Fieger Acquitted of all Charges

As several of you have pointed out, Geoffrey Fieger and his law partner, Ven Johnson, were acquitted yesterday of all charges against them. While there was no question that Fieger and Johnson had reimbursed their employees for donations to John Edwards in 2004, the government did not prove that Fieger and Johnson intended to evade campaign finance laws, and therefore did not prove that they had broken the law.

I think the government lost this case for a number of reasons. First, Fieger’s team made a reasonable argument that the law in question doesn’t explicitly forbid reimbursement of employees; it only forbids giving in another person’s name. This made Fieger’s claim that he had researched the law and determined he could do what he did–reimburse employees–without believing he was evading the law.

Just as importantly, the government repeatedly put witnesses on the stand that severely damaged its case. For example, it put Jeffrey Danzig on the stand only to have him testify about how common reimbursed donations are in the legal community.

“I’ve done exactly what I’ve done at the Fieger firm that’s the subject of this litigation on numerous occasions through my legal career at another firm,” Jeffrey Danzig testified on direct examination.

Fieger and partner Vernon (Ven) Johnson are charged with breaking campaign finance laws. Money was collected from employees, friends, relatives and other for the 2004 John Edwards presidential bid and the donations were then reimbursed by law firm checks.

The times he’d done the same thing while at the Lopatin-Miller law office were “too many to count,” Danzing said in later cross-examination.

Danzig also discredited the government’s key witness, Jay Humphrey.

Finally, though he’s a blowhard, Fieger did not botch his own testimony, and apparently convincingly argued that he would never do anything that might ruin his career. Which seems to be why the jurors voted not to convict.

“I think it was the lack of evidence that got us to our decision,” said juror Krista First 24, an accountant from Adrian.

Juror Maria Kruger, 42, a college student from Clinton Township, said there was no logical explanation for why Fieger and Johnson would commit career suicide over political contributions.

“I can’t imagine you would intentionally destroy your lives and the lives of the people around you,” she said.

Scott Horton reminds us that this is one of many cases that raised questions about selective prosecution. Now, frankly, if John Conyers thought there was an easy way to make hayout of a case in his own city, I suspect he would have made it. Sure, there is no doubt that the AG, one Supreme Court Judge, and the US Attorney have reasons to gun for Fieger. Sure, they went way overboard in sending 80 agents–in a city with significant terrorism investigations that never muster 80 agent stings–to question Fieger’s employees. Fieger is so notorious in the this town, though, it’s hard to separate an average FBI aegnt’s desire to take on a big legal blowhard from the AG’s desire to do so.

Mostly, though, I suspect that Republicans found Jay Humphrey while conducting a state-level investigation, and coached him to walk in the FBI’s front door to launch this case. Humphrey got fired from Fieger’s firm long after he complained about the donation scheme; after the charges were filed, Humphrey sued Fieger for wrongful termination (his attorney is one of the guys who fights the Republicans’ anti-affirmative action battles in the state), so he’s the classic disgruntled employee getting his revenge using something that–temporally at least–seems entirely unconnected. Sending Humphrey through to the FBI apparently of his own accord would have been a way for the state’s obviously personalized and politicized witch hunts against Fieger to try again at the federal level in a way that was, on the surface, clean from political taint. (This is precisely how Republicans inserted Linda Tripp–and with her, Monica Lewinsky–into Ken Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton.)

And frankly, I think it was due more to the fact that the FBI agent and the AUSA investigating the case got so excited about taking down Fieger–therefore got really really sloppy–than any proper exercise of justice that the government didn’t win its case.

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17 replies
  1. GeorgeSimian says:

    The DOJ has become a corrupt, incompetent mess. Where are the terror convictions? Where are the Abramoff convictions?

    • Hugh says:

      What has happened at the DOJ has happened at every other department and agency in the federal government. We just don’t hear about most o the others that often.

  2. behindthefall says:

    I suppose the mods and techs know that this is showing up (XP,Opera):

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  3. BayStateLibrul says:

    Where is the IG report on Gonzo that was due by the Spring?
    Did they have to run it by the White House?

  4. PetePierce says:

    This is terrific news. This is one of a series of targeted prosecutions by a hijacked DOJ and the good guy won. Feiger and his partner have done a lot of high quality defense trial work for years blowhard or not.

    These Siegelmanesque prosecutions take some huge pounds of flesh out of a family’s life–they’re very traumatic and expensive for the defendant, and every day they have a huge gilloutine around their neck.

