On Alcee Hastings, where does one start?

MyDD is nothing if not educational.

And following up my piece on Monday has been no exception.

The piece introduced (to me, at least) the fascinating story of Alcee Hastings, formerly Federal District Judge for the Southern District of Florida.

Hastings was impeached and convicted of corruption. But, by some process which I have yet to fathom, the voters of FL-23 found this episode on his CV no impediment to sending him to the US House. Several times.

Only in America!

His impeachment took place in 1989, just when the full service THOMAS kicks in. The report of the Senate committee which heard witnesses is not online (it's 101-156 for those with dead-tree access), so we pick up with the final arguments on October 18 1989.

Leading off for the House was John Bryant (TX-5):

Members of the Senate, this is a case of enormous, and perhaps unprecedented, importance. It involves not simply a crime committed by a judge which is unrelated to the office which he holds. It involves a violation of the most fundamental legal and moral obligations of a jurist, behavior that strikes at the heart of his obligation to our system of justice. This case involves the participation of a U.S. district judge in a scheme to extort a bribe from a defendant in his own courtroom.

There then follows a stunningly damning outline of the facts in the case, after which Bryant says
We deeply believe that Judge Hastings conspired to obtain a bribe from defendants in his courts; that to avoid conviction from this crime he fabricated evidence and lied to a Federal jury 14 times; and that in a separate transaction, to be addressed later by Mr. Gekas, he revealed the confidential content of a federally authorized wiretap under his supervision.

He then goes into details.

That is so very far from the end of it.

For on the House team is, would you credit it?, John Conyers. The impression one gets in reading his speech is one of extreme unwillingness to believe eventually overcome by the weight of the evidence:

There is an enormous amount of evidence that makes no sense at all unless Judge Hastings conspired with William Borders and lied at the trial. It is the mass of evidence that makes the case, but it may be just one of the undisputed facts that convinces you that Judge Hastings is not to be believed on this and many, many other facts made both in and outside of this legal process.

And - the incessant chorus will go up from Rush and Co around Labor Day: This is the guy that Pelosi is intending to represent the People's House in overseeing the nation's most sensitive intelligence if the Dems win control! Or words to that effect.

There's a lot more gold in the mine, I sense. And I have no doubt that the GOP oppo boys were swinging their picks there ages before I knew there was such a guy as Alcee Hastings...

Tags: Alcee Hastings, Congressional Black Caucus, corruption, Honest Government, House 2006, House Intelligence Committee, impeachment, Jane Harman, Pelosi (all tags)

Comments

5 Comments

How about starting with his acquittal?

Alcee Hastings was appointed to the bench for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in 1979. Two years later he was indicted on a charge of conspiracy to solicit and accept a bribe. On February 4, 1983, in a trial presided over by Judge Edward Gignoux of Maine, Hastings was acquitted by a jury of his peers on the charges which were the basis for his impeachment. It is true that the GOP was gunning for Alcee from the beginninng. Shortly after the acquittal, the GOP began agitating for Alcee's impeachment.

For most people, acquittal on the charges end the matter due to a little thing called the 5th amendment's prohibition against double jeopardy. However, in Alcee's case, he was prosecuted and tried a 2nd time for the same offense, this time by congress in an impeachment proceeding.

The standard of evidence in a criminal trial is considerably higher (beyond a reasonable doubt) than the standard of evidence for impeachment (whatever the hell the GOP thinks at the time).

The majority of opinion in Alcee's district is that he was railroaded and railroaded unfairly, which is why they re-elect him, as is their right.

by molly bloom 2006-05-17 03:57AM | 0 recs
Re: How about starting with his acquittal?

Well, let's for the moment put out of our minds the fact that we're talking about the GOP oppo brigade, who managed (with a little help from their friends) to leave a lingering impression that John Kerry was something of a coward. (Unlike a certain pilot from Texas, natch.)

They don't need facts. They're happy to make stuff up. But - I'm fairly sure - if there are facts going begging, they'll be happy to work them in.

