Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Devil Whispers: Attorney Violates Numerous Ethics (Allegedly)

An attorney in Rogers Park, Chicago is calling Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich a "criminal" in an open letter to Illinois Rep. Julie Hamos. That's just wrong, and an attorney should know better, particularly when said attorney fancies himself the editor, albeit of a teeny weeny rag of a childish "newspaper" in Chicago's hyper-provincial 49th Ward. The attorney specializes in mechanics liens law and actively libels or slanders anybody who gets in his way. He is the former campaign chair of failed aldermanic candidate James Ginderske (Democrat, 49th Ward, 2007) and a close confidant of Alderman Joe Moore (Democrat, 49th Ward). The attorney's name is Thomas J. Westgard. Before I go on, let me be clear: This is not a defense of Rod Blagojevich so much as it is a defense of the right of everyone (you and me, folks) to not be called "a criminal" unless they have been judged so in a court of law. Until such time, persons referring to a criminal defendant should qualify their accusations with words such as "alleged," "suspected," "reputed," or with phrases such as "I believe he is a criminal," or "I think he is a crook." You're now stating your opinion, not a legal falsehood. This goes beyond courtesy, in fact. It is also legally required, and people wrongly called "a criminal" without ever having been found so by a court of law have, in some cases, successfully sued for slander and/or libel damages. Westgard's violation of this simple rule is inexcusable, ethically questionable, and - sadly - very typical behavior on his part. In the post just under his open letter to Hamos, for example, Westgard has this lovely headline: "Roland Burris is a Corrupt Piece of Shit." Westgard has a nine year old son who will read all this one day (I've been caching it for two years). What a legacy he leaves. But I digress. As stated, I am no fan of Rod Blagojevich. Frankly, I loathe him. I hope he is impeached, and then convicted. Nevertheless, he deserves the same protection of law that anybody else does. I wish for impeachment or conviction to be accomplished in a tidy, legal, ethical and civilized manner, and only in that manner. Although I thoroughly enjoy watching Democrats snarl and bark at each other, the attorney's unethical behavior is offensive. Call Blago a bastard, if you will, he's fair game for that. But you cross a line when you call untried, unconvicted persons of criminal behavior. Period. For Westgard, or any attorney, to publicly pronounce Blago "a criminal" is a violation of ethics on several levels. Let us count the ways:
  1. Said attorney wrote, in that open letter to Rep. Hamas on his blog, "Rod Blagojevich is a criminal..." I know that mechanics liens attorneys are not required to be experts in criminal law, but even a halfwit layman knows that a person who has only been accused of a crime cannot be called a "criminal" until after a judge or jury has decided so. As an attorney, Westgard should know better.
  2. "...who has taken over the Executive Branch of the State of Illinois." Have I been asleep since George Ryan left office? I was under the impression that the Illinois Democrat Party endorsed Blagojevich in two gubernatorial elections. No? Yes? I was also under the impression that Democrat voters voted for him, early and often, thereby electing him fair and square (as fairly as can be expected in Democrat-controlled, scandal ridden, super-corrupt Illinois). So what is Westgard talking about? "Taken over?" Huh?
  3. Westgard blathers on, and we're bored witless three words into his second paragraph. "As a litigator," he has the psychopathic gaul to write, "I am of course familiar with different standards of proof in civil and criminal matters." Westgard then veers off into tangents willy nilly, but he never bothers to explain just what "standards of proof" he feels he has so expertly applied to the matter of citizen Rod Blagojevich that allows him to conclude - without benefit of discovery, examination, cross examination, evidence, and so on - that Blago is in fact "a criminal." Even the federal investigators who listened to the phone conversations of Blago allegedly conspiring to commit illegal acts are bound to see Blago convicted in a court of law before they haul him off to prison.
  4. Notice the use of the word "allegedly" above. Westgard, the carpenter cum mechanics liens lawyer cum newspaper editor, should become acquainted with the word. I would not be writing this had Westgard written something like "I believe Rod Blagojevich is a criminal," I would not be writing this.
  5. Technically, Westgard is a "journalist," not only by virtue of his lousy, 8-page newspaper, but by virtue of his libelous blog site. Any journalist worth their salt, however, knows that the word "allegedly" is not only a standard, but it also serves the purpose of legally covering one's ass. Just add "allegedly" in front of a charge of heinous behavior and voila - in most cases you've wiped away the possibility of being sued. Why doesn't attorney/litigator/editor/journalist Westgard know this, and if he does, why doesn't he adhere to it?
  6. Westgard wrote, in his boring letter to Hamos, "We in Illinois deserve to be protected from bad government..." The idiocy of that statement is mind numbing. While Attorney Westgard says that Illinoisans "deserve to be protected from bad government," he apparently does not feel that we all deserve equal protection when charged with legal wrongdoing. While I am not happy that Blago is still - or ever was elected as - our governor, I must recognize that he legally holds that office. Westgard would, it seems, prefer a quick lynching and 3-foot deep burial, and to hell with the inconvenience of legal proceedings.
  7. Westgard continued his vile spew: "...and if Blagojevich has no other problems, he can go find a new job like everyone else who is fired for malfeasance." More idiocy. First, Blago does have other problems. He allegedly owes, by now, well over half a million dollars in legal fees and the meter is running furiously. As for finding a new job "like everyone else who is fired," I must ask when Blagojevich was "fired." The phrase "everyone else" is quite different than the phrase "like everyone." Adding "else" in there makes it inclusive, and as far as I know, Blago is not included in the long list of people who have been fired, at least not as regards his current legally attained and legally held job. Shouldn't an attorney - even a lowly mechanics liens lawyer - know this?
  8. "If he has problems with a federal prosecutor, that's not a burden that Illinoisans should have to bear." Well, it is if that's what your contract provides. Furthermore, Westgard has no problem whatsoever with taxpayers picking up the tab for public defenders providing legal counsel to accused gangsters, child molesters, and so on. Getting back to Blago, he is under no legal obligation to resign his office. You may argue that Blago has a moral obligation to save the taxpayers some dough, but he has no legal obligation.
  9. Westgard finishes his moronic rant with this: "A big decision is always accompanied by some trepidation, and some people are more inclined to self-doubt than others. This desire to devolve into philosophy is just the devil whispering in your ear." It is fascinating that Attorney Westgard considers the application of philosophy to be a kind of devolution. In essence, he is asking Hamos to just stop thinking about the impeachment process and to get on with it. Would Westgard apply this same mentality in a court of law on behalf of a client? Would he approach the judge and say, "Look your honor, all this talk is a waste of time. Can you just cut to the chase, not devolve into philosophical flights of fancy and bothersome mountains of evidence, and quickly rule in my client's favor?" Perhaps he would. He seems to be advocating for that kind of behavior in his open letter to Hamos.

To repeat, Blagojevich may well be guilty, but until he is given a fair trial he is legally not a criminal. Not officially, anyway, and until such time that he may be convicted he has the same rights that any other person has under both our state and federal constitutions. The same goes for any impeachment of Blagojevich. Rep. Hamos and other elected officials in Springfield have a difficult decision ahead of them. To impeach or not to impeach, that is their question. While I hope they move for impeachment, I would also hope that they impeach Blagojevich for the legally proper reasons. To do otherwise would be to take the advice of a whispering devil.