Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Tribune gives cover to Blago lawyer

Several Chicago media outlets are allowing big-time defense lawyer Ronald Safer to take shots at U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald without telling their audience Safer is representing Fitzgerald's targets.

Safer is just doing his job. The news media is not.

The Chicago Tribune was the latest to fall for Safer's "wisdom" without the proper labeling. The Trib published an op-ed today under Safer's byline.

In his commentary, Safer's larger point was that the U.S. Attorney firing story is worthy of public attention. Safer, in his discussion of Fitzgerald, mildly criticized the U.S. Attorney.
He found that person in Patrick Fitzgerald, who has proven to be impervious to political influence. He leads an office that prosecutes those from both political parties who have abused their power. He is a vigorous and zealous prosecutor. I do not agree with all of the prosecutive decisions his office has made. I believe he has overreached, at times, and has erred on the side of zeal over empathy. That may be appropriate for the top of the pyramids of power; it is not at the bottom of those pyramids.
Safer has consistently said the same thing in numerous interviews in various publications, including the magazine Vanity Fair, and in local television interviews. He was a regular commentator on a Chicago television station during the George Ryan trial.

Safer's cache is that he used to prosecute corruption cases in the U.S. Attorney's office. What is not being said is that he is representing several targets of Fitzgerald, including former Bear Stearns executive Nicholas Hurtgen and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's administration.

Here is how the Tribune labeled Safer:
Ronald S. Safer is a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Chicago. He is representing one defendant in the federal trial of businessman Conrad Black and several of his associates.
No mention of Hurtgen and no mention of Blagojevich.

I'm sure Safer will point out that a federal judge's recent dismissal of the case against Hurtgen vindicates his opinion of Fitzgerald's alleged overzealousness. However, that case will soon be on appeal and a source I've talked to believes the charges eventually will be reinstated. And there's no denying that Fitzgerald's conviction record has been nearly perfect so far in his various Illinois prosecutions.

In the case of Blagojevich, Safer's law firm's role has been controversial. The administration hired Schiff Hardin LLC to help conduct its own hiring investigation alongside the federal investigation. Credible prosecutors like DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett believe that Schiff's work is an improper use of taxpayer money because it amounts to an impediment of the feds' work. It is reminiscient of George Ryan's hiring of a private law firm in the midst of his federal corruption investigation.

Blagojevich has shrouded the Schiff hiring in mystery, answering few questions about their work. A recent AP story said the $295-an-hour work has produced at least $236,000 in billings so far.

At some point, people in Blagojevich's administration may very well contend in court that Fitzgerald has overreached in prosecuting them. Safer is already making the case for them, under the cover of his media disguise.

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