Let's start with - the standard for a criminal conviction is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And rightly so. But the standard for a civil suit - for wrongful dismissal, say - is proof on the balance of probabilities.

And, if it were a question of hiring someone for a high-profile position of public trust, something approaching probable cause might be enough to cause those in charge to look elsewhere.

The threshold of GOP interest in an impeached judge? Way, way less than probable cause.

By their standards, this guy is one of those super-docile quails that Cheney goes hunting. The ones that now go round with a target painted on their fronts, out of consideration for other members of the hunting party.

Let's employ a rather more stringent test, though.

Do you honestly think that arraignment, trial and acquittal of a serious offence of dishonesty and abuse of public trust is somehow a recommendation?

I don't know whether

the GOP was gunning for Alcee from the beginninng.

I'm new to the case.

When was the beginning? Why would they have been gunning for them?

I'm perfectly happy (see above) to stipulate to the possibility that the GOP might have acted for partisan, unjustified and dishonest motives.

So one looks at other parties who looked at the case.

Such as

The investigative committee of the 11th circuit, which spent 3 years carefully studying all the facts in this case, unanimously concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that Judge Hastings is guilty as charged. They have determined that he engaged in a bribery conspiracy and that his acquittal was a product of intentional false testimony. The judicial council of the 11th circuit reached the same conclusion and the U.S. Judicial Conference then determined that Judge Hastings' conduct warranted referral to the House.

Seems that the 11th Circuit felt that that the fact that Hastings had been
acquitted by a jury of his peers

had a good deal to do with the fact that he'd employed bribery to fix the evidence.

Were they GOP stooges? Some evidence would be nice.

And the suggestion that an impeachment trial breached Hastings' Fifth Amendment rights rather falls down on the fact that Hastings (so far as I can see) never litigated the point (though he had Patricia Williams, among others, representing him at the impeachment). The famous opinion of Judge Sporkin was kiboshed by the SCOTUS decision in Nixon v US. (Not that Nixon.)

And - again, on the burden of proof thing, if a guy was teaching your kids at school (this is a hypothetical!) and you found that he'd been acquitted of molesting children but found liable for damages in a civil suit relating to the same activities, would you say - No! This man has been acquitted on the criminal standard, and it's thereby his right that I should leave my children in his hands.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

And, to be frank, what the good burghers of FL-23 is beside the point. The voters of the US have been so ill-advised as to elect all sorts of persons that the legislative and executive branches could have done well without.

The GOP won't care. Public opinion won't care.

And - that Conyers' speech, so far as I can see, is the gift that keeps giving for the GOP.

So many angles, so little time. And, with those guys being as desperate as they must be, Hastings comes close to manna from heaven.

(Perhaps George has been talking to that other Decider...)

by skeptic06 2006-05-17 07:57AM | 0 recs
Re: How about starting with his acquittal?

On a side note, I have read quite a few of your posts, and I can't say I agree with you all the time, but I do find myself agreeing with you frequently.

I don't claim an acquital on any charge is a recommendation nor do I see it as per se a disqualification. Each case demands an individual judgment.  

I can't give you citations other than my memory. I followed Alcee Hastings case when I was in law school. He was a Jimmy Carter appointee  in 1979 and by that time the GOP was salivating over the prospect of taking the Whitehouse and I surmise, like the Jeffersonians in 1800, were looking for a way to undue their predecessor's judicial appointment. I do remember reading the papers at the time and the Republicans were leading the charge.

Whether or not the 5th amendment prohibition against double jeopardy was rasied on appeal is beside the point. A review of an acquital resulting in a retrial is unsual.

I think the GOP are stooges (as in the 3 Stooges) and I know they are partisan and policial. They targeted Alcee because they could; if their position was righteous, it was just luck.

I will concede your position is buttressed by John Conyers's position.

Finally ending on another side note, I am also familiar with Walter Nixon. I was onced summoned to his court as a juror as a student.

by molly bloom 2006-05-17 03:22PM | 0 recs
Re: How about starting with his acquittal?

