Defining Terms: Understanding the Bamboozlement 3 of 3

Iphone pictures imported May 1, 2014 458The words corrupt and corruption cover a multitude of actions or happenings. To understand what they mean perhaps we should bring it down to concrete situations.

Is the cop who flashes his badge and is let into a sports arena or not charged on a commuter train corrupt? Is a cop who stops a speeder only to find out it is his niece corrupt if he doesn’t give her a ticket?  Is a judge who recognizes there is enough evidence to find a young person guilty corrupt if he finds him not guilty so she can go into the Navy? What about judges who make decisions that you happen not to agree with?

Do we need to have money change hands for there to be corruption? Is the politician taking a bottle of booze at Christmas corrupt? What about the detective who gets a free meal? What about one taking an expense free trip to the Middle East? What about the person who delivers the mail or picks up the trash who accepts a bottle of Jameson’s? What about the FBI agents who get complimentary tickets for the Red Sox games?

What about the office worker who sees his co-worker playing games on the computer?  Is he corrupt if he doesn’t turn him in? Is the co-worker using the computer for games corrupt?  How about the gal that takes some of the pens she uses at work home for personal use? Or the guy in the company car that does personal errands against his employers wishes?  I could go on and on but you get the idea.

That is the bane of writing about the Whitey saga. The word corruption is bandied about like a shuttlecock or ping-pong ball so that it is difficult to discern what it is about anything spoken off that makes it corrupt. In one sense we are all corrupt because we lead less than perfect lives. But if everyone is corrupt then speaking of corruption adds little to our understanding. So we do have to narrow the definition of the word to something that is understandable when it is used.

Unfortunately that has not been done. So some say the Whitey saga is a story of corruption within the FBI. Others suggest it existed among law enforcement both federal and state. Some include politicians while others cry out that judges and prosecutors are corrupt.

We heard that word over and over again from the five men at the BC Law panel. Yet none told us what the corruption consisted of. None pointed to facts to support his conclusion.

One thing I learned as a trial lawyer is conclusions are not admissible into evidence. That is because they can cover a multitude of sins or events and one person’s conclusion may not be that of another’s as we’ve seen with the word corruption.

A witness on the stand cannot testify a person was speeding. The witness must estimate the speed the person was going and the circumstances under which the observation was made. It is for the fact finder to decide whether under the facts set out whether a person was speeding.  Nor can a witness testify another is corrupt. He must testify to the person’s actions. The fact finder will decide whether they are corrupt.

Corrupt and corruption are conclusions. Two things we need to know before we can accept such conclusions are: what is the motive of the person in making the statement and what are the facts upon which the person relies to support the conclusion. Unless you have no problem abnegating your own thoughts and handing your mind over to someone else then demand to see the proof. But even before that, settle in your own mind what you believe the words corrupt and corruption mean.

PS:  I wrote about this subject over two years ago making the same complaint.


  1. Matt, As I understand it the recent SCOTUS decision in Citizens United narrowed the definition of provable corruption to be quid pro quo only…

    • Jean:

      I’m not sure it was the Citizens United case but one Supreme Court case did make it more difficut to prove corruption but the name of it escapes me now. One of the problems in a democracy is that we have tons of lobbyists. They are always trying to get bills passed by courting favor with the policians. You have show a very close connection between the action of the lobbyist and the legislation to have it a crime almost the passing of money and a converstion saying I’m giving you the money for doing X. If the money is donated and X happens then it is not enough.