In a ruling establishing that financial gain and not merely "intangible political gain" is a requirement for a conviction under the state's conflict of interest statute, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has vacated the sentence of former Beaver County State Representative Michael Veon convicted in connection with using public money to rent space for his legislative offices, writes Max Mitchell of The Legal Intelligencer..
A divided Supreme Court vacated the entire judgment of sentence against Veon and remanded the case for a for a new trial. The decision reversed a ruling from the Superior Court, which had upheld the sentence.
The opinion, written by Justice David N. Wecht, said that the trial court had erred when it said the statute defining conflict of interest can be violated even if the only benefit to the defendant was political in nature. Wecht added that, since nothing in the rest of the jury instructions fixed that error, Veon's entire sentence had to be vacated.
"The trial court's jury instruction here made of the statute a meat axe, finding (or creating) a conflict of interest on every dais, at each parade, and at every ribbon-cutting, given that the very nature of seeking to satisfy one's constituents and secure re-election all but requires the taking of official action to secure intangible political gains," Wecht said. "This criminalization of politics is a bridge too far."
Justices Christine L. Donohue and Max Baer filed concurring and dissenting opinions.
Pittsburgh attorney Joel Sansone, who represented Veon, said the ruling was a "total vindication."
"Mike has said all along that he never took a penny, and in any of these prosecutions there hasn't been any proof that he's taken any money ever," Sansone said. "Mike was a servant of the people. He never did anything for his own personal gain."
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