The basic point I was struggling towards with the Hastings business is: what matters is not relitigating a nearly 20 year old case, but judging the level of political exposure for the Dems in the 06 campaign.

As with Jefferson and Mollohan, the issue is what those cases say about the competence, political judgement and nous of Pelosi and the rest of the Dem leadership.

Jefferson, I think lots of people will put down to It's LA. They elect all kinds of kooks and crooks down there.

Mollohan is much more difficult, being (until all too recently) ranking member on Ethics and all.

Hastings - clearly, the legal element is long gone. The merits of the case, no one will be interested in (except for historical or curiosity value.) The only live element we've got is the political one.

And that's looking worse the more I think about it. When even I can figure straight off the bat half a dozen angles the GOP could take, that's not good.

Their appeal will be to the persuadable - swing voters who are disillusioned with the GOP, but also with politics more generally. Who are receptive to the They're both as bad as each other argument.

(Or to the weak form of that argument: The GOP are worse, but the Dems are pretty bad, too.)

The GOP will know that their ipse dixit will cut no ice. What they want as raw material is quotable stuff from independent sources confirming that Hastings was dirty.

Or from respected Dems saying at the time that Hastings was dirty.

Or, even better, from senior black Dems to like effect.

So - the fact that the 11th Circuit committee that examined the case recommended impeachment is a big point for their side.

And that the Dem-controlled House brought the impeachment, and the Dem-controlled Senate convicted.

And that Conyers was in the prosecuting team. (Clearly this was Dem leadership CYA at the time. But it still works for the GOP in 06.)

When I said stooges, I was talking about the 11th Circuit being stooges of the GOP.

I know nothing about the politics of the 11th Circuit judges back then - I'd expect a number of them were conservative, some might have been GOP. But most would have been appointed by Dem presidents, and all (or almost all) would have had their noms confirmed by a Dem-controlled Senate.

And if it was believed by the Hastings camp that members of the 11th Circuit had acted from partisan motives, I'd be sure there would be contemporary evidence of them having screamed blue murder.

At this distance of time, the presumption against the 11th Circuit investigation being GOP puppetry is a very strong one. (Not legally, I mean - none of this is legally. Just as a matter of common sense.)

My point on double jeopardy (which could have been clearer!) was this: if a lawyer is tried and acquitted of a charge of bribery in a criminal court, and then is subsequently disbarred on the same evidence, the disbarment does not breach the double jeopardy rules. Just as a civil suit for damages, OJ-style, doesn't.

Again, if the argument is GOP persecution, the fact is that - yes, the GOP might well have wanted to get Hastings out.

But that would have stayed just a druther without the case's going ahead being approved by independent people (like the 11th Circuit judges) with reputations to lose if subsequently it was found that they had improper motives for what they did.

So - overall, perhaps my rejoinder could have been dialed back a notch, tone-wise - it happens! -  but I think that, in the context of the main question (the vulnerability of the Dem in the 06 campaign), the points stand up.

So far. (Lots more research needed.)

(Like I said, MyDD is nothing if not educational. And, thank God, folks can have a disagreement on substance around here without World War Three breaking out!)

by skeptic06 2006-05-17 05:56PM | 0 recs
I concede

your basic argument that promoting Alcee is trouble politcally.

I was sworn in the 11th circuit in 1986 (I was born in Mississippi, first practiced in Atlanta, and now practice in Florida) and as I recall the judge who swore me in was a Reagan appointee. I can vaguely picture her and if you give me some time and coffee I might remember something of the makeup of that court. However, that doesn't tell us the makep of

the investigative committee of the 11th circuit, which spent 3 years carefully studying all the facts in this case...

or of

 The judicial council of the 11th circuit reached the same conclusion...
 

I suspect the panels would be heavily influenced by whoever appointed them.

I also have to admit I stopped following the case before it reached the actual impeachment proceedings as i was overwhelmed with my professional and personal issues at the time.

by molly bloom 2006-05-18 03:33AM | 0 recs

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