by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano
July 24, 2013
While the country processes the racial politics-inspired prosecution of George Zimmerman, which came to a conclusion last week, and as the calls to try him in federal court for the same events for which he was acquitted in a state court become louder each day, a case in upstate New York is making its way through the system that profoundly reveals the antipathy to the Constitution displayed by some prosecutors in the U.S. Department of Justice and may give Zimmerman a foretaste of things to come.
Sitting patiently waiting for a Manhattan federal appeals court to order the government to obey the laws it has sworn to uphold is former New York state Sen. Joseph Bruno. Unlike many in the New York Legislature today, Bruno, a fiercely Catholic conservative Republican, was a pillar of legislative integrity, known even to his political adversaries as a man of his word. Once you shook his hand, you could count on his compliance with the agreement sealed by the handshake.
The justice for which the former state senator sits and waits is not based on any novel or arcane legal argument or any legislative loophole. It is a principle of law as old and as revered as the country itself. It is the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. Simply stated, the Obama administration wants to try him twice for the same alleged events, and he has asked a federal appeals court to prevent it from doing so.
Here’s what happened. In December 2009, Bruno was convicted by a federal district court jury in Albany, N.Y., of violating the federal “honest services” statute. Following the law as it then existed, the jury found that he had failed to inform the state of New York — his employer in his capacity as a sitting state senator — that he was also employed elsewhere. Being a New York state senator is a part-time job, and virtually all sitting state senators have other employment. Nevertheless, by this failure, he supposedly had denied the state his undivided, or “honest,” services. He was not convicted of bribery; he wasn’t charged with bribery. He was only charged with and convicted of violating this inane statute.