WASHINGTON — The Constitution does not protect Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) from prosecution on charges of political corruption, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Rostenkowski's appeal of that ruling could delay any trial for several months, and more than a year if the matter goes to the Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson turned aside defense arguments that the government's case was an unprecedented intrusion on Congress' constitutional authority to police its own rules. Also rejected was the claim that Rostenkowski was improperly being prosecuted for official legislative acts protected by the Constitution.
The judge acknowledged that members of Congress have limited constitutional protection against prosecution.
"But precedent seems to be lacking for the proposition that immunity attaches to a congressman's decision to hire employees whose duties consist of photographing his daughters' weddings, mowing the grass at his summer house or other personal duties," Johnson said.
Howard Pearl, one of Rostenkowski's attorneys, said: "We intend to appeal." The U.S. attorney's office had no immediate comment.
Prosecutors had contended that the constitutional provisions and internal rules of Congress "simply have nothing to say about common thievery."
Rostenkowski was indicted on 17 felony counts May 31. He is charged with converting $636,600 in federal funds and $56,267 in campaign funds to his personal use.
The government says he used official funds to pay employees who did mostly personal work for him; converted stationery, postal and home office allowances to his personal use; and obstructed justice. Rostenkowski, now seeking reelection, has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.