    Cyril Wecht who has been a brilliant pathologist for years and contributed much to forensic pathology and the surgical path literature, and Siegelman are one of a series of targeted prosecutions and in a just world Rove would be hammered in hearings he will never attend, and Fitz would have followed through and convicted Rove, Cheney, and Addington who not only knows where all the bodies are buried, but had a hand in making most of the bodies and burying them.

  5. bmaz says:

    EW, I definitely agree with your bit about the local motives vis a vis the national motives. The one thing that militates against that is the PIN involvement. They sure didn’t dial this back or anything reasonable now did they? And we know, pretty much by definition, that PIN is running flak for the whole regime and spate of politicized prosecutions. So, maybe this is a more bifurcated case than some (although the facts in Siegelman may lend the same analysis really); but that doesn’t detract from the essential character of what it is.

      • bmaz says:

        PIN is the Public Integrity Section at the DOJ. As to the nature of their movement, I would characterize it as bowel related….

      • PetePierce says:

        Don’t be fooled by the formal language on their website Kirk–these clowns commit a lot of malpractice and Rx prosecutions inappropritely all the time.


        PIN @ DOJ

    • emptywheel says:

      Agree about PIN. But I think what happened there is that Humphrey walked in the front door of FBI. Both MI ED and PIN started investigating it. Neither the ED MI USA (who has ties to Cox and every reason to want Fieger in jail) or Noel Hillman did what they should do and leave the whole investigation to FEC (had they done so, Fieger would have gotten a big fine). But then, after these leaders did not do as they should, the investigation continued. That’s not to say that Marshall Day and Lynn Helland knew they were getting a prosecution that was politicall tainted (whereas I think the Siegelman USA went several steps further).

      Of course that’s why it got to trial. Because they isolated off the areas that tainted it in such a way that Fieger could not prove taint, even though it’s crazy to imagine that Cox had no involvement in this.

      • bmaz says:

        Agreed. It was “team effort” all the pitiful way around; but that is why the supposed grownups at Main are supposedly there; except when, like here, they just are not. Interestingly, however, this is all exactly why I was suggesting that Fieger has a civil door to open if he so chooses. There are state level and private actors littered in the process that can serve as sufficient party defendants to get at discovery on the whole larger set of actors. Which, of course, that other notable complaint failed to do.

        • PetePierce says:

          Agreed. It was “team effort” all the pitiful way around; but that is why the supposed grownups at Main are supposedly there; except when, like here, they just are not.

          ABsolutely. That’s why there is a protocol to have these prosecutions approved at Main with even more bases theoretically to touch when PIN is involved.

          I believe that Kendall Day, still very wet behind the ears at 30 years old from PIN, and his boss Noel Hillman and AUSA Lynn Helland as well as Judge Paul Borman all knew that this was a politically driven prosecution. Borman questioned having 80 agents raid Feiger’s law office (damn I’m glad that DOJ and DHS and FBI have such a great handle on terrorism that they have determined allocation of personnel appropriately this way) knew in spades they had a politically orchestrated prosecution from the firm of Cheney, Rove, Addington, and Gillespie and there were all kinds of elliptical and direct vectors by which they should have known this.

          We have a rich story here if Conyers and others will investigate the White House’s participation in instigation of Feiger’s prosecution.

          I haven’t followed this case that closely, but I remember Judge Borman was considering a request from Feiger’s attorneys for an investigation and there sure would be grounds for Conyers digging his teeth into Helland’s butt, PIN’s butt, Marshall, and the butts that are squatting in chairs much higher because that is where this initiated.

          This should have been a defense that Bmaz enjoyed, because one of his stars, the legendary Gerry Spense at age 78, who got Imelda Marcos acquitted, as well as Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge fame, helped coordinate the defense team along with David Nevin from Boise, Idaho, who is defending Khalid Sheik Mohammed a current Gitmo resident.

          I’m with Bmaz on Spense. He’s definitely an allstar to have in your corner.

          • bmaz says:

            Pete, they (Feiger) did get a fair amount, although not all, of that discovery/inquiry. From my read, Borman was close to dismissing the whole thing, but the facts as presented didn’t set up exactly right. I will bet dollars to donuts that Borman is one relieved dude that the jury acquitted though, i think he was banking on that. Fieger has enough goods to probe on a civil suit if he wants. Would sure be nice to see a little of the parallel prosecution tag teaming with Congress (which I generally oppose, but what the hell) like they so gleefully did with the Clemens case.

  6. bell says:

    if someone already covered this i apologize for bringing it up again : is their some sort of problem with this website?? i couldn’t get on most of yesterday… thanks –

    • bmaz says:

      There were technical difficulties. There are a lot of moving parts to the greater FDL ship, and things are still being sorted out after having added a few of them recently. They are aware of the issues and working diligently to insure future stability.

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