December 10th, 2008
07:08 PM ET

Blagojevich prosecutor oversteps?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2007/images/07/20/t1home.fitzgerald.ap.jpg caption="U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald"]
Editor’s Note: You can read more Lisa Bloom blogs on “In Session

Lisa Bloom
AC360° Contributor
In Session Anchor

Disgraced former Durham County, North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong was disbarred last year for, among other reasons, prejudicial pretrial public comments he made about three Duke University students he accused of rape.

This jumped to mind as I watched highly respected U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald make repeated comments about the evidence against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich yesterday at Fitzgerald’s press conference.

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” Fitzgerald said, in a comment that was widely quoted by news organizations today. And that was just the beginning. “Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low,” he said. The Governor embarked upon “a political corruption crime spree.” His conduct, prosecutor Fitzgerald said, was “appalling,” repeated three times, for emphasis.

If the allegations are proven, clearly so. But we are only at the indictment phase, and Governor Blagojevich is, at this time, a citizen of the United States, presumed innocent. And U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald has an obligation to seek justice, not to seek a conviction by any means necessary.

Illinois ethics rules, which apply to federal as well as state prosecutors, permit public disclosure of the facts of an investigation and the allegations in an indictment. But when a prosecutor publicly discloses that a defendant has been charged with a crime, state law requires a statement explaining that the charge is merely an accusation and that the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

I must have missed that part of Fitzgerald’s presser.

Prohibited, however, are statements which could be reasonably interpreted as threatening the fairness of a proceeding. Specifically, prosecutors may not publicly comment upon “the character, credibility, reputation or criminal record of a party,” nor “any opinion as to the guilt or innocence of a defendant.”

Would Lincoln be rolling over merely from an accusation?

By the way, what terrible characterizations did Nifong make that led to the firestorm against him? Nifong said that he was "confident that a rape occurred," and he called the players "a bunch of hooligans" whose "daddies could buy them expensive lawyers."

Filed under: Lisa Bloom • Raw Politics • Rod Blagojevich
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. KIm

    Why has Gov. Blagojevich been under an FBI investigation and for how long ? They are reporting this has been going on for years where he is concerned. They have it all recorded on tape and Obama says he didn't speak to Blagojevich. They have two of Obama's top executives reporting changing their statements concerning communications with Gov. Blagojevich on behalf of Obama.Did Obama support Blagojevich's campaign and being elected ? What did the tape response from Blagojevich say about Obama not being supportive or something to that extent reported ? They reported 50 democrats want this Gov to resign and so does Obama but don't think he will. Why is this happening now and could it have waited until after Obama is sworn in ? The Gov. can make the appointment reguardless of being under a federal investigation and that's been pointed out. It was reported they arrested him now because they we're worried about more corruption occuring that would effect the state. He can still appoint someone and has that legal right and power but using his position as leverage to neg. and enter the Innocent until proven guilty. Valerie Garrett ran and pulled out .1-6 running for the seat and one in New York that had the money to pay for the seat reported from FBI per CNN. Who is the alleged emissary sent per the Gov. and who is the mystery person #6 not named ? Chicago politics doesn't sound very straight up on the table and three Gov.'s are in jail and others got in trouble.Holly smokes on the river of Jordon and what's next ? Poor o'l Obama and God Bless him ! Why are his top advisors changing their stories ? Why do they get into so much trouble in politics ? Did we get the 100% Repower America and the meeting looked disrupted .

    December 11, 2008 at 4:25 am |
  2. J.V.Hodgson

    I always thought that a trial was by a court and and a 12 person jury of ones peers.
    This is a fiasco of a trial by the prosecutor and the media ( and public opinion) based on the Indictment and worse still evidence which is not yet proved.
    These documents should be banned from publication until the indictments are settled for the actual court hearing and more to the point the evidence is for the court officers to consider as warranting a trial.
    The only data to be publicly released should be charges/indictments not the as yet unsubsantiated or rather proved to a judge and jury evidence to support same.
    Why is the above justified, because almost anyone reading it is already assuming he is guilty ( maybe he is) but the trial and judge and jury should decide that matter.
    If that's not true something else I have not mentioned is wrong.
    How on earth can you expect any juror to go to this trial without some kind of leaning to the belief that he is already guilty? That would be a person I could admire, but not sure of how many amongst us could retain that perfect independence.Travesty of Justice?

