HARRISBURG - Former House Speaker John M. Perzel did use state equipment for political gain, but it wasn't a crime, defense attorney Brian J. McMonagle argued today in a pretrial hearing.
That's because the technology also is used for legitimate legislative purposes, such as sending constituents information about state programs, he said.
"It's helping people across the state of Pennsylvania and - you're darn right - it's helping people like John Perzel run for office," McMonagle told Dauphin County Judge Richard A Lewis. "The question is: where do you draw the line?"
Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the law is clear: it is a crime to use public resources to run political campaigns.
They say the computers, software and other technology cost taxpayers millions of dollars and was used much more often for campaign activities than for state work.
"The problem is the sheer amount of public money spent on campaign efforts," Deputy Attorney General Michael Sprow said.
McMonagle said prosecutors are attempting to criminalize something that goes on every day in the Capitol.
"The danger is that one man's honest work day can be another man's crime," he said.
Lawmakers and staffers routinely mix legislative and political work, McMonagle said. Every piece of legislation they deal with has political implications, he said.
Ten defendants, all associated with the House Republican caucus, have been charged in the government corruption case.
Together, they face about 400 criminal charges including 70 counts of conspiracy.
Their attorneys say jurors will be confused by the number of charges and have asked Lewis to dismiss all but one of the conspiracy charges for each defendant.
Prosecutors say the case isn't so simple.
"We can't lump everyone into the same pot if they're not all guilty of the same conduct," Senior Deputy Attorney General K. Kenneth Brown said.
The trial has been scheduled for April but could be delayed. With so many defendants and charges, the trial is expected to last at least six months.
On trial with Perzel are former state Rep. Brett O. Feese, R-Lycoming; former Perzel chief of staff Brian Preski and eight others who worked in Republican legislative or campaign offices.
Perzel, of Northeast Philadelphia, lost reelection to the House in last month's general election.
Contact Post-Gazette staff writer Tracie Mauriello at 717-787-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.