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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

"The dog ate my homework"

Tom Finneran's apology upon leading guilty to obstruction of justice sound almost as improbable as his denial of playing a role in the redistricting process that includes changes in his own district.

The Globe reports Finneran told the judge he was angry when he took the stand on Nov. 14, 2003 in the case brought by the Black Political Caucus and other voting rights groups. He was insulted, he said, by accusations that he was involved in a racist redistricting plan that "whitened" his district, the 12th Suffolk, by adding precincts from Milton to his Mattapan base.

"For 26 years I had represented a district that was overwhelmingly African-American, and I took great pride in my representation of that district," Finneran told the judge. "I was offended by the accusations."

Attorney Richard Egbert offered his client was suffering physically that day and had come to court with a "bad attitude." Finneran had just dropped off his wife, Donna, at a hospital for medical tests, Egbert said, and was experiencing pain in his hip. He was scheduled to undergo hip replacement surgery a couple of weeks later.


Tommy Finneran was one of the most gifted political players in recent Massachusetts history. A tough hide allowed him to brace for impact when he played hardball (which he did frequently). While he has be accurately described as a charming rogue (and he is not a racist), he is a master player in firm control of his surroundings.

I can accept that he was in pain and worried about his wife. But to allow his personal feelings and pain to override his judgment? That's hard to swallow from a man who has always presented himself as a master of his surroundings.

I was encouraged to re-read Harvey Silverglate's view on the saga written shortly after it began. It is truly a solid piece of prognostication -- predicting a plea bargain as the only way to take Finneran down. I certainly agree that Judge Bruce Selya and US Attorney Michael Sullivan do fit the role of out-of-control judge and ambitious prosecutor. And I have no doubt that perjury is a tough thing to prove: why else would Sullivan offer the deal?

But I'm struck by the claim Finneran was worried about being seen as too powerful. Really? The ability to exact revenge from those who were 'agin him was the essence of Finneran speakership. The back benches of the House were littered those who didn't go along with Terrible Tommy.

Should perjury charges have been brought the slippery foundation that Silverglate describes? In a non-political environment, no. But Finneran and Sullivan (a former Republican House member) are political animals as was the topic in question.

There are a couple of old saws here that are appropriate. A competent prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. And bad cases make bad law.

But there seems to be some justice here -- poetic if nothing else -- in watching the fall (and now the potential loss a respectable job) of a man inflicted with such a bad case of hubris that he thought he was above the law.

Bernie Law got a no-show job. The verdict is still out on George W. Bush. Tommy Finneran got caught being too cute. It may not be criminal, but as he admitted,
"In volunteering to testify, I was quickly drawn into political and combative questions which I answered in a political and combative manner. That was my mistake and no one else’s and I will regret that mistake for the rest of my life."
That makes him better than those other guys and I give him credit for that.

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