Could a high-profile legal case about abuse of power be derailed because of abuse of power?
Shock waves rippled through Georgia Republican circles when a preeminent legal scholar declared that the federal prosecution of former state senator Charles Walter, D-Augusta, can be assailed on the basis of a legal technicality. University of Georgia Prof. Ronald Carlson, a nationally-recognized expert on evidence and criminal procedure, underscores there are narrow constitutional grounds — with case precedents — for Walker’s legal team to possibly derail all or at least part of the 142 counts of corruption charges against him.
Through his Charlie McCarthyesque Augusta newspaper and lawyers, Walker has derided the charges against him as political in nature, stemming from his status as the influential Democrat state Senate majority leader until his defeat two years ago. The Augusta Democrat (who is running again for the Senate) points to the resignation of the Southern District U.S. Attorney as validation of his contentions. Republican appointee Rick Thompson, the prosecutor who initiated the Walker probe, abruptly resigned after the U.S. Department of Justice, in writing, sternly rebuked him for abusing the power of his office in order to influence a state election in favor of a Republican and against another state senator, who was a Democrat.
Everyone has a right to an impartial prosecution. As such, a separate defense of political bias has been carved out. It is a developing area of the law and Carlson notes that, with this letter from DOJ in hand, a panoply of options is available to the Walker defense. Those include but are not limited to wide ranging discovery in order to see just how far the trail of tears related to Thompson’s political influences travel. Disqualification of the entire Southern District federal prosecutor’s office that has nurtured and grown this case is also a potentiality. So, Carlson opines, is a dismissal of the indictment itself.
The thought of the potential depositions of Gov. Sonny Perdue and U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston and Charlie Norwood in order to determine what, if any, pressure to prosecute Walker might have been brought to bear on Thompson is naturally unsettling to Republicans. Imagine that the entire DOJ file on the Thompson matter could be opened up. Questions concerning what Thompson’s staff attorneys were doing while he was allegedly manipulating the political process will inevitably be asked. Were they sitting idly by? If so, that will not be viewed well by a jury and could give credence to Walker’s conspiratorial claims.
As the editorial page editor of The Augusta Chronicle during the 1980s and ’90s, I frequently decried Walker’s perceived and actual abuses. So it is bitterly ironic that political collusiveness and bias on the part of his Republican nemesis is now being cited as the source of Charles Walker’s salvation. Georgians who want to see an end to Walker’s political career can only hope Professor Carlson’s prophecy doesn’t come to pass.
Phil Kent is an Atlanta public relations consultant and author of The Dark Side of Liberalism (Harbor House)