By taking up the case of Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, the U.S. Supreme Court signaled Tuesday it is on a clear path to tackle the amorphous "honest services" statute, something that could impact Rod Blagojevich's upcoming trial.
The lawyer for Rod Blagojevich's brother, Robert Blagojevich, told the Chicago Sun-Times he thinks the statute "is going to be shredded," possibly resulting in a trial delay or new charges against his client.
Robert and Rod Blagojevich were indicted together April 2.
Honest services makes up a good chunk of Blagojevich's indictment. The only two charges against Robert Blagojevich are rooted in alleged honest services fraud.
"Blagojevich has traveled across the country proclaiming his innocence," writes Chicago Tribune columnist Greg Burns today. "Maybe his next stop should be on the steps of the Supreme Court."
It's the third honest services case the high court has taken up (the others are that of media baron Conrad Black and an Alaskan state lawmaker). Lawyers see that as a sign that justices are out to better define a statute often criticized as vague. The law says one can be found to have deprived a company or taxpayers of his or her honest services even if there was no financial loss -- or personal gain. But just when that line is crossed is open to interpretation.
In today's New York Times, Adam Liptak reminds us it was a Chicago case that propelled justices to take another look at the statute.
The high court in February refused to take up the case of patronage chief Robert Sorich. Sorich and others were convicted of denying Illinois taxpayers their honest services by fostering City Hall's patronage system even though Sorich didn't make any money off the deal. The case drew a strong rebuke from Justice Antonin Scalia who wrote: "It is one thing to enact and enforce clear rules against certain types of corrupt behavior ... but quite another to mandate a freestanding, open-ended duty to provide honest services -- with the details to be worked out case-by-case."