Ninth Circuit allows corruption trial of Arizona ex-congressman

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday rejected [opinion, PDF] former US representative Richard Renzi's (R-AZ) appeal to have an extortion case against him dismissed. Renzi is under indictment for allegedly using his political office to profit from a real estate deal in 2005. He argued that negotiations regarding the deal, entered as evidence to a grand jury, were privileged "legislative acts" under the Speech or Debate Clause of Article I [text] of the US Constitution and therefore the evidence must be excluded and the case dismissed. The Ninth Circuit did not agree:

We recognize, as we must, that the Speech or Debate Clause is a privilege that "has enabled reckless men to slander and even destroy others with impunity." But the Supreme Court has made equally clear that the Speech or Debate Clause does not "make Members of Congress supercitizens, immune from criminal responsibility." Because we cling to "the precise words" of the Court's own Speech or Debate jurisprudence and "the sense of those cases, fairly read," we conclude that Renzi's actions fall beyond the Clause's protections. We therefore deny Renzi the relief he seeks.
The decision also added a racketeering charge that had previously been removed. Renzi's trial date has not yet been scheduled.

In June 2010, the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] threw out recorded conversations [Arizona Daily Sun report] of Renzi and one of his attorneys, ruling that the recordings were a violation of Article III [text] and the Fourth Amendment [text]. The court, though, ruled that the indictment would remain. When Renzi was indicted in 2008 [JURIST report], prosecutors alleged he used his position on the House Natural Resources Committee [official website] to block federal land transfer deals unless land owned by Texas real estate investor James W Sandlin was included. In exchange, Renzi allegedly received over $700,000 in payoffs. Sandlin was also indicted on charges of extortion, fraud, money-laundering and conspiracy and has since pleaded guilty.

 

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