With Albany still absorbing and evaluating the effect of the verdict which made Joe Bruno a convicted felon, the constitutionality of the "honest services" law under which he was prosecuted was argued in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. And apparently, not very well for the federal government.
The 21-year-old statute, which makes is a crime to "deprive another of honest services," has recently been criticized by both the left and right as overly broad. Judging from their questions, justices from both ends of the ideological spectrum also appeared united in their skepticism of the law. Justice Stephen Breyer said the law's language could enable the indictment of tens of millions of people, while Justice Antonin Scalia mockingly said that the law has come to mean, "Nobody shall do bad things." [AmLaw Litigation Daily]Y'know, for a guy who's supposed to be so charming and bright, Scalia has never struck me as being either. Just seems like your garden variety radical in robes as far as I'm concerned.
Most of the other justices sounded the same theme. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested several times that the law might be unconstitutional because it was so vague.I don't really understand what's so unclear here. An elected official compromises the interest of the public which elected him or her in the course of enriching himself personally.
"A citizen is supposed to be able to understand the criminal law," Breyer said, yet it was unclear what the law in question branded as a crime. [LA Times]
The honest-services law, on the federal books since 1988, broadly requires that public and corporate officials act in the best interests of their constituents or employers.Is that so complicated?
[UPDATE1: Justice Breyer added:
Complimenting the boss’s hat “so the boss will leave the room so that the worker can continue to read The Racing Form.....could amount to a federal crime. [NY Times]Can't say I've ever thought of that one.]
Bruno was convicted on counts four and eight; the latter was regarding his "failure to disclose his participation through Mountain View Farm in a partnership with Abbruzzese involving thoroughbred race horses." But interestingly, and contrary to what was reported in some articles I've seen, this was not the count which dealt with the $80,000 (actually $40,000 cash and a $40,000 debt forgiveness) that Abbruzzese paid Bruno for a horse now generally accepted as being "broken down." That was count six, of which Bruno was acquitted. Recalling that the jury asked to hear a readback of testimony regarding Friends of New York Racing, I'm thinking that it just could be that Bruno's conviction, at least on that count (and perhaps the other as well), stemmed in large part from suspicions the jury may have harbored about efforts by Abbruzzese to influence Bruno during the battle for the racing franchise.
That would be ironic, because, as I recall, Bruno remained rather aloof during the Ad Hoc Committee process and even afterwards; and I don't ever recall him expressing any favoritism towards any particular group, Empire included. I thought at the time that maybe he was chastened by the persistent press (and blog) reports of the connection between the two men (as you would think Malcolm Smith would be wary of endorsing AEG).
And, if that's the case, it would also answer the question, which a few readers have recently posed, of just what the hell all of this has to do with racing. Not, of course, that I'm not allowed to write about it even if it doesn't relate at all. But it does.
Personally, I thought that the part of the case which involved Wright Investors (count one) was an even clearer case of Bruno depriving the public of his honest services than his dealings with Abbruzzese. Soliciting business (from which he earned commissions) from unions to whom he did not disclose that arrangement, and, as the prosecution alleged, favoring them in the course of their business before the state. Perhaps the jury didn't find the evidence of the latter to be persuasive. I certainly did.
- The verdict seems not to have damaged Bruno's reputation among his former constituents.
- Bruno resigned his position as the CEO of CMA Consulting. I'm not sure if he'll have to give up his box at Saratoga.
- Very bad weather headed this way; wouldn't be surprised if the Big A is washed out on Wednesday. [UPDATE2: The card is indeed canceled.]