"Your Honor, I'd like to plead stupidity."
You really could summarize the newest legal defense for corrupt politicians in those seven words. Thanks to a California Supreme Court decision from last year, and Omar Bradley's now-clean record, expect to see ignorance pleaded in future political corruption cases.
Eight years ago, Compton Mayor Omar Bradley was found guilty of corruption charges after the self-anointed "Gangster Mayor" accidentally used county funds and credit cards to cover personal expenses, reports the Los Angeles Times. Amongst the $7,500 in allegedly misappropriated funds were charges for golf balls and shoes, cigars, a penthouse hotel room, and of course, pay per view movies in the hotel room.
His defense: he didn't know he was breaking the law. He also argued that the charges were actually business expenses. For example, the golf items were used in business meetings. Plus, he allegedly got the city manager's approval.
Unfortunately for him, the maxim of "ignorance of the law is no excuse" ruled the day at his trial and numerous subsequent appeals. He ended up serving a three year sentence in prison and in a halfway house. The felony conviction barred him from holding public office and caused him to lose his teaching credential as well.
Hope sprung eternal from the wisdom of the California Supreme Court, however. In Sutter County Auditor-Controller Robert Stark's case, the court ruled that the official must know that their conduct is illegal or be criminally negligent for not knowing that their conduct was illegal.
This means ignorance, unless it's obvious, might actually be an excuse. Plausible deniability will be essential to future corrupt politicians. Only steal what you can excuse away as ignorance.
To be fair, the language of the statute does uses the terms "knowingly" and "willfully" multiple times. Under the Stark case's ruling, future prosecutions for violations of the statute, therefore, will require proof that the corrupt politician knew or should have known that what they were doing was illegal.
Though Omar Bradley has already served his sentence, he'll now get a clean record. He can now teach or run for public office, unless, of course, the prosecutors refile charges and win. They have 60 days to make that decision.
As for Robert Stark, he still seems to be the reigning Auditor-Controller of Sutter County. Ignorance prevails.
- Plead Ignorance With a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney (FindLaw)
- Former Compton mayor's corruption conviction overturned (Los Angeles Times)
- Cudahy Corruption Case: Culprits Cop Pleas, Admit Election Fraud (FindLaw's Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog)
- Bribery, Weed, and Massage Parlor Hookers: It's 'Politics, Bro' (FindLaw's Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog)