Prosecutors Stand Accused

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Revelations of prosecutorial transgressions nationwide including a stunning lack of prosecutorial discretion, systemic biases, and clear cases of corruption and misconduct have led to calls for examination of the prosecutor’s role in society at all levels of government.

The prosecutor’s office (beyond the corrupt nature of Bush’s U.S. Department of Justice, former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus’ corrupt fiefdom, and spectacular cases of prosecutorial wrongdoing such as the Duke University lacrosse misconduct and the Georgia Thompson prosecution) as never before has become a platform for politicians eager to generate politically appealing win/loss records which can be touted as unassailable proof of commitment to law and public service.

Bradford Plumer has a piece out today in The New Republic discussing “How Worried Should We Be About Rogue Prosecutors?

Plumer’s reasonable conclusion is not reassuring. Writes Plumer:

(A) well-functioning legal system has to give prosecutors a great deal of discretion, and while smaller reforms--public information campaigns, say, or independent review boards-could help, a radical overhaul is probably unfeasible. At the Brookings event (Prosecutorial Misconduct and Abuses), (former acting U.S. Attorney General James) Comey stressed the need for prosecutors to question their own cases more often-a noble sentiment, but one that's hard to enforce. More concretely, (law professor Angela) Davis has called on judges to impose harsher sanctions for foul play, a cultural shift that's likely to be slow in coming: As (the government watchdog group, Center for Public Integrity) CPI found, across the country prosecutors have faced disciplinary proceedings in only 44 cases since 1963. No easy answers here. All the same, one would hope that the Alabama and Duke cases might, at the very least, raise a few hard questions.

The fact is, even in liberal Dane County, the electorate for reasons beyond comprehension cedes to the prosecutor’s office a naïve trust and paternal entitlement and that often leads to those feeling the power of the prosecutor’s office to harbor feelings that they were the victims of a rapacious and monolithic entity.

Misuse of the prosecutor's office is a bipartisan endeavor, and though Ken Starr and the Bush DoJ scandals will be recalled in disgrace for years, liberals and Democrats seem to have forgotten the words prosecutorial discretion as well.

The great jurist, former Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, delivered an address on April 1, 1940 that challenges the contemporary model prosecutor’s role in society.

"Any prosecutor who risks his day-to-day professional name for fair dealing to build up statistics of success has a perverted sense of practical values, as well as defects of character. Whether one seeks promotion to a judgeship, as many prosecutors rightly do, or whether he returns to private practice, he can have no better asset than to have his profession recognize that his attitude toward those who feel his power has been dispassionate, reasonable and just."

With that type of message, it’s doubtful that Robert Jackson (chief prosecutor at Nuremberg and U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1941-54)) could be elected to your local District Attorney’s office (certainly not Dane County’s) in today’s depoliticized and deferential climate toward the prosecutor, though a Justice Jackson is precisely what is most needed.

Dispassionate, reasonable and just. Does that describe the prosecutor’s office in whose jurisdiction you are constituent and citizen?

If not, challenges ought be issued.