The Dougherty-Henon Verdict is a Miscarriage of Justice and Why it Matters

John Dougherty and Bobby Henon were convicted of bribery and other charges today. Having read the original indictment and followed the trial closely, I continue to think that indictment and trial, as well as the conviction, was a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Aside from the last couple of paragraphs, I wrote the following about six week ago before the trial started. I have seen no reason to change my argument or conclusion.

This trial of John Dougherty and Bobby Henon strikes me as an attempt to criminalize everyday politics.

Did John Dougherty want Bobby Henon to be on City Council so that he would have a friend who would support Local 98’s causes. Yes. But that’s not illegal. Everyone who supports a candidate or makes a contribution to him or her wants that.

Did John Dougherty need to have Bobby Henon on his payroll for Henon to support Local 98’s cause. No, of course not. Aside from the political support Henon gets from Local 98, anyone who knows him knows of his commitment to labor in general and to Local 98 in particular. Thinking otherwise is like thinking that Philadelphia State Representatives had to be given gifts to oppose Voter ID, another crazy and unfortunately successful attempt to criminalize normal political relationships.

It makes absolutely no sense to convict someone of bribery or taking a bribe when the person supposedly taking the bribe has a million reasons based on ideology, constituency, and political support to do what they have supposedly been bribed to do.

Was Bobby Henon paid by Local 98 only to do Dougherty’s bidding on council? No. Bobby Henon did work for Local 98 that was independent of serving on Council. I saw it first hand when I worked on the the Allyson Schwartz for governor campaign when Henon helped us at the behest of Local 98. I was at at least one meeting, and heard of others, where Henon provided strategic advice to the campaign. This had absolutely nothing to do with his work on Council. The idea that Henon was paid by Local 98 for a “no-show job” is untrue.

Maybe something will come out in the trial that will change my mind. (It did not.) But I read the whole indictment and if that’s all the feds have, this case is bunk.

I do not care whether you like Dougherty or Henon or their politics or not. (I do and while we are not always on the same side politically we sometimes are.) Regardless of personality or politics, you shouldn’t want people to be convicted of crimes on the basis of such a bogus case. And that’s especially true when what is really morally corrupt about our political system, the influence of major corporations on our politics, is not illegal. As Mindy Isser points out in this excellent op-ed, this case is just oozing with anti-labor sentiment and class bias. There are politicians who get tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contribution and other kinds of support from big corporations, or even hold part-time jobs with them or with the law firms they do business with. Often they cash in with those corporations or law firms when they leave office. In return they do things that harm their constituents and violate their usual principles as well as the stance of their party. (There is a certain Senator from a nearby state I’m thinking of here. ) When corporations do this, we say the law does not apply to them. But when a labor union and a Council member who comes out of labor does something similar, the hammer of the federal government comes down on them.

Indeed much of the public sentiment against Dougherty and Henon reflects class bias. I know way too many upper middle class people who both look down their noses at John Dougherty and resent his on our politics, as if a mere electrician who may not have a college degree let alone one from an Ivy League college doesn’t belong among the influential people in the life of our city or as if working people don’t deserve someone who champions their interests in the halls of government. (These folks like champions of the working class best if they come from old money and Harvard like the Roosevelts.)

This attitude is, frankly, appalling, especially among liberals who claim to want to lift up working people and welcome equality of opportunity. It sadly equates political skills and intelligence with the kind of education sons and daughter of the working class rarely can get, even today. Anyone who has spent ten minutes with Dougherty and Henon recognize their energy, intelligence, political knowledge and skill. Whether you agree with them or not, they have earned their place among people of influence in our city.

I certainly have seen their political skills and insight when I’ve worked on the same side of Dougherty and Henon and, less frequently, when we have been on opposite sides. There have been a couple of times in my work at the PA Budget and Policy Center when I saw some atrocious policy being put forward by the Republicans in the General Assembly, recognized that John Dougherty might be helpful in stopping it, and called or texted him. Both times he recognized the significance of the issue immediately and went to work using his connections and influence to block it.

If this unjust conviction is not overturned, working people–and often progressives–in this state and city will have lost an important champion.

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  1. Dave you said it all

  2. Brian you nailed it !!

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