The Strange and Dangerous Case of the Lottery and Mr. Cahill

The states are often described, in the memorable words of Justice Louis Brandeis, as the “laboratories of democracy,” places in which new laws and practices can be tested and perfected on the local level before spreading to the rest of the nation. Unfortunately, this process can occasionally go awry, as it did with Massachusetts’ recent anti-corruption law. Modeled after the vague and excessively broad federal “honest services fraud” statute, the Massachusetts law ended up criminalizing vast swaths of ordinary political activity.

The first test case pursued by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was a prosecution of former state Treasurer Timothy Cahill. In light of the jury’s acquittal of the co-defendant and its hung verdict in Cahill’s case, my latest column, which ran in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, takes a look at the anti-corruption law and the alleged “criminal” activity that Cahill engaged in while making a third-party bid for governor in 2010.

You can find my column on the Wall Street Journal’s website, or, for those without a subscription to the Journal, you can find the full column after the jump.

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"Tim Cahill, the lottery, and the demands of democracy" on

After realizing that nobody writing about or reporting on the prosecution of former Massachusetts treasurer Timothy Cahill nor his co-defendant Scott Campbell seemed to grasp the fundamental reasons that the prosecution was both unlawful and ill-considered as a matter of sound public policy, I decided to write a short piece on the case for The Boston Globe. (The Globe’s news and editorial pages were a prime example of what I view as a wrong-headed view of the case – cheering on the prosecution despite its violating the Due Process of Law rights of the defendants as well as the public’s right to benefit from public officials’ exercise of their informing function. And so I submitted my piece to the Globe, which, admirably, agreed to run it despite it’s being critical of the paper.)

You can find it on the Boston Globe's website.

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Blagojevich Sentenced: He Joins the Justice Department's Smoke and Mirrors Show

Rod Blagojevich was sentenced on December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day!) to 14 years in prison. I argue in my latest “Injustice Department” piece at that Blagojevich was a victim of an ever-expanding federal prosecutorial apparatus. He violated no state laws, and yet found himself under the thumb of a prosecutor citing vague federal statutes. The result was Blagojevich’s having been found culpable for behavior that was not criminal, and that he had no reason to think would be construed as such. In the run-up to his sentencing where the trial judge played his assigned part in a morality play enabling unjust federal prosecutorial power, and in a last desperate attempt to lessen his punishment, Rod Blagojevich admitted responsibility. But he admitted to having committed what I deem to be non-crimes. And if a new congressional bill—the “Clean Up Government Act”—gets enacted into law, we will see a great many more unsuspecting local politicians finding themselves in the crosshairs of  an overzealous and unjust federal criminal justice system.  Today it is the pols in the DOJ’s crosshairs; tomorrow it can readily be all of us (indeed, it pretty much is already).

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NPR Connecticut: 'A Nation of Criminals?'

Talking TFD on the NPR Connecticut program Where We Live, hosted by John Dankosky, with Guest Stanley Twardy, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. We discuss, among other topics, the role of prosecutorial discretion and the question of criminal intent.

A Nation of Criminals?

"A Nation of Criminals?Where We Live, NPR Connecticut

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Boston Globe op-ed: Finneran's only crime is careful diplomacy

Those familiar with Three Felonies a Day know the story of former Speaker of the Massachusetts House Thomas Finneran. Finneran was charged with federal obstruction of justice and perjury because he allegedly lied, in court testimony, about the extent of his involvement in a legislative redistricting plan that was being challenged as discriminatory. Under questionable circumstances, Finneran entered a guilty plea in 2007. Accepting this plea as indisputable proof of culpability, the Supreme Judicial Court disbarred Finneran earlier this month.

In today's Boston Globe, I put Finneran's case in the context of the ever-increasing rate of guilty pleas in the federal criminal justice system, noting that the Feds essentially made him an offer he could not refuse.
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book Three Felonies a Day, a critical
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