Last Friday, the new U.S. Attorney in Kansas dismissed its most prominent criminal case, a seven-year-old corporate-fraud prosecution against two former top executives at Westar Energy, the state's largest electric utility. It happened, says the New York Times, because of the U.S. Supreme Court in June that narrowed the scope of the federal law known as theft of “honest services.”
The decision to dismiss the Westar case – among the first “honest services” prosecutions the government has dropped since the Supreme Court's ruling – underscores the challenges the government now faces in such cases. “In its heyday, the honest services theory allowed prosecutors to pursue sleaziness of all sorts without identifying a victim who lost property or money,” said laws Prof. Daniel Richman of Columbia University. “Now the Supreme Court decision has thrown a large wrench into the system, and the Justice Department finds itself with the prospect of reversals and abandoned cases.” In the two months since the court's ruling, defense lawyers across the country have filed, or have been preparing, a flurry of pleadings asking judges to vacate convictions or reopen cases against their clients.