Jim Dey: Schock's corruption case on hold while appeal proceeds

Jim Dey: Schock's corruption case on hold while appeal proceeds

Defense lawyers seeking dismissal of the corruption indictment against former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock have until Dec. 11 to file their legal brief with the Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, the tentative January trial date set by U.S. Judge Colin Bruce, who presides at the Urbana federal courthouse, has been vacated, and all other issues pending at the trial-court level have been put on hold.

"The court will set those dates at a later time," Bruce said. "All motions currently pending before this court will likewise be held in abeyance until the case is returned at the conclusion of the appellate process."

It remains to be seen just how long the case is delayed. Federal prosecutors will have at least 30 days to respond to the scheduled Dec. 11 filing by the defense.

From there, appellate justices will determine if and when oral arguments will be heard. Then the appeals court, which will decide the issue via a three-judge panel, must render a decision. That is likely to take at least several months, perhaps longer.

Schock, a 36-year-old onetime rising political star from Peoria, is a former state legislator who was serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives when a series of news reports questioning spending in his office led to his resignation.

He was named in a 24-count federal criminal indictment in November 2016, charged with a series of offenses including income-tax evasion, mail fraud and theft of government and campaign funds. He has adamantly denied the allegations, charging that the government is criminalizing behavior that either is innocent or devoid of criminal intent.

Last month, Bruce dismissed two of the 24 counts against Schock, holding that they were legally invalid. One of the charges, he ruled, violated the U.S. Constitution's separation-of-powers clause while the other — alleging theft of government funds — was simply a repackaging of earlier charges (counts 1-5) in the indictment.

At the same time, Bruce upheld the legal validity of 14 other counts in the indictment, finding they were legally sufficient to present to a jury.

He has not addressed eight other counts — six alleging income-tax evasion and two alleging improper reimbursement for spending by his congressional office.

The defense notified Bruce on Nov. 1 that it was filing what is called an "interlocutory appeal" of the judge's lengthy Oct. 23 ruling "granting in part and denying in part (Schock's) motion to dismiss the indictment for violations of the Constitution's rule-making, speech or debate and due-process clauses."

As a general practice, trial courts handle all the aspects of litigation that lead to a trial, and the appeal follows.

In an interlocutory appeal, one side or the other asks for appellate review of a trial-court ruling about an particular aspect of a case made before the trial.

Legal experts state that "such an appeal can be made if extraordinary circumstances exist that would prevent the case from being properly decided if the appeal wasn't heard."

In Schock's case, he is seeking a dismissal of the indictment on constitutional grounds. A favorable ruling, obviously, would nullify the government's effort to bring him to trial.

Schock has filed multiple motions challenging the government's investigative techniques, asserting that prosecutors were determined to indict him and went in search of a crime. The government conducted two separate grand jury probes before returning its broad-based indictment.

Schock has also alleged that the government probed deeply into his personal life, seeking evidence that he is gay as part of its investigative effort. Rumors of that nature have surrounded Schock since he first entered politics, running for the Peoria school board at age 19.

However, he has repeatedly denied the charge, contending they are simply unfounded rumors.

Schock's Constitution-based attack on the indictment contrasts sharply with how federal prosecutors have characterized the case. They assert that he routinely and improperly used taxpayer and campaign funds and treated campaign and office accounts as personal piggybanks and is now claiming government misconduct to escape legal accountability for his actions.

Bruce has acknowledged the complicated and conflicting issues that come to the fore when the executive branch — in the form of a federal prosecutor — goes after the legislative branch — a former member of the U.S. House.

"... This case is rife with potential issues related to the separation of powers," he said in his Oct. 23 decision in which he addressed a number of them.

For example, counts 1-5 allege that Schock improperly obtained $7,200 over a 22-month period from 2012 to 2014 by falsifying mileage-reimbursement claims. The reimbursement process is governed by congressional rules not subject to executive review. But though congressional rules "determine the appropriateness of mileage reimbursements," lawmakers are not immune from prosecution if they intentionally game the system to collect reimbursements to which they are not entitled.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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Zinger wrote on November 08, 2017 at 10:11 am

It took two grand juries for the government to indict?

That should tell us how weak their case is  

Stop wasting more tax payer money on this charade.