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Renzi trial (chock full of Speech or Debate goodness) begins

The corruption trial of former congressman Rick Renzi began this week in federal court in Arizona. A number of Speech or Debate issues can be expected to arise during the trial. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (affectionately known as BLAG) has already filed this amicus brief addressing the question of whether Renzi would waive the Speech or Debate privilege by introducing in his defense evidence of certain legislative activities, such as the fact that a particular bill (referred to as the Resolution Copper Company bill) was introduced in the House and that another bill (referred to as the Preserve Petrified Forest Land Investors bill) was never introduced.

BLAG asserts (correctly, as far as I know) that no case has ever found a waiver of the Speech or Debate privilege. It contends that no such waiver can take place unless the privilege-holder (in this case Renzi) makes an “explicit and unequivocal renunciation,” as the Supreme Court put it in U.S v. Helstoski, 442 U.S. 477, 491 (1979). Renzi’s introduction of evidence regarding legislative activities (which would violate the privilege if introduced by the government) does not amount to such a renunciation, according to BLAG. Thus the government would not be entitled to introduce privileged evidence itself, even if directly responsive to the evidence introduced by Renzi.

Needless to say, the government will argue that this is a tad unfair, but BLAG maintains that the court can address this problem by exercising its discretion under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. It suggests that the court may choose to exclude the evidence offered by Renzi or condition its admission on Renzi’s waiver of Speech or Debate with regard to certain responsive evidence (for example, evidence that would be within the scope of cross-examination).

Another potential issue in the Renzi case relates to a subpoena for documents that was received by the House Intelligence Committee (I don’t know which side served it). According to a notice under House Rule VIII filed by the committee on March 12, 2013, the committee intends to move to quash the subpoena as contrary to the rights and privileges of the House. The docket sheet does not reflect such a motion, though, so I assume that the issue has either been resolved or put off until a future time.


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