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Profile: Chris Van Wagner
Chris Van Wagner was a participant or observer in the following events:
A federal court of appeals overturns the conviction of former Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson, who was convicted of two felony counts of manipulating a state bidding process to favor a Wisconsin travel agency whose executives had made campaign donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see June 13, 2006). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacates the conviction and orders Thompson released from jail (see September 22, 2006) immediately. US Attorney Steven Biskupic, who prosecuted Thompson, says he will most likely not appeal the decision. The three-judge panel finds Thompson was wrongfully convicted after oral arguments were presented by both Biskupic’s office and Thompson’s attorney, not waiting for written submissions. Judge Diane T. Wood called the evidence submitted by Biskupic “beyond thin,” telling prosecutors: “I have to say, in comparison to some of the cases this court has seen, that’s a pretty thin set of facts to show some sort of tight political relationship. Am I missing something?” Judge William Bauer wondered why others were not prosecuted, asking why, if prosecutors felt Doyle and others were complicit in the alleged crimes, only Thompson was left to “carr[y] the sack.” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook noted Adelman Travel had the lowest bid and assailed math used to score competing bids. “Because they flunked high school math doesn’t mean a felony was committed,” he said. Doyle, a former state attorney general, says the court did an “extraordinary thing” by entering an order finding Thompson innocent and ordering her immediate release. Decisions like this usually take weeks or months to be rendered. Doyle says Thompson did nothing wrong, calls her “an innocent woman who was used as a political football,” and says she deserves her job back and to be awarded back pay. “She was doing her job, and then she got caught up in all of this,” he says. Doyle defeated gubernatorial challenger Mark Green (R-WI) in the November 2006 elections; Green attempted to make the Thompson “Travelgate” affair a centerpiece of his campaign, and repeatedly accused Doyle and his administration of corruption. Thompson’s attorney, Stephen Hurley, argued in oral presentations that Thompson did not personally profit from the contract going to Adelman Travel, contending that her actions did not constitute “dishonest gain,” a criteria many courts have applied to corruption cases. Hurley says that as a result of her conviction, she lost “her job, her life savings, her home, and her liberty; and it cost Georgia her good name.… At sentencing, the government urged a longer period of incarceration because Georgia did not accept responsibility. Today, the government ought to accept responsibility for the consequences of its acts.” Wisconsin Republican Party director Mark Jefferson says Thompson’s exoneration means nothing, and the Doyle administration should still be investigated regarding the contract process. [Associated Press, 4/5/2007; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007] Wisconsin lawyer Chris Van Wagner later says of the appeals court’s decision: “That is more than a legal ruling; it’s a slap in the face. This, no question about it, is a major affront to the government in many ways. Most significantly, it said you should have never brought this case.… Two or three cases out of 100 are vacated. This case wasn’t just vacated and sent back for a retrial, but rather the judges ordered an acquittal.” [Christopher T. Van Wagner, 4/2007] Law professor Michael O’Hear agrees that the decision is unusual. “If this was a finding of insufficient evidence, what they’re saying is it’s unjust that Georgia Thompson has been in prison the last few months,” he says. [Wisconsin State Journal, 4/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Frank Easterbrook, Diane T. Wood, Adelman Travel, William Bauer, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Michael O’Hear, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Georgia Lee Thompson, Mark Jefferson, Chris Van Wagner, Mark Andrew Green
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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