An Illinois congressman is working on a new “honest services” law. “Honest services,” enacted in 1988, has been a favorite of federal prosecutors in public corruption cases to include unethical conduct where outright bribery or fraud isn’t proven. The U.S. Supreme Court two years ago sharply limited use of the law, ruling unanimously in two cases (Black vs. U.S. and Skilling vs. U.S.) that the law was too vague to constitute a crime unless a bribe or kickback was involved.
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Now, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) is co-sponsor of a new version of honest services designed for public corruption cases. “It is more specific in its detailed language of the types of activities it covers. Some of it’s hard to describe. It’s easiest to describe it as being more specific,” he said. Ex-Gov. Otto Kerner (pictured) was convicted of honest services fraud in 1973. He is believed to be the first defendant imprisoned under this principle, even before it became a statute. Defense lawyers have complained that “honest services” makes it illegal to do anything the U.S. attorney thinks should be illegal, whether or not a specific statute is violated. Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted under honest services, but the charge was dropped after the Supreme Court ruling in 2010. The new measure, co-sponsored by Quigley and U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) has passed the House Judiciary Committee. Quigley says he expects it to be called for a vote on the House floor soon.