Jefferson Looks Again to Supreme Court

Posted December 17, 2008 at 3:31pm

Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) indicated Tuesday that he will appeal his federal indictment to the Supreme Court, the second time in pretrial motions that he has sought review by the nation’s highest court.

The Louisiana lawmaker, who lost his re-election bid, is fighting his indictment, asserting that prosecutors violated the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause when they provided the grand jury with evidence of his legislative activities.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia rejected Jefferson’s first attempt to dismiss the indictment in February.

A three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit then rejected the appeal, and in early December, the full Fourth Circuit panel declined to review the case.

Jefferson’s attorneys assert that the panel’s ruling clashed with earlier decisions with the Fourth Circuit. The court found that even though evidence included the testimony of several Jefferson staffers, the information did not infringe on Speech or Debate protections.

In court documents filed Friday, Jefferson’s attorneys indicated they will file an appeal in the Supreme Court.

“This case raises a critical constitutional question involving the scope of the protection afforded to legislators by the Speech or Debate Clause: Is a court barred from examining the evidence presented to a grand jury investigating a United States Congressman to determine whether a facially-valid indictment should be dismissed because it was obtained through the use of privileged legislative material in violation of the Clause?” Jefferson attorney Robert Trout and his associates wrote. “The Supreme Court has not yet resolved this question. “

Jefferson is charged in a 16-count indictment with offering and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to promote business ventures in West African nations.

A trial had been scheduled to begin in December in the district court but was canceled pending the outcome of Jefferson’s appeal.

In March 2008, the Supreme Court denied a separate appeal in the case sought by the Justice Department. In that decision, the court refused a Justice Department appeal of a lower court ruling that an FBI raid of Jefferson’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building had violated the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.