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Biskupic has some explaining to do

By GREGORY STANFORD
gstanford@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 7, 2007


Gregory Stanford
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Finally, the justice system has corrected itself and freed Wisconsin's unwitting political prisoner, Georgia Thompson.

The former state procurement supervisor went to trial and to prison on the basis of evidence so flimsy it's scary.

If such weak proof can put her behind bars, are any of us safe?

U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic strikes me as a person of integrity.

He nonetheless must explain why he brought such a weak case to trial and risked having a jury find an innocent person guilty of steering a contract to Gov. Jim Doyle's donors.

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Is his quickness to put the heat on Democrats the reason he was spared in the purge of U.S. attorneys?

Is he a "Bushie," as a White House aide called top prosecutors who toe the party line?

True, the federal appeals court in Chicago did vacate Thompson's conviction. But consider her ordeal.

As her lawyer put it, she lost "her job, her life savings, her home and her liberty, and . . . her good name."

(If you're middle-class, a good criminal-defense lawyer may cost you your house.)

Maybe we are so willing to believe the worst about politicians that a jury selected from our ranks will convict no matter what, even when the defendant is not a politician.

Political prisoners are typically prisoners of conscience - courageous newspaper editors, outspoken protest leaders.

Thompson was a political prisoner of a unique sort, having landed in the penitentiary for merely doing her job, and a rather mundane job at that.

Indicted ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been whining of late about the criminalization of politics.

But the Thompson case makes his point. And the criminalization reached down and touched a civil servant, skipping the politicians above her.

Though the prosecution chose to imbue her actions with a sinister meaning, her entire role in awarding a contract to Adelman Travel could be easily explained merely as her doing her job.

Listening to the recorded oral arguments is instructive; each member of the three-judge panel sounded incredulous that charges were even brought against Thompson.

"The evidence is beyond thin," Judge Diane Wood said.

These facts seemed to weigh heavily with the judges:

• Adelman was in a virtual statistical tie in the department's rating system for best bid with Omega World Travel of Fairfax, Va., and, in dollar amount, the Adelman bid was lower.

• Merely favoring one vendor over another is not proof of misapplication of funds or a scheme to defraud the state, the specific crimes for which Thompson was convicted.

Her preference for Adelman could entirely reflect a legitimate bias toward a Wisconsin company.

• Nothing on the record suggests that Thompson was aware of Adelman principals' $20,000 worth of donations to the Doyle campaign.

• Thompson did not personally gain from the awarding of the contract.

• Thompson was merely one person of a six-member committee that made the decision on the contract.

And for us spectators, a fact of some significance is that Thompson was a civil servant who got her job when Republican Scott McCallum was governor.

She was no Doyle crony.

The appeals court has corrected an injustice. But U.S. Attorney Biskupic has some explaining to do.

Gregory Stanford is a Journal Sentinel editorial writer and columnist. His e-mail address is gstanford@journalsentinel.com


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From the April 8, 2007 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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