Fieger jury deliberates

by Walter Olson on May 30, 2008

After three days of deliberations, it’s not clear any resolution is near in the trial of high-profile Michigan lawyer Geoffrey Fieger and a colleague on charges of massively evading campaign-finance laws (David Ashenfelter, “Fieger jury signals verdict could take a while”, Detroit Free Press, May 30). Norm Pattis, who has attended the trial (and who hopes Fieger gets off) writes as follows (May 30):

This jury was told that it is unlawful for a person to ask another to make a contribution to a political candidate and promise to reimburse them for the contribution. There is power[ful] evidence before the jury that this is precisely what Fieger did. When I see, as I did at trial, evidence that a person making $560 a week with no prior history of political contributions makes a $2,000 contribution to their boss’s candidate, I wonder. When I see the boss reimburse the employee days after the contribution, giving in a “bonus” even enough to cover payroll tax, I am more than a little suspicious. When this pattern is repeated scores of time[s], I am like Archimedes springing from his tub: “Eureka!”

A jury could easily convict Fieger.

But [celebrated defense lawyer] Gerry Spence asked them not to. In a mesmerizing performance he commanded the room as can few others. He asked for commitments from jurors, showing himself to be vulnerable so as to make jurors at ease with their own vulnerability. Spence is charisma personified.

But Spence made one mistake in his argument that could cost Fieger his freedom. “If this prosecution can happen to Fieger, it can happen to any of us,” he said. It is a powerful argument in the right case. But as jurors ponder this case, and Spence’s magic recedes, someone will, sooner or later, raise the following question: “Who was Spence talking about?” The fact is most Americans cannot conceive of giving more than $100,000 to a political candidate by using employees as strawmen. This is not a case of the Government versus Everyman. Much though it pains me to admit this, there was power in the Government’s assertion that “Fieger thinks he is smarter than you.” With wealth comes, alas, arrogance.

Perhaps forgoing a chance to reach out for libertarian allies — though no doubt wisely as a matter of criminal-defense strategy — the defendants are not taking the position that the campaign-finance restrictions are improper restrictions on political freedom that should have been struck down as unconstitutional and even now merit condemnation. Instead, to quote the Freep’s Ashenfelter, their “lawyers have said they would have never risked their legal careers or put their employees or family members in harm’s way had they known it was wrong.”

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Fieger gets off
06.02.08 at 4:17 pm

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1 Supremacy Claus 05.31.08 at 7:50 am

Lawyers call that an inculpatory mistake of non-criminal law. For example, a babysitter allows a kid to smoke a cigarette, not knowing the regulation against that. Usually ignorance of the criminal law is not a defense. This is ignorance of non-criminal law, and more permissible.

Questions: Is such a defense allowed to a licensed lawyer?

If this a matter of law, and not of facts, should that argument be made to the jury, instead of to the judge?

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