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Monday, April 09, 2007

Law - Injustice in Wisconsin, bad enough to shock 7th Circuit panel

This editorial today in the NY times alerted me to the story. Some quotes:

As Congress investigates the politicization of the United States attorney offices by the Bush administration, it should review the extraordinary events the other day in a federal courtroom in Wisconsin. The case involved Georgia Thompson, a state employee sent to prison on the flimsiest of corruption charges just as her boss, a Democrat, was fighting off a Republican challenger. It just might shed some light on a question that lurks behind the firing of eight top federal prosecutors: what did the surviving attorneys do to escape the axe?

Ms. Thompson, a purchasing official in the state’s Department of Administration, was accused by the United States attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic, of awarding a travel contract to a company whose chief executive contributed to the campaign of Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Ms. Thompson said the decision was made on the merits, but she was convicted and sent to prison before she could appeal.

The prosecution was a boon to Mr. Doyle’s opponent. Republicans ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s “corruption” to Mr. Doyle. Ms. Thompson was sentenced shortly before the election, which Governor Doyle won.

The Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit seemed shocked by the injustice of her conviction. It took the extraordinary step of releasing Ms. Thompson from prison immediately after hearing arguments, without waiting to issue a ruling. One of the judges hinted that Ms. Thompson may have been railroaded. “It strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin,” Judge Diane Wood told the lawyer from Mr. Biskupic’s office.

Thanks to Howard Bashman of How Appealing, here is a link to the April 5th order (April 5 is the date of the argument and the date of the order), which reads in full:
The judgment of conviction is reversed, and the case will be remanded with instructions to enter a judgment of acquittal.

An opinion will be issued in due course. The time to file a petition for rehearing is extended until 14 days after the court issues its opinion.

This extension of time also means that the mandate will be deferred. But Thompson is entitled to immediate release from prison, on her own recognizance. The United States must make arrangements so that she may be released before the close of business today.

Here is a direct link to an MP3 recording of the oral argument. According to the news accounts, it is worth a listen. Bashman has links to the news accounts here and here. I've read them all.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 9, 2007 07:52 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions