Paul Greenberg

But there are always those who can't wait for a court to deliver its verdict, and assume that indictment is synonymous with conviction. Like the oh-so-clean attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, who has asked the state's Supreme Court to kick its present occupant out of the governor's office without the formality of an actual trial. The way she figures it, he's disqualified for his high office because of disability. She's using a law intended to cover governors who develop some mental or physical disability to cover the Hon. Blago's problem -- the widespread contempt his indictment has brought him and which, she claims, makes him unable to govern.

So she's invoking the Alice in Wonderland rule: "Sentence first -- verdict afterward." So much for what used to be called the presumption of innocence. If the nominally honorable governor of Illinois develops a sufficient sense of shame to resign his office, that would be one thing. To punish him pre-trial would be an unacceptable other.

Madigan's reasoning brings to mind a conversation between a late legislator of the old school here in Arkansas and an earnest young lawyer who made the mistake of trying to reason with him. "Look here," said Earnest Young Lawyer, "we can all agree that everybody deserves to be considered innocent until proven guilty, right?" To which veteran lawmaker replied, with some force: "Not if they're guilty, they don't!" Illinois' attorney general may be the latest to adopt a variation of that unanswerable illogic.

If a governor who's been convicted only in the court of public opinion is to be punished without waiting for mere due process, then something more important than money has been lost: a fundamental principle of American (and for that matter Anglo-Saxon) law. A principle that protects us all.

The moral of this story: There are other kinds of corruption than just graft. And they can be far more dangerous. That's something to remember the next time you hear a Blago joke.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.