Frank Phillips and Shelley Murphy report in today’s Boston Globe that former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran will plead guilty to obstruction of justice in a legislative-redistricting case. In return, Finneran will not go to prison and will not face federal perjury charges.
The charges have always struck me as faintly ridiculous. As Harvey Silverglate pointed out in this piece in the Boston Phoenix a year and a half ago, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan would have had a difficult time proving that Finneran did anything other than parse his words a little too cutely when he testified in the redistricting case. There was also no reason to think that whatever obfuscation Finneran engaged in was “material” to the outcome — key to proving perjury. In a remarkably prescient passage, Silverglate wrote:
Given the merits of his case, Sullivan is unlikely to prevail unless he pressures Finneran into accepting a plea bargain. Sullivan has many weapons at his disposal for applying such pressure, not the least of which is his power to recommend that if Finneran pleads guilty, the judge refrain from imposing a prison term. But Sullivan’s power to indict (it is rightly said that a federal prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich) and to pressure Finneran into a plea bargain is not the standard by which a federal prosecutor is supposed to decide whether to charge a citizen.
Silverglate closed that observation with this: “Besides, the former Speaker’s legendary toughness might well thwart any effort to pressure him into pleading guilty.” Sometimes, though, even a tough guy knows when to take the deal that’s offered him — regardless of whether he’s actually guilty.