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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pincers movement

First, as the lawyers like to say, let's stipulate that a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich.

Let's also acknowledge that defense attorney Martin Weinberg is offering a Chuck Turner defense for his client, Richard Vitale: I would not be inspired with a lawyer who declares that an indictment involves "no classically criminal wrongdoing,"

That said, the 10-count misdemeanor charge brought against Vitale yesterday is nothing to take lightly. Brought by Attorney General Martha Coakley at the instigation by Secretary of State Bill Galvin, the charges surrounding Vitale's "lobbying" or "advising" relationship with Speaker Sal DiMasi opens the door to a broader action.

For those of you keeping score at home, this one involves the allegation that Vitale represented ticket brokers in an arrangement that ultimately eliminated the state's anti-scalping law.

The reality is this lack of "classically criminal wrongdoing" is just a first step to get Vitale to make a plea deal that would open the floodgates on the more serious charges that are engulfing him and his friend, Speaker Sal DiMasi.

That of course is the federal grand jury investigation into the deal surrounding Cognos ULC. DiMasi has been engaged in a legal battle with the state Ethics Commission over providing documents that could explain what role, if any, he had in the awarding of a Department of Education contract to the software maker.

The scope of those charges could be far more serious -- particularly for Vitale. A deal that would drop the state charges and lessen any federal penalties could be quite inviting for the embattled accountant. And leave DiMasi very vulnerable.

The other side of the pincer movement is the state indictment also turns up the heat on the Massachusetts House in the upcoming vote for Speaker.

Two of DiMasi's lieutenants have been jockeying for the job while the Speaker's political body is still warm. This latest turn is apparently giving some DiMasi supporters cold feet and leaving them to ponder the idea of voting "present" when the House convenes in two weeks.

While not legally troubling, a vote of no confidence would seriously weaken DiMasi going into one of the most crucial legislative sessions in recent years -- dealing with a massive budget fall out at the same time our transportation system is falling apart.

I hope DiMasi isn't getting any neckties for Christmas. I suspect things are a little tight around the collar already.

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