A Fumo moment, and the Republicans have a point

    It was just a routine scheduling conference, but somehow I find any court proceeding in the case of the United States vs. Vince Fumo in some way interesting.

    Fumo, once a unique political force in Philadelphia, was slammed with a federal massive indictment, accusing him of 137 counts of corruption. After taking the stand and truly believing he could explain the charges away, he saw the jury convict him of every count.

    By the time of his sentencing two years ago, the once swaggering pol was barely recognizable – pale, gaunt, and impassive, speaking to the court in a plaintive, barely audible voice.

    His sentence of just 55 months must now be reconsidered, after prosecutors convinced an appeals court that trial judge Ronald Buckwalter should have weighed his crimes differently, or at least better explained his reasoning.

    What interested me in yesterday’s hearing was a discussion of whether and how Fumo would appear for his new sentencing hearing, scheduled for November 9th.

    Fumo is serving his time in Ashland, Kentucky, and his attorneys asked if he could participate in his next sentencing hearing by video conference.

    No, Judge Buckwalter said. “I want him here. I want to talk to him and see him face to face.”

    It was soon clear why they’d asked. It turns out if you’re in a federal prison and you have to attend a court proceeding in another state, they don’t escort you on the a Southwest direct flight.

    Since there are hundreds of inmates moving around the country for these things, the Bureau of Prisons has a transportation system aimed at minimizing cost. It might mean a trip with several legs and stays in several different lock-ups.

    Here’s how Fumo’s attorney Dennis Cogan described it: “They call it among prisoners in the United States, diesel therapy. The youngest prisoners think its next to torture. You’re put on a bus, and you’re taken from place to place to place, and it take three weeks sometimes just to get somebody up here.”

    Cogan said this is a particular concern for Fumo, who is 68 and takes a long list of medications for heart disease, anxiety, depression, and other conditions.

    To illustrate the risk, Cogan said that when the court decision came down in August ordering a new sentencing hearing for Fumo, some “functionary” in the prison system transferred Fumo into a special housing unit that Cogan called “the hole.”

    There, Cogan said, Fumo was isolated and denied his medications. Cogan said it took him and his family two days to get him out and on the telephone.

    “He was in such bad shape that he couldn’t even address us on the phone, he couldn’t even discuss it,” Cogan said. “He hadn’t slept, he hadn’t had any medicines, so we had to postpone the phone call for two days. Two days later, he still hadn’t been put back on his medicines.”

    (A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons told me inamtes in the special housing unit get their meds, but couldn’t comment on Fumo specifically.)

    Given Cogan’s account, you can see why Fumo wouldn’t want to trek to four other jails and ride on five buses for a hearing where he’ll probably get another year or two on his sentence.

    But then, I remember some testimony from Fumo’s trial about his lifestyle back in the glory days.

    He used to summer at Martha’s Vineyard, where he would often take cruises on a yacht provided by a non-profit he got state money for.

    Fumo would fly to the island, but first he would have state employees pack all his luggage, as well as computers and who knows what, and drive the gear in vans to Martha’s Vineyard, so everything would be all set when he arrived on a private plane.

    You could see how somebody used to traveling that way wouldn’t look forward to a slog to Philadelphia, federal Bureau of Prisons-style.

    And you could see how taxpayers who funded Fumo’s lifestyle wouldn’t care.

                               Republican frozen out of TV town hall

    And we have this moment in the Philadelphia mayor’s race, such as it is.

    Channel 10 is hosting a town hall with Mayor Nutter tonight, and Republican mayoral candidate Karen Brown is just a little upset that she isn’t getting a town hall of her own, and isn’t even welcome at Nutter’s.

    And she may have a point.

    Section 315 of the federal Communications Act says that if a broadcaster “permits a legally qualified candidate for public office to ‘use’ a broadcast station through any positive, identified, or readily identifiable appearance of the candidate on the air, the station must afford equal opportunities to all legally qualified opponents for the same office…”

    Republican lawyer and ward leader Matthew Wolfe cited the statute in a letter to the station demanding an equal opportunity for his candidate.

    This strikes me as a bone-headed thing for Channel 10 to have done. I wonder if it even occurred to them that this is seven weeks before the election. While they may not see it as a political event, it was prominently touted on Nutter’s campaign website.

    Station spokeswoman Kathleen Burke issued this statement late yesterday:

    “This is a long-planned forum designed to give the people of Philadelphia an opportunity to directly ask their Mayor about issues of importance to them and their community. It is not a campaign event or a political debate. If it is determined that equal time provisions apply in this situation, we will of course comply.”

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