As I write, the spectacle of the impeachment trial of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has just completed day two. Earlier in the day, as in the previous days, the popular and not so popular press decried this man as a "blow hard," "publicity hound," "crook," "idiot," and all the rest, and will likely continue to do so in the days ahead. The media accounts profess shock and amazement that this man would take to the public airways to make his case rather than defend himself in the proceedings in Springfield, Illinois, birthplace of the political careers of Presidents Lincoln and Obama. Sadly, it makes sense to us to try this man in the press, pronounce his guilt, cast him aside and move on to the Oscars, the ups and downs of Brittany's career or the public interest story of the day. After all, the press has received the evidence, weighed it, and presented it, and we, the jurors of right and wrong, the public at large, can decide the case and punish this man with our scorn and contempt and move on to our next tasks.
This spectacle, and its reporting, erodes the public's trust in judicial or quasi-judicial process. Jury trials are a far cry from the impeachment "trial" taking place in Illinois. In American courts, judges decide what evidence the jury will hear. Both sides have subpoena power and can seek enforcement by the court. Witnesses can be confronted in open court and cross-examined to determine their truthfulness and veracity. The jury's role is to sit in judgment of the evidence it hears after being instructed in the law by the court. The jury is admonished not to be influenced by outside events or to read press reports of the proceedings. The entire process is fair and just. And in 99 percent of the cases tried before a jury in this country, a just result is attained. Wrongs are righted by appellate courts, if appropriate.
Not so the rules governing the Illinois Senate impeaching Governor Blagojevich. The Senate, not the presiding Illinois chief justice, decides by vote which witnesses the governor can call, which can be subpoenaed, and what evidence can be heard. Oh yes, he can move the Senate to admit certain evidence, but the Senate "rules" on the motion. The right to confront witnesses and cross-examine them is not preserved. The rules of the courts of the state of Illinois and the United States are expressly disregarded. You are encouraged to review the rules for yourself. The link is: http://www.ilga.gov/senate/committees/Documents/Proposed%20Senate%20Impeachment%20Rules.pdf.
Ask yourself, would you like to be tried in this court before this jury using rules expressly created for your prosecution by politicians whose heart ticks to the beat of popular opinion?
The entire Blagojevich fiasco is sad. The saddest aspects are that our faith in what is just in our country is eroded by proceedings such as the Senate impeachment trial in Illinois and the way the press has covered it. We must measure what is just by the way we treat the unpopular, the weak, and the unfortunate. The Illinois governor is not weak and is unlikely unfortunate. He is, no doubt, extremely unpopular. The treatment of him erodes our confidence in what is fair and just to the detriment of all.
Lederer Weston Craig, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, Iowa