Thursday, March 24, 2011
Last week in Philadelphia, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes lashed out at a financial arrangement between a criminal defendant and his employer, concerning the payment of his legal bills.
Such an arrangement, she said, would give the defendant a disincentive to speak against his employer.
In the case of Rev. James Brennan, a Catholic priest accused of rape, the Philadelphia Archdiocese agreed to pay his bills only if he were acquitted. This, Hughes said, would dissuade Brennan from implicating the Archdiocese, even if doing so were in his own best interest (or in the interest of justice in general).
We wonder if it ever occurred to any other judges in Pennsylvania that people are disinclined to implicate the people paying their legal bills?
For example, virtually every single witness who testified to the "Bonusgate" grand jury in 2007 and 2008 was represented by a lawyer who was paid and assigned by the House Democratic Caucus.
"Who the hell is the caucus?" grand jury Judge Barry Feudale famously wrote in his commentary on 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report Number One.
The caucus, in 2007 and 2008, (and all the way back to 1990) was H. William DeWeese.
As the leader, as no one seems to comprehend, DeWeese was the only person with the authority to disburse caucus funds. For bonus payments or for legal fees. Responsibility rested with DeWeese. Decisions were made by DeWeese.
In other words, Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett in 2007 set out to investigate a caucus that had been led for the better part of two decades by DeWeese, with witnesses counseled by lawyers chosen, assigned and paid by DeWeese.
At least one Pennsylvania judge seems to understand the conflict of interest that might create.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
"'That indicates to me that the Legislature and everyone needs to take a look at how moneys ... are being spent and how it's being directed,’ [Gubernatorial Candidate Tom] Corbett said at a Pittsburgh news conference where he announced the charges against [former state representative Mike] Veon.
Corbett's continuing investigation into the Beaver Initiative for Growth , Veon's nonprofit, nicknamed BIG, includes a look at how taxpayers' money moves through the state budget and into the bank accounts of nonprofit groups. The inquiry also will scrutinize grant money given to nonprofit groups headed up by other legislators, although Corbett, a Republican, did not identify any.” (Associated Press, March 25, 2009)
No, but we did.
Among them was "Operation Good Neighbor," headed by former U.S. Senator and likely 2010 Presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Nearly two years later, there's no indication Corbett looked at any non-profits headed by legislators other than Veon, and certainly not Santorum's. Completely coincidentally, Santorum endorsed Corbett about eight months after Corbett announced he would be investigating legislators' non-profits.
Santorum's non-profit incorporated in Pennsylvania closely mirrored what Corbett alleges Veon to have done with BIG.
There was a shockingly low ratio of giving to overhead. (“Sen. Santorum’s home mortgage foundation outlays raise questions” Philadelphia Daily News, 2/21/06)
There was a completely unacceptable blending of the non-profit operations with his legislative and political operations. (“Santorum’s Operation Good Neighbor is low on giving, high on fees” Associated Press, 2/25/06)
And, there was plenty of evidence of government contracts being awarded to friends of the non-profit and Santorum’s political causes and personal campaign. (“Big donor to Rick’s charity was seeking federal aid” Philadelphia Daily News, 3/2/06; “Group tied to Santorum campaign gets $250,000 grant” Philadelphia Daily News, 3/24/06)
Perhaps now that Santorum is actively seeking the Republican nomination for President, it's time for a fresh look at what Corbett pointedly chose to ignore.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
In late May of last year, the New York Times non-fiction best sellers were Laura Bush's memoir, Spoken From the Heart and Michael Lewis' account of the 2008 stock market crash, The Big Short.
But here in Pennsylvania, the political and legal world was engrossed in a literary work known as
28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report Number One.
You remember it. It was chock-full of staggering examples of the wasteful, spendthrift ways of the bloated state legislature. You were mesmerized by the revelation that nearly 1,300 employees work for the legislature, more than 9 for each representative and 17 staff for each senator.
Nobody was able to justify such a large number of employees for this body. On the contrary, there was a virtual consensus among those who have worked inside the legislature for many years that the number of employees could be significantly cut with no measureable decrease in the ability of each Member to perform his legislative duties and to serve his constituents. In some instances, the reason for requesting additional staff members has been to compensate for the incompetence of existing staffers. Instead of firing those incompentnt woworkers, you would just add more people. The grand jury finds that the vast overstaffing problem is linked to the patronage system within the legislature. Many staff members are hired at the request of a specific elected member, regardless of the prospective staff member's qualifications (or utter lack of qualifications)
Grand Jury Report Number One didn't stop with a simple recommendation to drastically reduce the number of legislative employees. It noted that while all legislative districts contain the same number of people, some representatives have more than one district office - purely for the purpose of providing more patronage jobs. Rank-and-file member H. William D. Weese, for example, has four district offices.
And per diems? The Grand Jury had plenty to say about per diems: Not having to submit receipts for expenses is bad enough, but the Grand Jury also found that the House Republican Caucus "schemed" for members to acquire additional per diem payments "by periodicaly adding extra 'token' days to the schedule. Any member who appears in the caucus room and does nothing more than sign the sheet will receive full per diem payment for that day."
Appalling! Remember how outraged you all were? Remember how outraged Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett was?
