Monday, April 16, 2007

Makes You Want To Go, "Have You No Sense Of Decency, Sir?"

In the NYT, Adam Cohen writes:
Opponents of Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin spent $4 million on ads last year trying to link the Democratic incumbent to a state employee who was sent to jail on corruption charges. The effort failed, and Mr. Doyle was re-elected — and now the state employee has been found to have been wrongly convicted. The entire affair is raising serious questions about why a United States attorney put an innocent woman in jail.

The conviction of Georgia Thompson has become part of the furor over the firing of eight United States attorneys in what seems like a political purge. While the main focus of that scandal is on why the attorneys were fired, the Thompson case raises questions about why other prosecutors kept their jobs.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which heard Ms. Thompson’s case this month, did not discuss whether her prosecution was political — but it did make clear that it was wrong. And in an extraordinary move, it ordered her released immediately, without waiting to write a decision. “Your evidence is beyond thin,” Judge Diane Wood told the prosecutor. “I’m not sure what your actual theory in this case is.”

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to make this case their business, although not swiftly enough to have kept Thompson out of prison in the first place:
The Senate Judiciary Committee asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to provide documents related to the prosecution of a former state worker in Wisconsin whose bid-rigging conviction was overturned last week by a federal appeals court.

In a letter sent Tuesday, committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and five other Democratic senators said they were "concerned whether or not politics may have played a role" in the case against Georgia Thompson.

She was accused of favoring a company with ties to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, and her conviction became an issue last year in his campaign for re-election when his opponents used it to slam him in television ads.

Wisconsin Democrats have long questioned whether the decision by U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic to prosecute Thompson was an attempt to go after Doyle, who faced a tough run against then-U.S. Rep. Republican Mark Green. Biskupic was appointed by President Bush.

A message left by The Associated Press for Biskupic's spokeswoman was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a key prosecution witness at the trial said Tuesday he's glad the woman has been acquitted and freed, saying "she's not a crook."

Frank Kooistra, an associate dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Thompson served on a committee that evaluated proposals from companies seeking a contract to book travel for state employees.

Kooistra and other committee members testified last summer at Thompson's trial on charges she steered the contract worth up to $750,000 to Adelman Travel Group because it had developed a close relationship with Gov. Jim Doyle's administration.

A jury found her guilty of fraud charges, and she was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. But a federal appeals court said last week that prosecutors lacked evidence. It ruled that Thompson was innocent and ordered her immediate release after four months behind bars.

"I'm really happy for Georgia," Kooistra said. "I don't think the punishment that was dished out was fair and so I'm happy that this has happened and I hope she gets her life back to order."

He added: "She is really a nice person. She's not a crook or a criminal."

The prosecution has sparked calls from some Democrats, including Rep. Tammy Baldwin, for Congress to look into whether it was intended to tarnish Doyle's re-election campaign last year. Biskupic's spokeswoman has denied that.

Biskupic's case was built on the testimony of committee members as well as e-mails and other documents in which he tried to show Adelman had a tight relationship with Doyle's administration. The ties included $10,000 in campaign donations from Adelman's chief executive before and after winning the contract and contacts the company had with Doyle and his aides.

Kooistra testified that he and all other committee members but Thompson wanted to give the contract to Omega World Travel after the company edged out Adelman by 21 points on a 1,200 point scale after an initial evaluation.

Kooistra testified he was angry when Thompson asked them if they wanted to inflate their scores for Adelman. When they refused, he was also furious that Thompson considered the close scores a tie and initiated a tiebreaker called a best-and-final offer.

Adelman ended up winning after its final bid was lower.

Kooistra testified Thompson cited political reasons in wanting to favor the Wisconsin-based company over its Virginia rival. He interpreted that to mean she was under pressure to favor an in-state company even though that was not supposed to be considered.

To this day, Kooistra said he's not sure what motivated Thompson's behavior.

Thompson testified she was simply trying to get the best deal for the state and other evaluators had put too much emphasis on the style, not substance, of the proposals. She denied that her bosses wanted Adelman to win.

Thompson, through her lawyer, told the state Monday she's interested in returning to work in the coming days. The state also will give her $68,000 in back pay and may help her pay legal fees.

Where does she go to get her good name back, not to mention her home and possessions? Why should the taxpayers of Wisconsin be on the hook for Georgia Thompson's legal fees? Why isn't the federal government reimbursing her legal fees, and then going after the Republican party?

This is the Kafka-esque nightmare of every liberal since Bush and Cheney came into office: Americans' guaranteed rights and protections lost through Republicans' methodical deconstruction of the Constitution. The congressional oversight that was written into the Constitution by the founders didn't anticipate the tactics of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Republicans and their cronies.

The wheels of justice move very slowly. Unfortunately, with Democrats (who are also professional politicians) heading the effort, it's unlikely to be as thorough an investigation as necessary to sweep and deter these corrupt practices from our system of government.

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