Punxsutawney Phil Indictment: Is He Too Big to Fail?

BySeamus McKiernan

Punxsutawney Phil, the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, was indicted on federal charges of fraud Monday, a culmination of a two-month-long inquiry into the groundhog's now-debunked prediction that spring was "right around the corner." The prosecutor in the case is confident the state will secure a conviction, citing a paper trail of evidence that includes publicly-recorded video that appears to show Phil's shadow, as well as more than 50 consecutive days of weather reports showing that most of the country was essentially frozen-over with ice.

But despite the overwhelming evidence against Punxsutawney Phil, sources close to the case say a conviction is unlikely.

"Phil may be a risk taker, but he didn't break any laws," said Randall H. Gorman, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. "If we put Phil in prison, would we be saying that forecasting is illegal?"

Ben Havemeyer IV, lead counsel for the 16-person legal team representing Phil, dismissed the charges as baseless.

"Weather is fundamentally unpredictable. My client doesn't create the weather, he simply reacts to it and makes calculations to the best of his ability," Havemeyer told reporters outside the Punxsutawney Courthouse Monday.

"If anyone should be on trial, maybe it should be Mother Nature," Havemeyer added.

On Friday, the day of Phil's arraignment, more than 500 people gathered outside of the courthouse to protest a weather prediction system they say is rigged. Several protesters told me they wonder whether the country puts too much trust in a singular institution that is vulnerable to error, whether accidental or malicious.

"Phil is too big to fail. He holds the entire weather system in his hands and we're all just meant to wait on his word like gospel?" A protester named Dave told me.

Dave said the group of protesters had planned to camp out overnight but with the sleet blowing sideways and the temperatures dipping below -10 F, they decided to return home for the night.

At a press briefing this morning in Washington D.C., President Obama was asked about the case against Phil, which some have coined "The Punx of the Century." Obama settled for a light rebuke, calling Phil's conduct a "regrettable mistake" but adding that it was "important not to shake the confidence of the weather system as a whole." White House visitor logs show that Phil visited the Oval Office nine times in 2012.

Sources say in the end the case may hinge on the testimony of the Weather Channel, which oversees Phil's conduct and pays his salary, a relationship many people see as a conflict of interest.

"Who better to regulate Phil than the weather business itself?" Havemeyer, Phil's attorney, yelled over a crowd of journalists as he stepped into an SUV outside the courthouse.

Phil remains on house arrest at his residence, Gobbler's Knob, awaiting a court date.

Bill Murray contributed reporting for this story.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post