personal benefit" received by the defendants (as opposed to political benefit to the administration for whom they worked for) appears to be the deciding factor in the judge's dismissal of the extortion charges.

Both cases say there's a lot of room for manipulation for political purposes seemingly outside the reach of federal fraud and extortion statutes.

Judge overturns Boston Calling extortion convictions; says prosecutors didn't show quid pro quo

A federal judge today tossed the conspiracy convictions of Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan in the Boston Calling case, because federal prosecutors failed to show either man received any personal benefit from convincing the music-festival's organizers to hire members of a local union to work the event.

US District Court Judge Leo Sorokin continued that the local US Attorney's office failed to even prove the two men actually did anything wrong, even absent any sort of personal gain, because, at its heart, the case was about enforcing a contract and federal extortion law is meant to combat extortion, not making sure contracts are honored.

In a 90-page ruling, Sorokin continued to tear into the government's case:

"Proof that a public official meets in his government office with someone seeking a permit as the end of the permitting process approaches cannot—without more, and there was no more here—establish the requisite intent for Hobbs Act extortion."

The lack of proof of any wrongdoing was so compelling, Sorokin concluded, he had no choice but to overturn the August jury verdict.

In a statement, US Attorney Andrew Lelling expressed disappointment that the judge concluded there was no pro to go with the quid:

An impartial jury, following legal instructions written by the Court, voted unanimously to convict these two men. We are disappointed by this decision and will review our options.

Matt Sablan said...

"Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property"

-- Sounds like maybe they were charged under the wrong statute. Then again, maybe just being fired was punishment enough.

Sebastian said...

"use the criminal law to enforce (its view of ) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking."

Careful what you wish for, progs.

Anyway, momentary SCOTUS sanity does not change the basic fault in US law, which encourages systematic abuse in the form of lawfare by a range of officials--most egregiously illustrated in the Russia collusion hoax, but standard MO across the system.

Drago said...

victoria: "Ouch, Chris. Retribution? No wonder he is part of Trumps inner circle."

victoria in intense competition with Left Bank for dumbest post of the day though its still early.

Just wait until victoria and Left Bank hear about obama shutting down parks and public spaces and weaponizing federal agencies to spy on, harass and frame domestic political opponents!

Birkel said...

More LawFare finishes appropriately.

But the goals of LawFare were accomplished, of course.
Law licenses need to be stripped.
Personal liability for the "officers of the courts" who betrayed their oaths.
Fines and jail time after a thorough investigation.

Lawyers need to be punished for this shit.

Wince said...

Matt Sablan said...
Sounds like maybe they were charged under the wrong statute. Then again, maybe just being fired was punishment enough.

Or there is no federal statute that covers such state and local political shenanigans. Beside job loss, as LTG Flynn and others have discovered, the process is a punishment.

Ex-City Hall staffer in Boston Calling scandal seeks $500G to cover attorneys’ fees
Claims ‘bad faith’ by prosecution

An ex-City Hall staffer whose conviction in a Boston Calling union labor scandal was tossed by a federal judge earlier this year is asking for over $500,000 in attorneys fees through a legal mechanism, calling prosecutors’ case “vexatious” and “frivolous.”

Timothy Sullivan, the city’s ex-head of intergovernmental affairs, filed the motion late last week requesting $502,553 for over 3,000 hours of work by his counsel during the extortion case which began in 2016.

Bay Area Guy said...

Larry Tribe: " So Congress: let’s amend those statutes!"

Apparently, Prof. Tribe has more free time to lobby for this, since his Emoluments! litigation has, regrettably, been sidetracked by the worldwide pandemic.....

narciso said...

Obama prosecutors like Fairfax in the McDonnell case, (yes that Fairfax) fitz in the conrad black and the libby case, the line prosecutors in the stevens case, odd how it all points in the same general direction,

I'm Full of Soup said...

Amazing what crimes a liberal prosecutor can find even though no laws were broken.

hombre said...

“That is, he wants the federal prosecutors to be able — in Kagan's words — to "use the criminal law to enforce ([his]view of ) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking." There, fixed!

Tribe is so encumbered by partisanship and age that he apparently has forgotten that the current federal prosecutors may believe in actual integrity in government, not the faux integrity practiced by his party. If he gets his wish, Crooked Democrats could fall like ten pins.

Be careful what you wish for, Larry.

stlcdr said...

So, being an asshole is not a crime?! Shocking!

Original Mike said...

Unanimously: "The problem, the court pointed out, is that this is not a violation of the statutes under which the defendants were charged."

Ouch. Who's the tool who found them guilty of something that isn't a crime? Obama judge?

Leland said...

I agree with Tribe, but I'm pretty sure the unanimous decision by the Supreme Court is exactly the way all of DC wanted them to rule. I also doubt that Tribe would amend the statutes the way I would. Does Tribe want to litigate the "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" fraud?

Kevin said...

That is, he wants the federal prosecutors to be able — in Kagan's words — to "use the criminal law to enforce (its view of ) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking.

Against his enemies. And once in power he can selectively enforce the statutes or ignore them altogether.

