Judge in Jefferson Case Clarifies Definition of Official Act’

Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:21pm

A federal judge presiding over the upcoming trial of ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) issued an opinion Friday clarifying how the court identifies whether an elected official’s activities constitute an “official act— of office.

In the opinion, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis agreed to a request from Justice Department to revisit a 2008 decision that outlined what activities the court would identify as “official acts— in considering whether an elected official has violated federal anti-bribery laws.

In his earlier decision, Ellis applied a two-part test, stating that any alleged “official act— should “involve or affect a government decision or action.—

Ellis acknowledged in his new opinion that that requirement “could be misinterpreted as suggesting that the decision or action’ required by the statute may be, or is required to be, a decision or action by someone other than the charged public official.—

“Rather, the statute clearly requires that in exchange for the alleged bribe, defendant — and not some third party, government or otherwise — be influenced in the performance of a decision or action,— he wrote.

Ellis also rejected a motion from Jefferson to dismiss criminal corruption charges, reconfirming a similar decision in his 2008 ruling.

Jefferson’s defense team argued that the Louisianan’s alleged actions did not qualify as “official acts— and so did not violate federal bribery statues.

“Defendant’s motion to reconsider the result reached in the May 2008 Opinion must be denied, as it is clear that the Indictment’s official act’ allegations fit well within the statutory definition of official act’ explained here,— Ellis wrote.

But Ellis added that federal prosecutors must still demonstrate to the jury that the alleged “official acts— violate anti-bribery laws.

“The Indictment’s legal sufficiency on the official act’ element does not relieve the government of its burden to prove at trial that the alleged official acts’ meet the statutory definition of that term,— Ellis wrote.

Jefferson is charged with 16 counts of violating federal law for allegedly offering and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to promote business ventures in West African nations.

He is scheduled to go on trial June 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.