By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Remember the Massachusetts Probation Department scandal, the 2014 case where three former department officials were convicted of federal racketeering charges?

A federal appeals court has thrown out their convictions, and you might find their ruling interesting reading if you care about a proper balance between civil rights and the power of government.

The appellate judges found that the Justice Department “did not provide sufficient evidence to establish a criminal violation of Massachusetts law.”

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo. (WBZ-TV)

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo. (WBZ-TV)

For instance, you may recall that while he was never charged with anything or called to testify at the trial, House Speaker Robert DeLeo had his name muddied up by federal prosecutors for allegedly trading favorable budget treatment for probation jobs after a meeting with probation chief John O’Brien, one of the defendants.

Former Massachusetts Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien. (WBZ-TV)

Former Massachusetts Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien. (WBZ-TV)

Sounds like dirty business as usual on Beacon Hill, right?

But the appeals court found “the Government did not prove that DeLeo took any action on O’Brien’s proposals. All the Government demonstrated…is that O’Brien and DeLeo met.”

That seems like an awfully big oversight.

We’re talking guilt by association, by inference, by cultural reputation, not by evidence.

This reminds me of the ongoing case against two Boston city officials charged with lobbying contractors to hire union labor, another alleged “crime” for which scant evidence has been offered.

I don’t like feather-bedding pols, rigged hiring systems and other abuses of our tax dollars.

But the feds have a lot of power, and an obligation to use it fairly.

And this ruling raises serious questions about whether or not US Attorney Carmen Ortiz has met that obligation.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:


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