High Court Declines to Hear Jefferson Appeal

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 18, 2009 2:13 PM

The Supreme Court today refused to hear an appeal by former Louisiana Democratic congressman William J. Jefferson seeking dismissal of corruption charges against him, but it agreed to take two other cases: Canadian-born media magnate Conrad M. Black's appeal of a fraud conviction and a challenge to the constitutionality of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a major anti-fraud law aimed at reforming U.S. business practices.

The court's action in the case of Jefferson, 62, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2007 and lost his reelection bid last year, means that his trial can go ahead as scheduled June 2 in Alexandria.

The nine-term congressman was the subject of a bribery investigation by the FBI, which raided his home in Northeast Washington in 2005 and found $90,000 in cash in a freezer -- money that federal prosecutors said came from a bribe offered to Jefferson by an FBI informant. In 2006, FBI agents also raided Jefferson's congressional office.

Voters in his district, which includes much of New Orleans, nevertheless reelected Jefferson later in 2006. But a June 2007 federal indictment on 16 corruption-related charges proved politically fatal. Jefferson lost his seat to Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao in December.

The indictment alleges that Jefferson sought to profit from seven separate bribery schemes, including solicitation of payoffs from a Kentucky-based telecommunications firm and a Nigerian corporation.

In his effort to have the charges against him thrown out, Jefferson argued that the indictment contravened the legislative immunity provided to him by the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, he claimed that three former staffers should have been barred from telling the grand jury about his relationships with African leaders and his knowledge of West African nations because that testimony related to Jefferson's legislative duties.

Prosecutors denied that the grand jury had heard or considered any material covered by the Speech or Debate Clause.

A three-judge panel of the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected Jefferson's arguments in November. And the Supreme Court today opted not to hear the case, Jefferson v. United States.

However, the court said it would hear an appeal by Black, a member of Britain's House of Lords, and two former colleagues who seek to overturn their U.S. convictions for defrauding shareholders of Hollinger International Inc., which once published major newspapers in the United States, Britain and Canada and ranked as the world's third-largest publisher of English-language papers.

Black was convicted in July 2007 on charges of fraud and obstructing justice. He was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in federal prison and began serving his term in March 2008.

The high court agreed to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, which upheld the conviction of Black and former Hollinger senior executives John A. Boultbee, Mark S. Kipnis and Peter Y. Atkinson. The court is expected to rule on the case during its next term beginning in October.

The four defendants were accused of defrauding Hollinger of $6.1 million by awarding themselves illegal bonuses.

Black, the former chairman and chief executive of Hollinger, appealed to the Supreme Court along with Boultbee, Hollinger's former executive vice president and chief financial officer, and Kipnis, the company's former corporate counsel and secretary.

They argued that the trial judge in the case, Black, et al. v. United States, had given improper instructions to the jury that found them guilty.

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of Sarbanes-Oxley, a 2002 law that stemmed from major corporate and accounting scandals at companies such as Enron, Tyco International, Adelphia and WorldCom.

Pro-business conservatives challenged the anti-fraud law on grounds that a board set up by the legislation to oversee the accounting industry violates the Constitution's separation-of-powers doctrine.

In their 2006 lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that since the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has regulatory powers over the accounting industry, its officers should be appointed by the president instead of the Securities and Exchange Commission. They want the board and the entire law declared unconstitutional.

The lawsuit in the case, Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, was dismissed by a U.S. District Court, and that ruling was upheld last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

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