    December 11, 2008 at 2:00 am |
  3. cindy

    It seems to me that the prosecutor has proved without doubt that Blagojevich is a gas bag. I do not know how a man with thoughts like that becomes governor, much less is re-elected. However, is it a crime to be a gas bag? I know it is a crime to bribe people, and it is a crime to sell Senate seats, but did Blagojevich ever do that, or did he just talk about it? Did he order someone to cut a deal, did he seek a deal? If he only talked and did not act on that talk, is it a crime?

    December 10, 2008 at 11:54 pm |
  4. Jake

    The way this arrest was handled shows the prosecutors state of mind. Rather than asking the governor to surrender him self he goes to his house in early morning hours to arrest him?? Then asking the court to impose bail.. on a standing governor?? Petty.. I think there is a lot going on behind the scenes that is not public yet..

    December 10, 2008 at 11:15 pm |
  5. lynn

    It might be a surprise to some people that Fitzgerald is a dedicated employee and justice who is doing his job. There is something inherently wrong with people who always see an ulterior, selfish motive for everyone's actions.

    December 10, 2008 at 9:54 pm |
  6. Heather,ca

    I love Fitzgerald!

    December 10, 2008 at 9:52 pm |
  7. Sherrol in Canada

    @Mike in NYC 8:56 pm...........

    Thank you for bringing what was omitted to light.

    December 10, 2008 at 9:50 pm |
  8. Kornelia Chicago

    The best prosecutor Chicago ever may have!!!

    December 10, 2008 at 9:38 pm |
  9. prescott

    I would say that making comments about a sitting governor who has been *caught on tape* after years of preliminary investigation is different than vehemently prosecuting college students based solely on the testimony of a stripper with a past.

    Patrick Fitzgerald is a hero that has been taking massive steps to clean up the putrid swamp of Chicago/Illinois politics. Leave him alone. If Obama accepts Fitzgerald's resignation that is customary on a change of oval office, I will be very disappointed.

    December 10, 2008 at 9:34 pm |
  10. Jen

    I don't disagree that the prosecutor is being prejudicial. But it seems unfair to dismiss Nifong's misdeeds as 3 simple prejudicial statements. He also mismanaged a police investigation that he shouldn't have been managing, failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, and lied to the court on multiple occasions.

    December 10, 2008 at 9:13 pm |
  11. Mike in NYC

    "...students he accused of rape."

    Nifong was not the accuser. He brought the charges. You conveniently omit the source of the rape accusations - a "troubled" young woman who was never held accountable for her actions.

    December 10, 2008 at 8:56 pm |
  12. Jim M

    From Illinois. With Fitzgerald's known propensity for details in preparing a case, he can in no way be compared to Nifong. Fitzgerald does have an obligation to seek justice; however, he also has a right to seek a convicion by any legal means necessary. If charged, Blagojevich will find his solice in his judge and jury.

    December 10, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  13. Caroline

    I think it's unfair to compare Fitzgerald to Nifong. Fitzgerald has evidence, such as the Blago phone recordings. At the time Nifong made his declarations, analysis of the forensic evidence from the alleged crime scene had not been completed, and he even had yet to personally interview the accuser (he finally did a year or so later). Also, Fitzgerald doesn't strike me as the political panderer Nifong did when I saw him at a locally televised townhall-style meeting a couple of weeks after the accusation (I was in town for a conference). I wondered at the time if Nifong was up for re-election (not surprisingly, he was). Any reason to think Fitzgerald is acting in the hope that Obama will reappoint him as US Attorney?

    December 10, 2008 at 7:49 pm |
  14. Tereska Chicago

    Go Patrick GO !!! You are the "one"- that show people YES WE CAN!!!! I start believe that CHANGE is coming to Chicago at least!!! Accountability is NR 1 issue to start fix that corrupt system!!! THANK YOU PATRICK FITZGERALD !!!!Honesty and HUMAN VALUE that is what we looking for !!

    December 10, 2008 at 7:48 pm |