Verdict Imminent in Menendez Case

A verdict in the Bob Menendez trial should come soon, but don’t forget this:

The U.S. Supreme Court these days seems to like corrupt public officials. Naturally, this will only be an issue if the senator is found guilty and an appeal process begins.

Nonetheless, it’s worth considering, or perhaps even worrying about.

It was eight years ago when the court threw out the corruption conviction of Robert McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia. The governor was convicted of promoting a diet supplement in exchange for receiving lavish gifts, including designer clothes and a Rolex. The court’s creative opinion was that the help the governor provided was done in the normal cause of business and was not in itself, an “official act.”

That opinion remains a head-scratcher.

But one last month was much more straightforward in reflecting the court’s view.

Lost in the flurry of late term decisions about presidential immunity, social media and abortion was a seemingly minor case out of Indiana – Snyder vs. the United States.

We said, Indiana, but this one is made for New Jersey.

James Snyder was mayor of Portage, Indiana, and under his watch, the town bought five garbage trucks for $1.1 million. A short time later, the company gave Mayor Snyder a check for $13,000.

One supposes the only distinction here is that in New Jersey, the $13,000 would have been in a paper bag.

When this surfaced, the mayor was convicted in federal court of accepting an illegal payment and sent to jail.

Remarkably, the court overturned the conviction in a 6-3 vote with the conservative majority prevailing.

Check out this line from the syllabus of the court decision:

“Federal and state law distinguish between two kinds of payments to public officials – bribes and gratuities. Bribes are typically payments made or agreed to before an official act in order to influence the public official with respect to that future official act. Gratuities are typically payments made to a public official after an official act as a reward or token of appreciation.”

By any common-thinking reasoning, this is an absurd distinction.

A mayor getting $13,000 from a trucking company after the town bought five trucks, is an act of corruption. What difference does it make whether the mayor gets his money before buying the trucks or afterwards?

The court’s majority opinion labors on to explore the differences between “bribes” to influence action and “gratuities” to thank officials. It sees a distinction under federal bribery law when most clear-thinking individuals would not.

The larger question here is why does a conservative court find so much apparent virtue in crooked politicians?

Justice Neil Gorsuch in a concurring opinion gave an answer.

It all has to do with “lenity.”

By that, Gorsuch explains, “Judges are bound by the ancient rule of lenity to decide the case as the Court does today, not for the prosecutor but for the presumptively free individual.”

Hmm. Guess it makes no difference if this individual is a mayor who freely accepts a payoff from a trucking company.

Following the earlier case – albeit by a court constructed somewhat differently – the policy seems clear. It is becoming harder to convict public officials of corruption in federal court.

As noted, this case got little attention in New Jersey.

But Bob Menendez probably read it.



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5 responses to “Verdict Imminent in Menendez Case”

  1. If Menendez is convicted, my bet is the U.S Supreme Court will uphold the conviction. The Court will do so because stashing ill-gotten gold bars and piles of cash in your home is cartoonishly corrupt and too much for even this tainted Court to tolerate. Accepting private jet and yacht trips worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or closing a bridge for political retribution is permitted but not piles of cash and gold bars. It’s known as the Snidely Whiplash standard.

  2. The NY case against Trump was rejected by the FEC and it’s an FEC case. Talk about overreach courtesy of a porn star and perjurer, the “star” witnesses. Trump was impeached for investigating Biden. So many double standards, so little time.

  3. The Supreme Court had to rule that way to defend their gratuities, like all expense paid vacations from billionaire friends .

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