That question in our headline might seem absurd. But the case of Tim Donaghy tells us that the answer is, "Yes, basketball most definitely is more important than our justice system."
Donaghy is the disgraced National Basketball Association referee who pleaded guilty last year to charges he conspired to engage in wire fraud and transmitted betting information through interstate commerce.
Federal prosecutors now say Donaghy bet on approximately 100 games over a four-year time period and cost the NBA more than $304,000 by depriving the league of his "honest services."
Donaghy contends that he cost the league only about $40,000. The former referee is due to be sentenced tomorrow.
All of this hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer. The key charge against Donaghy, evidently, was honest services mail fraud, which also made up the bulk of the charges in the Don Siegelman (Alabama) and Paul Minor (Mississippi) cases.
My research indicates that the honest-services mail fraud statute, 18 U.S. Code 1346, normally is used against public officials. I don't see how a basketball referee would qualify as a public official, although many federal statutes are broadly written. Evidently prosecutors thought the statute gave them enough wiggle room to go after Donaghy on 1346 charges.
The most interesting part of the Donaghy case is what it says about the priorities of the Bush Justice Department. In New York, the feds are going after a basketball referee for betting on games. In Alabama, the feds turn a blind eye to clear honest services mail fraud committed by state judges who happen to be Republicans. A Bush appointee, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, not only turns a blind eye to this wrongdoing, she actively takes steps to ensure that it will be covered up. And here at Legal Schnauzer, we will be outlining the steps Ms. Martin took to hide corruption by her GOP compadres.
So which hurts the country more in George W. Bush's America--a corrupt basketball official or corrupt state judges? You make the call.