Adam Katz is a senior associate at Harrison & Held LLP. He concentrates his practice on federal & state tax matters, mergers & acquisitions, entity structure and formation, commercial finance, and non-profit law. Adam can be reached at (312) 753-6110 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments on all posts are welcome!
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If by chance you happen to find yourself elected governor of the great state of Illinois, you might as well buy a bright orange jumpsuit and handcuff yourself to the nearest stationary object. Odds are you’re going to the slammer. But if you make it out of office scot-free, make sure that stationary object is a lottery ticket machine because you hit the jackpot, baby.
Yes, this week’s topic is former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his 14-year prison sentence for crimes including wire fraud, attempted extortion, solicitation of bribes, bribery conspiracy, and false statements.
Statistics show that Blagojevich’s arrest and sentence should be a surprise to no one. Over approximately the last 200 years, seven Illinois governors have been arrested or indicted. A great many people have wondered why Illinois governors frequently have such legal troubles. In my opinion, the late genius, Douglas Adams, put it best in his novel, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”:
“The major problem — one of the major problems, for there are several — one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.”
If people are the problem with respect to crime, how do governments deter said people and governors from committing crimes? Incarceration is one answer. Among other things, prisons sentences are meant to remove troublemakers from society, rehabilitate, and deter others from committing crime. However, the question is, how long should these sentences be? George Ryan was sentenced to six and one-half years and Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years.
Was Blagojevich’s sentence too long given 18 corruption convictions? Some people think so given certain physically malicious crimes can carry shorter sentences. It’s staggering to realize that a person who is convicted of a third DUI, a class 2 felony in Illinois, may serve a sentence of only seven years. A person who is convicted of Aggravated DUI, a class 4 felony in Illinois, which occurs following a crash resulting in great bodily harm or permanent disfigurement, may serve a sentence of only twelve years.
Yet, Blagojevich was sentenced to more years because he breached the public’s trust. Thus, we come to the question: is the public’s trust worth more than great bodily harm or permanent disfigurement? It’s certainly fair to argue that one person’s health is more valuable than imprisoning one state official for taking money under the table and some quid pro quo.
Instead of focusing on whether Blagojevich’s sentence is too long, we should concentrate on the positives that may come out of the lengthy sentence. Clearly, a sentence of six and one-half years is not grave enough to deter an elected official from committing crimes of corruption. Fourteen years, on the other hand, may be just what it takes to dissuade the next few governors from breaking the law like seven of our previous governors. When the risks outweigh the benefits for brainless crooks who are interested in reaching office in order to abuse their power, perhaps those far more suited to hold office will begin to run. And what we may end up with are smarter, more ethical, and all around more capable politicians who are, ipso facto, the best type of people for the job.