OK, the holiday's over, so let's roll through this.
Haverford Township Commissioner Fred Moran has been convicted of felony bribery.
He was found guilty of soliciting this "bribe" from the firm hired to develop the Haverford State Hospital site.
His crime was in asking/demanding the sale price of the property to the developer be upped $500,000.
According to prosecutor, he did this, not to line his own pockets, but to enhance his political standing in the community.
“The motive of the crime was to embellish his own political stature … to ride in and save the day,’’ the prosecutor told the jury.
It was the commonwealth's position that it in bringing the bribery charge it didn't matter a lick that the "benefit" Moran was trying to accrue was not financial.
I remember reading the original grand jury indictment against Moran months ago and being shocked to find the claim that a township commissioner trying to enhance his political stature by selling a piece of township property to a developer for the highest price possible could be construed as "bribery."
It sounded weird to me then and it still does.
Imagine you are selling your house, asking $200,000, and an interested buyer offers $190,000. You agree to $195,000, but then at last minute before the papers are signed you say, "No, I want $200,000." The buyer says, "But we agreed." And you say, "I changed my mind. Call it extortion if you want but I need $200,000." And the real reason is because you think getting the extra $5,000 will impress your wife. That may be a bad business practice, but should it be a crime? And how is that qualitatively different from Moran's behavior.
As I said the other day, if trying to enhance one political stature at the expense of another is a crime, every politician in America should be locked up.
The decision to bring this case, itself was a political decision. While such cases are not unheard of, they are rare. Most prosecutors require some sort of tangible benefit (i.e. money or property) to be sought by someone for themselves or someone close to them before they are hit with a bribery rap.
I have heard, and it somewhat telling, that on the morning of the trial's opening, the AG's office offered to drop the bribery charge if Moran agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice.
Moran and his attorney Tom Bergstrom declined the offered. Which is to say, they rolled dice... and they lost. They thought the prosecutors was so weak that a jury would see through it.
In fact, the AG's case wasn't weak, it was just weird. Once the jury accepted the premise that an attempt to enhance one's own political stature was the same as taking an envelope stuffed with money, it was all over.
A benefit is a benefit is a benefit is what the AGs office hammered home. And the jury bought it.
I didn't and I don't. I'm sure it won't be the last time I disagree with a jury verdict.
This, I think, should be kept in mind:
The power to prosecute, to put people in jail, is the most awesome one that government has. And there are plenty of prosecutors throughout U.S. history who have abused that power to enhance their own "political stature." (One, today happens to be governor of New York.)
Only in the rarest of circumstances are politically motivated prosecutors held to account for their bad behavior. (Think former DA Michael Nifong in the Duke Lacrosse rape case.)
I'm not saying that the AG's office necessarily abused it's power in this case. I am saying that it had the discretion to conclude a bribery charge was not appropriate. It concluded differently.
I don't know Fred Moran. I don't believe I've ever even spoken to the man. But I have heard very few good things about his political leadership in Haverford.
However, being a lousy political leader or a ruthless one isn't, itself, a crime.
Generally, the proper fate of a bad politician is being challenged and losing at the ballot box.
Criminalizing rather standard behavior in the political area is not the answer to bad representation. For it has a way of snapping back on those who argue most vociferously for it.
Sir Thomas More had it right when he said he would give the Devil himself the benefit of the law for his own sake.
After the guilty verdict, Bergstrom said, “It’s a good reason to stay out of politics.”
He could have just as easily said that before the verdict, even before the trial. The indictment itself, at least, on this particular charge, provides just as good a reason.