Duplicative print shops, information technology departments and human resource departments, extraneous "PennDOT specialists," hoarding of surplus monies, secret "slush funds" known as Special Leadership Accounts ... the list of wasteful spending went on and on.
Since there's so much excess, unnecessary spending going on in the legislature, and the state is in such financial trouble, and Corbett you'd be pretty sure our budget-cutting governor would propose a sizeable reduction in the legislature's allocation.
As exactly no one seemed to notice, Corbett proposed cutting legislative spending by approximately ZERO PERCENT.
Funding for education? Slashed. Economic development? Decimated. Biomedical research? Snip, snip, snip. He'd eliminate another 1,500 jobs from a state workforce already trimmed to the bone by Governor Rendell's recession budgets.
But the bloated, wasteful legislature, according to Corbett, should not sacrifice one thin American dime.
(By the way, we're sure there's a completely innocent explanation, but that mesmerizing report was signed by the jury foreperson on February 24th, but not released to the public until May 24th. Don't look for the signature page on the version posted on the Attorney General's website; it's not there. It's just a remarkable coincidence.)
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
For someone with so much to hide, Bill DeWeese can't seem to shut up. Inexplicably, the Capitol Stenographers Corps is only too happy to provide him with fawning puff pieces and a forum to ramble unchecked.
It's too bad he's so rarely confronted with a tough question - we so enjoyed the deer-in-headlights look on his face when he realized that he'd just admitted to KDKA's Jon Delano that he never delegated responsibility for awarding bonuses.
But PCN's Bill Bova is no Jon Delano. The unasked questions could fill - well, a blog post.
"Corbett was coming after me with very unhappy headlines. With handcuffs and with jail cells."
When were you in handcuffs or in a jail cell? Oh, that's right - never.
"I was with him [Corbett] at the Superbowl - paid my own way."
Yeah, with campaign funds. How is that a legitimate campaign expense?
"In February of '07, with our lawyers in the room - the investigation's been going on a couple weeks at this point - with Manzo, and others in the room, Corbett said "You tell Bill DeWeese he brought this on himself." This was within a couple of weeks of Bonusgate. After five years, I've never been involved in the Bonusgate. I was not charged with Bonusgate."
If you've never been involved in Bonusgate, why did you plead the Fifth when called to testify in the Bonusgate trial? How could you incriminate yourself in a scheme in which you had no involvement?
"The allegations - and I asked you a few moments ago, and you are very, very au courant, if I might use some of the limited French that I have - you're a very educated character in what's going on in the Capitol, and you couldn't even tell me what I'm charged with. The nebulosity of that statute is such - the conflict of interest - he charged me with two of my people campaigning before five o'clock without a leave slip."
What was your response when two of your former colleagues and 10 staff people were charged under that statute? Isn't it true you said it was the greatest day of your life? Did you think the statute was nebulous then? Those "two of my people" - do you mean Kevin Sidella, who worked as your campaign fund-raiser full-time, at taxpayer expense, for almost 6 years, and Sharon Rodavich, who "did nothing but politics?" Does that include Melissa Frameli, Carol Bohach, Susan Story, Debra Konosky and Angel Kirby-Willard, who said campaign work was expected from them from the date of their hire? Does it include the Harrisburg staffers you stopped in the hallways of the Capitol and asked, "Why aren't you in Greene County?"
Also, what did you mean when you told Sidella "our saving grace is that everyone does it?"
"So, then he charges me 35 months later, after I cooperated, after I hired Republican prosecutors to cooperate with him, 35 months later, he charges me."
Yeah, why do you suppose there was such a long lag time between Sidella's incriminating grand jury testimony in 2007 and your indictment in December 2009? We're very curious about that, too.
Speaking of "cooperating," in September of 2007, you were contesting subpoenas served on caucus staff and seeking to have seized evidence excluded. In October of 2007, courts ruled against you on both the seized evidence and the subpoenas. Shortly after that, you negotiated with the Attorney General to turn over incriminating e-mails. What did those "negotiations" entail, and what persuaded you to begin cooperating? How did you decide which staffers to fire and which to provide with legal representation?
And why is it significant that you hired "Republican prosecutors" to cooperate with him?
"A couple counts because two people did campaign work - allegedly - I'm not sure they did - and they were told many times along with the whole team to never campaign on government hours."
But didn't you admit to the grand jury that campaign work " was not unusual?" Didn't you say, "That was part of the culture. Looking back it was wrong. We shouldn't have done it but it was part of the political culture on Capitol Hill."
(By the way, did anyone else get a very weird vibe from this non sequitur? -
"His agents have always been very, very polite and very, very professional - especially that muscular, charismatic, warm-hearted young gentleman that drove him for so many years, Brian Westmoreland. Wonderful guy." Then, later: "I'm very fond of many aspects of his world, including his wife and Brian Westmoreland, his bodyguard." What's up with that?)
For the record, we agree that cancellation of SCI German was political, and most likely personal. It's ironic, considering that DeWeese himself insulated himself against accusations of wrongdoing by his former chief of staff by firing him and exposing his extramarital affair. When the accusations came, DeWeese deflected the accusations with "You can't believe him; he's pissed me for firing him. And besides, he's a lying philanderer." Let us be the first to predict that when DeWeese starts making unsavory accusations against Corbett, Corbett will respond with "You can't believe him; he's just pissed at me for canceling his prison."