The William Jefferson Chronicles

Frozen Out? Court Rejects Appeal by Rep. William Jefferson
November 12, 2008, 5:10 pm
Frozen Out? Court Rejects Appeal by Rep. William Jefferson
Posted by Dan Slater

U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-LA, listens to a question after beating runoff opponent Helena Moreno for the 2nd Congressional District seat he has held for nine terms in New Orleans, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP/Ann Heisenfelt)

Rep. William Jefferson faces the following conundrum: He’s accused of bribery, racketeering and other charges as part of an alleged scheme involving payments to family controlled businesses in return for his help winning contracts, mostly in Western Africa. (Our favorite detail: investigators reportedly found $90,000 in cash in Jefferson’s home freezer). And now this: Today, in a written opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals refused Jefferson’s request to throw out most of the 16 corruption charges, setting the stage for a trial in 2009. Here’s a report from the Times-Picayune.

According to the opinion, written by Judge Robert King, Jefferson contended that the grand jury was improperly presented with evidence of his legislative acts and that such evidence was relevant to its decision to indict. “He asserts that the Indictment thus contravenes the legislative immunity provided to him by the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution . . .and must be dismissed,” wrote the court. Specifically, Jefferson was concerned that the grand jury may have considered evidence from Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson staffer who had pleaded guilty to related charges and was cooperating with the prosecution. Jefferson, wrote the court, thus suspected that evidence of his privileged legislative acts had been presented to the grand jury.

But the court said that even if the grand jury that indicted him heard testimony about Jefferson’s congressional activities, in possible violation of the Speech or Debate clause of the Constitution, that isn’t sufficient to overturn most of the federal criminal indictment against him.

“The principle of grand jury independence is firmly rooted and jealously protected in our federal system of justice,” concluded Judge King. “Because it is an independent investigative body, the federal courts have consistently accorded a grand jury ‘wide latitude.’”

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