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Thursday, April 05, 2007 

Georgia Thompson Update

Madison.com has a detailed but horribly formatted article about the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' reversal of Georgia Thompson's conviction. I did my best to pound out a summary of the oral argument highlights in this post. Here are a few highlights from the article...
In arguments court, the charges against Thompson were called unfounded.
"I have to say it strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin," federal Appeals Judge Diane Wood told prosecutors. "I'm not sure what your actual theory in this case is."
Sorry but the formatting of this article really drives me nuts. Even the paragraphs lean left in Madison... Anyway, here's Michelle Jacobs, spokesperson from the US Attorney's office in the Eastern District...
"We convinced a...jury, and we convinced (U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T.) Randa but I think we're going to see that we didn't convince the three-judge court of appeals," Jacobs said. "I think it's very unlikely that we'll petition for a rehearing."
I don't see how the office could seriously ask for a rehearing. The three judge panel was made up of Chief Judge Easterbrook, Senior Judge Bauer, and Judge Wood. This isn't exactly a bleeding heart panel. Let's hear from an expert...
Michael O'Hear, a law professor at Marquette University, said the Court of Appeals decision is unusual.
First, he said appeals court judges typically issue decisions weeks or months after hearing oral arguments rather than on the same day. Second, instead of ordering a new trial, which is typically how appeals panels rule in favor of defendants, the judges acquitted Thompson.
"If this was a finding of insufficient evidence, what they're saying is it's unjust that Georgia Thompson has been in prison the last few months," O'Hear said.
Basically, this does not happen often. I personally have never encountered a federal appeals court doing this (with a caveat that I'm not a huge criminal law guy). Obviously, this is big news. I really hope that the panel churns out that opinion quickly, because I bet it's going to be a doozy.

EDIT: I'd also like to add this link to a post by talk radio host Jessica McBride. She's got a good analysis of the situation...
Obviously, the three-judge Republican leaning panel didn't buy any element of the government's case. They didn't think Georgia had anything to gain, or the taxpayers to lose. They didn't think the government proved "significant" political connections between the governor and Adelman or a political quid pro quo in the Thompson case. They didn't believe Adelman didn't win the travel contract outright. They didn't believe that a state worker who injects a subjective reason into a procurement decision, absent a political quid pro quo or evidence of criteria manipulation, should be convicted of a federal crime over it. Hence, their weird Brad Pitt analogy (it will take too long to explain it; listen to the audio).
I was trying to transcribe the Brad Pitt analogy in my original post but gave up. Basically, Judge Wood wanted to know if Thompson would have committed a crime if she directed the contract to Adelman if their rep looked like Brad Pitt. The question is this: if a government employee interjects a subjective rationale into the contract awarding process, has that employee violated federal criminal law? If you want to get the full effect (Judge Easterbrook really hammers this point home at the end of the argument), just listen to the entire argument.

McBride also looks at the judges on the panel in this post...
Judge Diane Wood. Appointed by Clinton in 1995. Rumored to be possible appointee of Kerry if he'd become president. Clerked for Harry Blackmun. Former prosecutor in Clinton Justice Department and professor. A liberal but received easy confirmation.

Judge Frank Easterbook. Appointed by Reagan. Former law school professor.

Judge William Bauer. A former U.S. attorney nominated in 1975 by Gerald Ford.

So, it's not a liberal panel run out of control.
Far from it. Judge Wood is fairly liberal, but she's also incredibly intelligent and takes her job as a judge very seriously. She's no Stephen Reinhardt. If I was a Democratic president (scary thought for us all), I'd put her on the Supreme Court the first chance I got. While she was the dominant questioner, it's obvious from their own statements and by the result that Easterbrook and Bauer agreed totally that the conviction was wrong and the case was without merit.

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