“U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald failed to convict Blagojevich on 23 of 24 multiple counts. But not to worry. Fitzgerald succeeded in convicting Blagojevich, and destroying his reputation and career, three years ago with a vicious press conference — and without having to bother himself with due process and trial by jury.”
—Prof. Monroe Freedman, blogging at The Legal Ethics Forum.
In his press conference announcing the charges against the then-Illinois governor, Fitzpatrick memorably said that Blagojevich’s conduct had Abe Lincoln “rolling in his grave.” He also said:
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering. They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism. The citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions.”
Both the Justice Department and the state bars require that prosecutors confine such statements to the facts, and the D.O.J. rules specifically say that the prosecutor’s public remarks “should not include subjective observations.” Unless Abe’s rolling was videotaped by a special vaultcam, it’s fair to say that this part of Fitzpatrick’s statement, at least, violated the standard. It is hard to conclude that Blago isn’t a slimeball, but lawyers are ethically obligated to be fair to slimeballs, and the Constitution guarantees their rights as much as yours or mine.
Prof. Freedman, as usual, is right.