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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Convicted PA Lawmaker Fails to Pin Governor

(CN) - A convicted lawmaker cannot accuse Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett of destroying heaps of witness interview notes from the "Computergate" conspiracy, a federal judge ruled.

After serving six terms as a state representative, Brett Feese had to leave his job as Republican chief counsel and his $197,000 salary when charges were filed against him.

The Computergate scandal, as it was termed, involved a conspiracy by Feese and others to spend public money on sophisticated computer programs for political campaigns from 2000 to 2007, diverting millions of dollars for state-paid computer services and state workers.

On Election Day 2011, Feese was convicted on all 40 charges, including theft, hindering apprehension and conflict of interest for directing state-paid staff to do political work, conceal information from investigators and falsify evidence.

He was later sentenced a maximum 12 years in state prison and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.

This past June, Feese sued 15 state officials including Gov. Corbett, who had been attorney general during the Computergate investigation.

Feese claimed that accused Democrats were acquitted of "approximately 75 percent of the counts filed against them," and that their judges "both recognized the legal distinction between transcripts of grand jury testimony on the one hand, and notes of witness interviews on the other hand."

But in "The Republican Case," the defendants "intentionally destroyed" exculpatory evidence gathered during Feese's criminal investigation, namely, notes from 189 witness interviews.

Though Feese and others highlighted the issue during pretrial proceedings, the judge allegedly denied relief and cleared the way to Feese's conviction.

"Had the destroyed evidence been available at trial, it would have caused the jury to return a different verdict as to one, some, or all of the charges, or it would have otherwise undermined confidence in the outcome of the trial," Feese claimed.

Feese said the destruction deprived him of his due process rights under the Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court denied Feese's direct appeal in September, but the matter remains pending, as he filed an application for reargument last month.

The defendants moved to dismiss Feese's constitutional claims in August, and U.S. District Judge John Jones III granted the motion Monday.

Relying on the Supreme Court's 1994 decision in Heck v. Humphrey, the judge held that, because Feese's conviction has not been reversed on direct appeal or otherwise called into question, he cannot recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional imprisonment.

"Plaintiff is seeking to litigate issues inextricably linked with the validity of his convictions," Jones wrote. "Plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of his due process rights as a criminal defendant and, as a result, suffered harms caused by his wrongful conviction. Although plaintiff has challenged and continues to challenge his conviction through direct appeal, his conviction has not been reversed, expunged, or in any way declared invalid. Therefore, plaintiff's suit is barred by the Supreme Court's decision in Heck and shall be dismissed."

The District Court agreed to dismiss without prejudice, however, so that Feese may refile his claims if the state court grants relief with regard to his conviction.

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