Peoria Judge who rejected Mazon plea deal should resign
By Ray Hanania
I covered both trials of Jeff Mazon, the man accused of allegedly taking a “bribe” in exchange for allegedly increasing a contract payment to a Kuwaiti firm that providing material support for our troops in Iraq.
In both trials, the jury deadlocked on the charges against Mazon. After meticulously weighing the evidence in the case during lengthy trials, neither of the two juries could agree to convict Mazon, who lives in the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago.
Part of the problem is that many of the witnesses were not credible, some convicted felons who pled guilty to contract fraud and mismanagement while working for a spin-off of the controversial firm Halliburton called KBR.
The trial took place when the Justice Department was being run under the policies of former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
The alleged bribe involved a contract let by a Halliburton subsidiary, KBR. Cheney was Halliburton’s CEO. Many believe he will profit from the years of contracts – and mismanagement – associated with Halliburton’s work in Iraq and the Middle East. Many people believed the government was using Mazon as a scapegoat to distract world attention from Halliburton’s history of problems and their association with Cheney.
And I believe the judge in the case did everything he could to protect Cheney, Halliburton and prejudice the jury to convict the defendant.
When prosecutors and the defendant finally decided to compromise with Mazon accepting a plea admitting to a misdemeanor last Spring, the judge in the case, Joe Billy McDade, decided to step in once again and put his own personal feelings above the law rejecting the bid this week and forcing everyone to consider another lengthy and expensive federal trial.
The case is very complicated. Yet despite that, juries in both trials saw through the accusations. The first jury in April 2008 split with half believing Mazon was innocent of the charges. Last October, the second jury was much tighter, thanks in a large part to pressure and biased rulings from Judge McDade.
It is an understatement to say that McDade did not play arbiter. He played prosecutor in the case, restricting Mazon’s ability to defend himself and pushing the jury to convict. McDade ran roughshod over the trial. Despite the judge’s bias, one juror in the second trial refused to surrender to McDade’s pressure. She recognized Mazon was not being treated fairly and that he is innocent.
A Texan, McDade was appointed to the federal court by the first President Bush on, of all dates, Sept. 11, 1991 -- 10 years before the terrorist attack that sent many seemingly intelligent Americans down the road of insanity, prejudice and hatred. Most Americans have since recovered but apparently McDade is not one of those Americans who has gotten beyond the anger that drove to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The prosecution, led by the capable Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Lange, did a good job of laying out their case against Mazon. The media has reported the charges as if they were fact, too, barely even covering the trial and running the Justice Department’s press release almost verbatim. But the facts just wouldn’t fit together neatly enough for the jurors to accept. There was a lot of reasonable doubt in both trials. And it is fair to assume that in a third trial, that McDade may be causing, the jurors will run into the very same challenges and far more than reasonable doubt.
But it is McDade’s conduct that should be noted now. In the last trial when the one juror held out, McDade openly tried to pressure her to change her mind. He singled her out for criticism and even suggested she might have done something wrong. It almost seemed as if McDade was determined to find Mazon guilty, despite the presumption of innocence this country gives under the U.S. Constitution to every American.
During the second trial, McDade’s voice soured with prejudice. He was never a fair judge in the case at all. And this week only proved what I believe may in fact be the truth in this case. Judge McDade is biased and should not be allowed to continue to sit on the bench. He’s prejudiced against Mazon, and maybe even prejudiced against anyone of Arab heritage from me to the people Mazon contracted with many years ago when the circumstances of this twisted story first surfaced.
This past Thursday (July 9), Mazon and his Orland Park attorney, J. Scott Arthur, traveled to Peoria to seal an agreement that they made with Lange, prosecutors and Judge McDade last Spring.
The agreement was this: The Justice Department would drop the Felony Charge of Major Fraud against the government, a conviction would have brought a jail term of between five and 10 years. In exchange, and to avoid going to trial for a third time, Mazon would plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge, which carries a penalty ranging from supervision and home confinement to a maximum jail sentence of one year.
Mazon had already served 22 days in a federal prison when he was arrested. For the past four years, his life has been a wreck. He can’t get a job while waiting for the case to end. He never got the alleged bribe money from the alleged contract swindle. And, he lives with his parents. He said he accepted the plea agreement to avoid going through hell one more time.
Under the agreement with prosecutors, Mazon would plead guilty and accept one year of supervised release including six months of home confinement. The deal was passed by McDade, lawyers said, last Fall.
Nine months passed. Not a word from McDade. During the same time, the real world changed. There is a new era of hope in America. The Bush-Cheney gang are gone from the White House, replaced by a new sanity and a reasoned president, Barack Obama. Even the Justice Department has changed and everyone is trying to focus on real Middle East crimes, not those that had the flavor of politics.
When Mazon, Arthur and Lange appeared before McDade, the mercurial and unpredictable federal judge threw the agreement out declaring, as if he were sitting on a judicial bench in a Texas outlaw town back in the mid-1800’s, that he didn’t like the agreement reached between the prosecutors and the defendant.
Amazing arrogance. Petulance. Unprofessionalism.
Everyone is now back to square one in this sordid, worthless case that continues to challenge reason and threatens to tax the taxpayers even more.
“We were completely surprised by the judge’s action. He gave no one any warning at all,” Arthur said Thursday by telephone.
“We felt the government thought this out carefully about the disposition of this case and we respect their feelings. But now, our client, Mr. Mazon, is back to square one and his life is back in limbo. It just isn’t fair.”
Lange politely responded, “No reaction. As always, we will proceed in accordance with the court’s ruling.”
So Mazon and the taxpayers are left with only a few options, thanks to McDade the Merciless:
1 - The government can re-prosecute the case and spend another fortune in taxpayer dollars to return all the witnesses.
2 - Mazon and prosecutors can come up with a new plea deal that might include some jail time to pander to Judge McDade’s bias.
3 - Mazon can plead guilty and fall on the “mercy” of the merciless McDade, who without a doubt would send Mazon away to jail despite a plea-bargain and misdemeanor to 12 months hard labor.
4 - Prosecutors could drop the case entirely and remove the controversy from “McDade the Merciless,” and spare Mazon more suffering and punishment. They could save the taxpayers from wasting more money.
There is no reason to believe that after two deadlocked juries, a third, costly trial will not come to the same result.
But Judge McDade’s actions raise another option that must be considered. Maybe it’s time the merciless Texan retire to allow justice to finally prevail in his courtroom.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)