MORE ON THE FINNERAN INDICTMENT. To read some of the comments on my item yesterday about Tom Finneran, you'd think that being opposed to someone politically was now sufficient for locking him up in a federal prison. I suggest they check in with Herald columnist Howie Carr (sub. req.), who today offers similar so-called wisdom.
I was not an admirer of Finneran's speakership. Here is a piece I wrote nearly two years ago, when his power was just starting to fade. He was, as I said then, "power-hungry and vindictive and full of himself." He used his mastery of the legislative process, as well as intimidation, to kill Clean Elections, which had been approved by two-thirds of the voters, as well as to carry out a host of other anti-democratic measures. But that's not a crime.
Globe columnist Scot Lehigh puts the Finneran indictment in perspective today, writing, "Finneran-haters may applaud, but fair-minded people are left to hope the judge and jury that decide his fate will show better judgment when presented with this flimsy case than the US attorney did in bringing it."
That US attorney would be a former Republican state legislator named Michael Sullivan, a politically ambitious pol who's no doubt thinking of running for governor in 2006, assuming Mitt Romney decides to hit the presidential-campaign trail full-time.
As Lehigh notes, even though Finneran appeared to play it cute in toning down his role in a House-redistricting plan that was properly thrown out by a federal court, charging him with perjury is ridiculous because (1) there is no credible evidence that Finneran had a criminal intent in misleading the court; (2) his lies, if that's what they even were, were not material in deciding the case; and (3) perjury is a very narrowly drawn crime - weasel words may not be admirable, but they're perfectly acceptable if they can be shown to be technically true, or at least not out-and-out false.
Lehigh spoke with Harvey Silverglate, a noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor. I had a similar conversation with Silverglate a few weeks before Finneran's indictment. "Perjury is one of the most specific crimes," he told me. "In asking the question, you have to cut off all avenues of escape. You've got to have a direct contradiction to the truth."
That's going to be awfully difficult to prove in Finneran's case. He's charged with perjuring himself for claiming he had no advance knowledge of the redistricting plan. Yet we already know that, at other points in his testimony, he said pretty much the opposite. If Finneran's intent was to mislead the court, he did a poor job of it.