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Notes from the DiMasi trial: Patrick takes the stand

Posted by Rob Anderson  May 27, 2011 05:23 PM

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Bang, bang, bang.

When Governor Deval Patrick took the stand in the kickback case against former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, he threw no bombs. But, he did shoot a succession of well-aimed bullets to help the prosecution — including the suggestion that DiMasi asked Patrick to lie about his interest in the software contract that rests at the heart of the DiMasi corruption case.

Included in the governor's testimony:

Patrick told the jury that minutes after a July 9, 2007 breakfast meeting at the Four Seasons hotel with DiMasi, the governor, using his email code name "Sally Reynolds" fired off a blackberry message to Leslie Kirwan, his secretary of administration and finance. Under the subject "Business intelligence," which refers to a component of the performance management software DiMasi was pushing, Patrick wrote: "Spkrs (sic) interest. Please call me."

Patrick testified that DiMasi approached him after the Boston Globe published its first report on an alleged connection between DiMasi and Cognos, the Burlington-based software company whose product the speaker repeatedly promoted. "The speaker was angry and upset" about the article, Patrick said, and asked the governor to put out a statement saying DiMasi had expressed no interest in the contract. But as Patrick told the jury: "I said we couldn't do that because it wasn't accurate."

And finally, asked by assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Merritt if he would have acted differently relative to the Cognos contract if he knew DiMasi received payment from the company, Patrick stated, "Yes... we wouldn't have proceeded...or at least we would have gotten advice from the ethics commission."

US District Judge Mark L. Wolf let jurors hear the last question and answer, but may yet instruct them to disregard it when they finally deliberate. It is the foundation of the case against DiMasi: that he wrongly took money from a company whose interest he pushed and promoted all the way to the governor's office. The defense labels the money " fees"; the prosecution calls it a kickback.

That's the distinction that will decide this case. Will jurors conclude DiMasi's push for Cognos is just the way business works on Beacon Hill? There's give and take, and sometimes a governor does something to make a speaker happy, with no harm done to anyone.

Or will they see what the prosecution, through witnesses like Patrick, are trying to demonstrate? That lobbying can be legal but the speaker of the House can't lobby for a specific contract and enrich himself via promotion of that same contract?

Whatever happens will not take away from the high drama of a governor testifying in the trial of a speaker who at times thwarted him and at times helped him achieve his legislative goals. The court room was packed with press and gawkers. Sitting some 30 feet away from DiMasi, Patrick was cool, confident and at times humorous. DiMasi looked directly at the governor, sometimes with a bemused look on his face. At one point, DiMasi shook his head "no," when Patrick testified that the speaker brought up the performance management software before the new governor even took office. For his part, the governor kept his gaze away from DiMasi, and on the jury box during a sidebar between Wolf and the lawyers.

Did Patrick fire lethal bullets? The defense is trying hard to make the intersection of accommodation and alleged corruption look like a gray area, not a matter of black and white.

It may be gray to DiMasi, but when Patrick took the stand, the governor made the speaker's legal predicament red hot.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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