Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

This blog is devoted to a variety of topics including politics, current events, legal issues, and we even take the time to have some occasional fun. After all, blogging is about having a little fun, right?

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Murtha may slide ... on a technicality?

Representative John Murtha, prominent House windbag from Pennsylvania, who opened his inarticulate yap to accuse United States Marines of murder on a public television show may end up skating on a technicality. And yes, we know this is likely to gall the Hell out of a lot of people:

Lawyers for Rep. John P. Murtha will appeal a recent ruling advancing a defamation lawsuit brought against the Pennsylvania Democrat by a U.S. Marine under investigation for killing Iraqi civilians.

Justice Department lawyers representing Murtha on Nov. 16 filed notice that they planned to appeal a federal district court judge’s Sept. 28 ruling allowing the lawsuit to proceed and ordering Murtha to give sworn testimony in the case.
Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich sued Murtha in August 2006, accusing the 17-term congressman of defaming him during a news conference last year on the Nov. 19, 2005 killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha.

Wuterich charges that Murtha “publicly and falsely” accused him and other Marines involved in the Haditha incident of “cold-blooded murder and war crimes” and of attempting a cover-up, according to court documents.

Military prosecutors initially charged four enlisted Marines — including Wuterich — with murder and accused four officers of dereliction of duty for failing to adequately investigate the incident.

Charges against four Marines have been dropped and two others will face court-martial, but not for murder.

After a hearing that concluded Sept. 6, an investigating officer recommended Wuterich face court-martial for negligent homicide. Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commander charged with court-martial authority in the case, has yet to decide whether he will stand trial.

Murtha meanwhile had been ordered to sit for a deposition Nov. 27 to help determine whether he was acting in his official capacity as a U.S. government employee when he made the Haditha comments, as his lawyers have argued.

If the court determines Murtha indeed was acting in his official capacity, the U.S. government could be substituted as the defendant — a move that would effectively neuter the case because the federal government cannot be sued for libel.

But Wuterich’s lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, said Monday that the deposition now likely will be delayed, pending a determination from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court will have to determine whether it has the jurisdiction to hear Murtha’s appeal at this stage or if it should wait until a lower court determine’s the fate of Wuterich’s lawsuit.

There is no way in Hell the court can determine that Murtha was acting in any sort of offical, US government capacity when he appeared on Chris Matthews' show, and uttered those words. He was there as a guest, invited to speak on the subject of current events, and nothing more. He was not there issuing a public statement from the US government on the subject of the Haditha Marines.

Matthews asked him what he thought of the incident. In that case, an opinion is being asked for, not a statement of fact, on behalf of the government. Therefore, I can't possibly see how the DC Circuit Court could rule in his favor, even if it opts out of ruling now, and prefers the lower court decision (a more prudent move, to be sure as it allows the lower court to render a determination on the facts it currently has in hand; hopefully that will include a deposition that Representative Murtha has yet to produce).

His appeal is noted, but if he's allowed to skate the courts will have opened a door that stretches further than the Constitution ever envisioned. The Speech and Debate Clause affects them only in official capacities:

They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

When John Murtha appeared obn Chris Matthews show, he wasn't acting in any official capacity as a sitting member of the United State House of representatives. He was acting as a guest on a news/talk show. Chris Matthews didn't ask John Murtha what the official statement or opinion of the US government was, nor was he asked the opinion of the House. He was asked his opinion. This appeal should be denied, and the lower court should be allowed to proceed. Let the DC Circuit Court on the appeal AFTER the initial case is complete.

Publius II


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home