Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Johnny We Hardly Knew’Ye

It’s all over – but for the clanging shut of the prison door. The fat lady has sung, and the long, luxurious days of schadenfreude are quickly drawing to a close.

As prearranged by prosecutors and his defense lawyer, former Governor John Rowland presented himself before Judge Peter Dorsey for sentencing, having previously pleaded guilty to a single felony count: conspiracy to steal honest services, a combination of mail and tax fraud.

Just as the U.S. military goes to war with the Army it has, so prosecutors and defense attorneys go to sentencing hearings with the deal they have arranged. Had prosecutors not been satisfied with sentencing arrangements, they might have gone to trial. At the last minute, the prosecution attempted to inflate the agreed upon sentence guidelines, but judge Dorsey, electing to enforce the prior arrangement, sentenced Rowland to a year and a day in prison.

This did not satisfy the street-theater people, one of whom, dressed in a Satanic looking mask and carrying a sign reading “See You In Hell, Johnny,” paraded in front of the courthouse in New Haven; nor did it satisfy Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, who soothed his moral cramps by writing a letter to a newspaper calling the judge’s decision “a travesty.”

The ever furious Sen. Edith Prague, a shrill pro-union legislator from Columbia, agreed with Sullivan and sent a rhetorical torpedo in the direction of the judge, whose competence and moral probity few question.

“It's totally outrageous that that's all this bum got.” Prague said. “I'm really boiling mad... That judge ought to be asked to get off the bench. I think he's an idiot. He's a disgrace to the bench."

Perhaps the most interesting post-sentencing comment came from Hugh Keefe, who in his day has defended many politicians caught in the toils of corruption.

"I believe,” Keefe said, “and I don't think I'm far off the mark, that what has happened in Connecticut happens everywhere and has happened since the first vote was cast in this country. Maybe the public's intolerance has increased, I don't know.

"I think there is such a thing as setting the bar too low, where every single thing is looked at suspiciously as an indictable offense. When I look at the Rowland case very closely, I wonder, what did this guy do? The image got out of control and the public was convinced he was corrupt. But when you look closely at what he did, it was nickels and dimes. And I've known a lot of politicians, who I can talk about now because they're dead, and what was going on in the Rowland administration is really not out of line with what I know was going on in the '50s, '60s and ‘70s."

There are in Connecticut a few dozen investigative reporters, waiting anxiously by their phones, to receive the names of politicians Keefe knew who were no better or worse than the soon to be incarcerated Rowland.

Modern prosecutorial methods as well as the Racketeering and Corrupt Practices Act -- originally intended to facilitate the jailing of drug dealers and gang bangers -- have put in the hands of ambitious, headline hungry prosecutors tools that previously were unavailable to them. The professor who designed the RICO legislation is on record as having said that the law he had crafted never should be applied to political crimes.

In fact, Rowland was “prosecuted” only in a metaphorical sense: He did not go to trial – where the associates of the politicians on Keefe’s list may have been called to testify that the governor was only “doing politics;” and the impeachment trial, so designed as to make testimony from possible Democratic “bums” unnecessary, was aborted upon Rowland’s resignation.

After an aborted impeachment, a plea agreement arranged between prosecutors and the defense, a sentencing that did not measure up to the expectations of Rowland’s political opponent’s and millions of words written on the Rowland scandal by those who buy ink by the barrel, important questions were still left unanswered.

Why did Rowland turn the keys of his kingdom over to such rapacious subalterns as Peter Ellef, et al?

Prior to the Rowland administration, it was common for state contracts to flow through the governor’s office. Rowland purposely avoided signing off on contracts a couple of years into his administration. Why?

If Keefe is right when he said that what was going on in the Rowland administration was not uncommon in other administrations, perhaps other investigations should be undertaken before prosecutors unpack their luggage – even at the risk of further alienating the affections of Edith Prague.

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