The idea that these people wish to live under a uniform set of laws or behave by a uniform code of conduct cannot be taken seriously anymore.

See: Comey, James
See: Clinton, Hillary
See: Northham, Ralph
See: Biden, Joseph

Achilles said...

""Supreme Court unanimously reverses 'Bridgegate' convictions.""

This is all cover to protect the bureaucracy.

The hammer is about to come down on all those deep state traitors.

RigelDog said...

A unanimous Opinion---I find that very heartening! It's exactly right; we don't hand prosecutors the authority to bring charges over political shenanigans. And I say this as someone who was incandescently furious when it became clear that Christie was behind a spiteful bridge closing that could have endangered lives.

iowan2 said...

This proves, yet again, the Justice leg of our form of govt, has morphed into another political organization.
Bridge Gate was a political event. That means only a political solution applies. Judges need to be much better at kicking these attempted legal actions out of their courts.

Jupiter said...

Show me the man, I'll show you the crime.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

I wonder if Vicki understand what "Unanimous decision by the court" means?

oh no! - those libs on the court ... part of Trump's inner circle! who knew?

bwebster said...

I thought the other SCOTUS opinion today -- also unanimous, written by RGB -- was very entertaining. It's UNITED STATES v. SINENENG-SMITH, and it overturns a 9th Circuit Court decision rather brutally. My favorite line (though there are many to choose from):

On remand, the case is to be reconsidered shorn of the overbreadth inquiry interjected by the appellate panel and bearing a fair resemblance to the case shaped by the parties.

Drago said...

Achilles: "The hammer is about to come down on all those deep state traitors."

This Just In: The astonishingly corrupt piece of crap Weissmann protege Brandon Van Grack resigns from the corrupt DOJ Inquisition team tormenting Gen Flynn.

Gee, right at the very moment declassified documents prove this entire farce was being pushed by lies to the court with the even more amazing secret behind the scenes collusion between the DOJ hacks and Flynn's original legal team...all working to frame and destroy Flynn.

Martha said...

and now—Justice DEPARTMENT is dropping the criminal case against General Flynn.

Birkel said...

Just so we are clear:

It is my belief that Ann Althouse will not and cannot admit what is plain about these prosecutions.
A clear statement about why they should not happen is easy.

Let's talk about what the punishments should be for prosecutorial overreach.
Let's get rid of limited immunity.
Let's force loser pays the legal costs onto the DOJ budget.
Let's punish the bad faith actors and strip their law licenses.

Come on, Althouse.
You care about the Republic so let's read your plan.

StephenFearby said...

The NYT's angle on this story naturally quotes the Obama-appointed former U.S Attorney who brought this case (Paul J. Fishman) in response to Chris Christie's statement:

Cristie:

'“As many contended from the beginning, and as the court confirmed today, no federal crimes were ever committed in this matter by anyone in my administration,” he said. “It is good for all involved that today justice has finally been done.”'

“...This case was driven by a U.S. attorney and Justice Department in search of a predetermined and biased outcome,” Mr. Christie said. “In recklessly pursuing that outcome, they violated the oath sworn by every member of the Department of Justice.”'

'Mr. Fishman, now in private practice, took issue with Mr. Christie’s comments. “It is stunning, but perhaps not surprising, that Chris Christie’s response is to concoct accusations of political ambition, partisanship and personal vindictiveness,” he said in a statement. “Chris Christie may try to rewrite his legacy — and he may want to rewrite history — but the fact remains that the ‘deception, corruption and abuse of power’ was committed for precisely those reasons by his team on his watch.”'

"...For Mr. Christie, the scandal halted a rapid political ascent, battered his legacy and sent his approval rating — once a record high in New Jersey — plummeting to the low 20s. And though he was never personally implicated, the guilty convictions of his two former top aides was enough for many voters in New Jersey and around the country to turn on the once-popular governor."

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/07/us/supreme-court-bridgegate.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

But neither (Bridget Anne Kelly or Bill Baroni was a "top aid", notwithstanding the NYT's record of repeatedly painting them as such.

Baroni was a former State Senator and adjunct law professor that Christie appointed as the
Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010.

Kelly was a protege (and lover) of Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager. She took over his job when he resigned as Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Relations in 2013 before the next elections. Kelly has almost always been identified in the press as Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff. But that position was held by an entirely different person. Kelly was just another (and the most junior) of the many -- there may have been six -- Deputy Chiefs of Staff for something or other.

Christie fired both Kelly and Stepien (who knew from Kelly what was going on, and took the 5th when the legislature tried to question him).

Unfortunately, Stepien landed on his feet and is now a Senior Political Advisor to the President's re-election campaign focusing on delegate and party organization.

Go figure.

narayanan said...

Why did this become Federal matter?

what would have been outcome if it had stayed entirely NJ political problem?

narayanan said...

Blogger John Cunningham said...

To Big Mike--it is not the business of a court to opine on what laws should be.
----------=============
laws should be constitutional - should not be unconstitutional

that is the basic groundwork for further opinion