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Editorial: Heat turned on Speaker DeLeo

Sometimes, high-profile politicians can bask in the glow of the public spotlight, but there are times that, instead of illuminating their achievements, that light serves to turn up the heat.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo certainly isn’t liking how ex-Probation Department Commissioner John J. O’Brien’s corruption trial is reflecting on him as federal prosecutors make their case. Although facing no charges in the case, DeLeo became the focus recently during the trial as the case was made that the speaker was quite involved in the system of trading political favors for patronage jobs that flourished under O’Brien’s stewardship.

Although prosecution witnesses have painted DeLeo in an unflattering light — claiming that the state representative traded jobs for votes to become the House speaker — DeLeo has been vehement in denying any role in what transpired with the Probation Department.

Sitting on the outside of the legal proceedings while having one’s reputation put through the wringer can’t be something that DeLeo envisioned when he became House speaker.

In a statement Monday, DeLeo said, “The United States attorney has chosen to try me in the press because they lack the evidence to do so in a court of law,” DeLeo said. “That is simply unconscionable and unfair.

“Since a conspiracy is an agreement to do an illegal act, the question must be asked: With whom did I conspire? When did I so conspire? And what evidence is there linking me to such a conspiracy? The government cannot answer these most basic questions.”

DeLeo makes a strong argument that indeed if he was part of the Probation Department scandal, why isn’t he on trial as well?

And even U.S. District Court Judge William Young has pointed out on several occasions that patronage itself is not a crime.

Along with having to battle the federal prosecution’s tactics in this case, DeLeo is also saddled with the ghosts of the three House speakers who preceded the Winthrop Democrat — all of whom were convicted of felonies.

Both the jury in the case, as well as public opinion, now must decide whom they believe and whether DeLeo can return to a more favorable light. We’ll soon find out.

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