NEARLY A FULL YEAR after their first trial began, Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. and Joseph P. Yeldell are in court again, this time in Philadelphia, to be retried. Meanwhile, in another prominent case, former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel and five codefendants -- each having had one mistrial, one conviction, one reversal and one reinstatement -- are waiting to see whether the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will rehear the appeal of their convictions. These legal battles have been long and expensive for the defendants as well as the taxpayers, and have affected the political atmosphere in Maryland and the District. So, minus any conclusions after all this time, would't it be best to drop these cases?
The answer is that it wouldn't be. The finding of imperfections in an original trial and other judicial moves that lengthen the process are not intended to favor either side in court. So long as the prosecution believes it has a strong case, as the Justice Department has continued to think throughout the long Mandel trial-and-appeal process, the quest for a complete resolution -- conviction or acquittal -- is in the public interest. Only if the prosecutors' case is weakened by an appeals court opinion would there be reason to consider not dragging defendants through a third or fourth trial or appeal. And that is not the situation in either of these cases.
When decisions have turned against the defendants, after all, they have sought to prolong the process with appeals rather than accept conviction. And that is why Messrs. Antonelli and Yeldell are back in court, standing retrial on conspiracy and bribery charges. It also was the defense that requested that the retrial be transferred out of town, because of widespread publicity of the first trial.
It is true that merely defending oneself against charges in these drawn-out judicial proceedings can be financially costly and personally painful as time goes by and legal fees go up. It is also true that trials involving charges of white-collar crimes, prominent lawyers and police figures may turn out to be elaborate proceedings. But these are not justifications for simply dropping the cases and leaving lingering doubts about the guilt or innocence of public officials against whom criminal charges have been brought.