Monday, April 16, 2007

Court: Wisconsin Woman Was Wrongly Convicted. For What?

Georgia Thompson has been acquitted! This, after serving four months in prison.

Who is Georgia Thompson?

She was a Wisconsin state employee, who put a state travel contract up for bid. She awarded it to a company whose CEO had donated money to the re-election campaign of Democratic governor Jim Doyle.

U-S Attorney Steven Biskupic and US District Judge Rudolph Randa, both Republican appointees, put Georgia Thompson in jail on corruption charges while the case was appealed. Threat to society, maybe?

Meantime, Doyle's opponents spent millions in the 2006 campaign to tie the governor to Ms. Thompson. Still, he won re-election.

Did I mention that the travel company in question did submit the lowest bid?

On April 5th, a federal appeals court acquitted Georgia Thompson. A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago also ordered that she be immediately released from prison.

Dave Zweifel writes in Wisconsin's Capital Times:

"The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals...chided the U.S. Attorney's Office in Milwaukee for pursuing such a flimsy case, and ordered that [Georgia Thompson] be immediately released from prison, where she had spent the past four months.

"We've all seen the fallout since. Ironically, the tables have now been turned on the U.S. attorney, Steven Biskupic, who -- rightly or wrongly -- has been caught up in the hypercharged Washington scandal centering on George Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. It seems that each day brings new evidence that U.S. attorneys were pressured by the AG's office into pursuing Democrats and if they didn't, they would be replaced.

"The Washington scandal has legitimized claims by those who point to U.S. attorneys, like Biskupic, who took on Democrats just before last fall's election. Republican Mark Green's campaign for governor against Jim Doyle trumpeted the Thompson case during the entire campaign with attack ad after attack ad insisting that her conviction was proof that Doyle was a crook."

Adam Cohen has more to say on the subject in his opinion piece in the New York Times. He writes:

"While he was investigating, in the fall of 2005, Mr. Biskupic informed the media. Justice Department guidelines say federal prosecutors can publicly discuss investigations before an indictment only under extraordinary circumstances. This case hardly met that test.

"The prosecution proceeded on a schedule that worked out perfectly for the Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Biskupic announced Ms. Thompson’s indictment in January 2006. She went to trial that summer, and was sentenced in late September, weeks before the election. Mr. Biskupic insisted in July, as he vowed to continue the investigation, that “the review is not going to be tied to the political calendar.”

"But the Thompson case was “the No. 1 issue” in the governor’s race, says the Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman, Joe Wineke. In a barrage of commercials, Mr. Doyle’s opponents created an organizational chart that linked Ms. Thompson — misleadingly called a “Doyle aide” — to the governor. Ms. Thompson appeared in an unflattering picture, stamped “guilty,” and in another ad, her name was put on a graphic of jail-cell doors slamming shut.

"Most of the eight dismissed prosecutors came from swing states, and Democrats suspect they may have been purged to make room for prosecutors who would help Republicans win close elections. If so, it might also mean that United States attorneys in all swing states were under unusual pressure.

"Wisconsin may be the closest swing state of all. President Bush lost it in 2004 by about 12,000 votes, and in 2000, by about half that. According to some Wisconsin politicians, Karl Rove said that their state was his highest priority among governor’s races in 2006, because he believed a Republican governor could help the party win Wisconsin in the 2008 presidential election."

Alberto Gonzales is sure to be asked about this when he testifies on Capitol Hill Tuesday (4/17) morning.

Outside the possible political ramifications, I think many of us have Georgia on our minds. This woman was innocent, yet sat in an Illinois prison for four months. Worse, she lost her home. AND her life savings. If it turns out she was a pawn in a nasty political game, we should all fear something like that could happen to any of us.

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