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Gregory S. Shaffer
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This column ran in the Sacramento Bee (www.sacbee.com) on March 3, 1994. It was published in a slightly different format.

"Nolan's Guilt Doesn't Faze the Legislature's Arrogance"

There was something odd about the events surrounding the recent resignation of Assemblyman Patrick Nolan. I'm not talking about the fact that Nolan copped a plea without a trial, that he seemed much more willing to face 33 months away from his family rather than clear his good name, or that the Glendale Republican became the victim of an investigation that he may very well have started himself in 1985 when he suggested to federal investigators that Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr., was engaging in illegal practices with lobbyists.

And as curious as the immediate sentencing was by U.S. District Judge Edward J. Garcia, before any type of traditional probation report was forthcoming, there was one other odd aspect as yet another Capitol legislator fell from grace. This oddity seems to have gone unnoticed -- or perhaps it's become all too familiar and expected.

Not a single member of this increasingly dishonored fraternity spoke to the fact that justice just might have been served as a result of Nolan's resignation. Or, to hope for the impossible, that a member of the legislature would actually praise federal investigators or prosecutors for their efforts to stem Capitol corruption. Is this surprising from a legislative body that deems it totally inappropriate for any member to so much as speak of corruption convictions on the hollowed floor of the legislature?.

Comments about Nolan's resignation ranged from the self-serving to the religiously absurd. Assemblyman and key Nolan ally, Ross Johnson, was quoted as saying, "I will go to my grave believing Pat Nolan to be completely innocent of the charges..."

Speaker Brown commented, "It's always sad when something happens to one of my members, whether it's a death or any other horrible thing. This, obviously, was the worst of horrors." Brown seems to have come closest to actually asserting that justice was the result on Nolan's plea when Brown stated, "I assume you plead guilty because you are guilty."

Finally, Nolan political contributor John Gregg of Glendale provided the strangest comment, "Now I have an even greater respect for the man. As a matter of fact, that's what they had for Christ when they nailed him to the cross."

So, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that not one of Nolan's fellow legislators, Democrat or Republican, expressed any feeling that justice had been served, that Nolan was guilty or that there was the tiniest chance Nolan's constituency, both in Glendale and statewide, were better off as a result of Nolan's decision.

When Speaker Brown, who had numerous well documented skirmishes with Nolan, stated he was sad as the result of Nolan's resignation and that this was "the worst of horrors," what did he mean? What was the horror? That the legislature has again been shamed? That the legislative body that Brown leads was unable to detect yet another series of vote buying? It is indeed odd that Speaker Brown, for all his talk about the need for political reform, did not mention that the people of California were better off as a result of Nolan's resignation.

If we are to believe Nolan, who in a sworn statement to the court stated that he ran his assembly office "in part as a racketeering enterprise," it is the public who are in fact guilty. Nolan asserts that even though he swears of taking $10,000 "to affect my legal actions," it is the public who should be ashamed.

And to think that Nolan received the minimum 33 month sentence under federal guidelines, compared to the 8 years (96 months) one guilty count at a trial could have cost him or the 6 1/2 years (78 months) recently imposed on convicted lobbyist Clay Jackson. And this without any agreement of testifying about those also charged with him, Senator Frank Hill and legislative aide Terry Frost.

Nolan's lawyer, Ephraim Margolin, said that Nolan would not volunteer any information about Hill and Frost. Why? Margolin explained, "A man has to live with himself. There are some things you do not do."

Apparently a man can take a $10,000 bribe; confess to running his office as racketeering enterprise; turn-in the leader of the assembly to federal investigators and live with himself. But, a man could never live with himself if he had the courage to in some small part repay the people of California by actually speaking the truth, however he knows it, about his co-defendants. Is this what is meant by honor among thieves?

The lessons and rules are painfully clear. Commit the crime, finally plead guilty, and impose no responsibility on oneself to see that the truth becomes known. To further lower the public's already plummeting view of politicians and politics we read that Nolan is "completely innocent of the charges," this was "the worst of horrors," or that Nolan deserves the sympathy of a Christ hanging innocently from a cross.

Are we to believe that such a fine, upstanding, moral, ethical political representative as Pat Nolan would accept 33 months in prison because he felt the unpredictability of a jury may have let him down when all the evidence at a trial was finally considered?

The real tragedy and the real horror is that not a single legislator spoke of the benefit of Nolan's resignation, of the totally unethical and illegal behavior of Nolan's accepting a $10,000 bribe (captured on video tape) or running his office "in part as racketeering enterprize."

The public is simply being conned if they believe a system is so out of control that the U.S. Attorney, a federal district judge, the entire legislature, and Nolan himself are allowing an innocent man to be punished because juries can no longer be trusted to make rational decisions.

I'll gladly update you when my phone begins to ring with legislators who tell me they believe that Nolan got what he deserved and that his actions were unethical, immoral and illegal. May I suggest to you, the public, that you not hold your breath waiting for any such phone calls. You have suffered enough already.


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