Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Steve Biskupic isn't that stupid, Part 2

If US Attorney Steven Biskupic isn't corruptly stupid, why did he prosecute Georgia Thompson? Esteemed readers have asked for an alternative theory. So here goes:

The most logical possibility is that Biskupic though Thompson was guilty of a crime. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said emphatically she wasn't.

Biskupic alleged a crime where there was no crime. Now that the Seventh Circuit has spoken, lots of folks are rushing to slap Biskupic around and suggest that he railroaded an innocent woman just to please a seriously wounded Bush administration and hold on to his job two more years.

That's the part that doesn't make sense to me. That Biskupic would risk everything to continue working for people like John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and George Bush for two more years. Yes, there is political pressures in public jobs, but that does not mean that people cave to it. Political pressure works best when the pressuree doesn't have a good employment alternative, but that was not Biskupic's case. He's been around a long time -- he could have had his pick of jobs.

It's important to remember that Biskupic's charging decision did not look so bad until the Seventh Circuit acted. The case made it past US Magistrate Judge Patricia Gorence -- who actually worked for Jim Doyle in the AG's office -- and through the courtroom of (the very, very conservative) US District Judge Rudolph T. Randa.

And Gov. Doyle, after Thompson was charged and convicted, did not exactly rush to her defense. He got all righteous only when it was safe to do so.

My theory is that Biskupic a) thought Thompson committed a crime and b) really likes high-profile cases.

That combination shattered Thompson's life and blinded Biskupic to the case's weakness.

Does that make him stupid? I guess that depends on your definition of 'stupid.' It certainly points to something being seriously wrong somewhere. It doesn't demonstrate that he was sucking up to the White House, though.

Does it mean he should not be US attorney? Maybe. I just would like to know more about what happened and what the Appeals Court has to say in its written decision before making up my mind on that one.

Georgia Thompson's case was flawed and its high-profile nature made it particularly devastating for her. Being in the limelight now, though, is working to her benefit.

When some poor schmuck's conviction in a drug case gets thrown out, no one is clamoring for him to get his job back and to get back pay and reimbursement for legal fees. Certainly no one screams for the prosecutor's job.

When young black men get draconian sentences in crack cocaine cases, there is not an outpouring of rage over the inequity in federal court drug sentences.

When Sheriff Clarke was found in contempt of court for incarcerating mostly poor people in the county jail in deplorable conditions, nothing happened. The County Board didn't investigate, the state was silent -- Gov. Doyle just plain forgot to speak out on behalf of those people.

So: did Steve Biskupic absolutely screw up on the Georgia Thompson case? Yes. Was that terrible for Georgia Thompson? Yes. Should Steve Biskupic be US attorney? Don't know yet.
Do other prosecutorial and law enforcement agencies in Milwaukee and Wisconsin screw up? Yes. Sometimes deliberately and knowingly? Yes.

Does that mean that Biskupic should be given a pass? No.

Does that mean that he should be dealt with more harshly than law enforcement professionals who knowingly or erroneously unjustly mess up the lives of people who are not white, middle-class, and work for state government? Hmmm....


Anonymous said...

You make an intellectually honest argument (with which I disagree, see the comments to Part I), and as usual you ask the precise question to get at the heart of the matter:

“Does that mean (Biskupic) should be dealt with more harshly than law enforcement professionals who knowingly or erroneously unjustly mess up the lives of people who are not white, middle-class, and work for state government?”

Yes, it does. Biskupic is the number-one law enforcement officer for the US Eastern District of Wisconsin. With that position and trust should come accountability.

If he is the honorable man that many believe him to be, he can come clean Thursday at his testimony before the Senate Comm. on the Judiciary.

That others are treated unfairly by law-enforcement agents of all levels ought not to mitigate the Thompson injustice and Biskupic’s accountability for it.

Resign now.

billy pilgrim said...

I think there's a third possibility.

It's that Biskupic is a True Believer Republican. He agreed with Rove's tactical plan to smear Democrats as much as possible,, and saw an opportunity to do so.

Maybe it backfired on him. Rather than simply tarring Doyle through association, he managed to trump up enough outrage that he achieved a conviction.

Otherwise, he could have let the whole thing die back down after the silly season, like he did with the massively overhyped Milwaukee Voting Fraud cases.

Xoff said...

I believe the pressure to try and convict Georgia Thompson came from the Journal Sentinel, not the White House. Its over-the-top coverage created a climate where everyone from Biskupic to the jurors seemed to think the Doyle administration was guilty of something. Trouble was, despite the paper's and prosecutor's best efforts, there was no evidence and therefore no there there.

Gretchen Schuldt said...

I think so, too, and the same for the stupid voter fraud cases.

If Biskupic resigns, then who comes next? It's still a Bush appointment.

Anonymous said...

The one explanation you did not proffer but which Thompson's attorney even admitted in the State Journal after she was released is that the law is unclear. Bikupic thought it meant one thing while, clearly, Thompson's counsel, and ultimatley the 7th Circuit, thought it meant another. In fact, today's 7th Circuit Opinion states just that:

"Sections 666 and 1346 [the criminal statutes Biskupic prosecuted Thompson under] have an open-ended quality that
makes it possible for prosecutors to believe, and public
employees to deny, that a crime has occurred, and for both
sides to act in good faith with support in the case law.
Courts can curtail some effects of statutory ambiguity
but cannot deal with the source. This prosecution, which
led to the conviction and imprisonment of a civil servant
for conduct that, as far as this record shows, was designed
to pursue the public interest as the employee understood
it, may well induce Congress to take another look at the
wisdom of enacting ambulatory criminal prohibitions.
Haziness designed to avoid loopholes through which bad
persons can wriggle can impose high costs on people the
statute was not designed to catch."

He may have done this because he thought it was the right charge to make and he had evidence to prove it, which he did. I'm sure some on the left are going to be thoroughly disappointed by this opinion as it doesn't call for Bikupic's head. All though it pains me to admit this, XOff maybe the closest to being right on this one (prosecutors feel public pressure as much as legislators) with the caveat that Bikupic also thought he had an obligation to prosecute. If there is additional blame to go around, it is to legislative bodies (and their drafters) of doing a poor job of constructing legislation.

Anonymous said...

You may wish to note in TPM: the shot of Bsikupic addressing the Federalist Society.

The man is a rightwinger, period.