No Country For Thin-Skinned Prosecutors

Law, Law Practice

I got my first quote in the paper as a prosecutor in 1996. It did not go the way I had hoped.

I was a rookie AUSA in the mid-90s, and got my ration of rookie bullshit — including everybody's least favorite, cases involving petty violations on federal property. I've talked before about what it was like to prosecute those. One day I picked up a case involving six petty violations on the VA facility in West LA — citations against an older homeless veteran for breaking into abandoned VA buildings to sleep, loitering, and "stealing" a hospital johnny by wearing it and not returning it. It was my job to make our nation's abandoned federal buildings a little safer from sleepy homeless veterans. No, no, no effusive praise — just doing my job.

Anyway, such petty violations can be tried before a magistrate — if the defendant consents. If not, the government has to file an information (like an indictment, but for misdemeanors, and thus not presented to the grand jury) and try the poor slob before a United States District Judge. Of all the people in the room, the United States District Judge is probably the least happy about this turn of events.

So, our sleepy homeless veteran refused to consent to trial before a magistrate, and we had to file an information. The Daily Journal picked it up somehow, and called me to interview me. In writing the story, they took snippets of my quotes out of context and ignored my painstaking explanation of the lede of their story — that the only reason this guy was being named in an information and tried in District Court was that he refused to consent to a less formal proceeding.

I was annoyed. I felt wronged. I felt the journalist was unfair. But I can honestly say that, whatever my other faults were, it never occurred to me to call the Daily Journal and scream at anyone, or to write letters threatening litigation.

That gives me a leg up over Angela Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz has been a harsh critic of Angela Corey, the affidavit she filed seeking Zimmerman's arrest, and her conduct of the case. Via Patterico and Legal Insurrection I see that according to Dershowitz, this led Corey to call Harvard Law School and engage in a 40-minute rant to the hapless official tasked to talk to her.

She was transferred to the Office of Communications and proceeded to engage in a 40-minute rant, during which she threatened to sue Harvard Law School, to try to get me disciplined by the Bar Association and to file charges against me for libel and slander.

She said that because I work for Harvard and am identified as a professor she had the right to sue Harvard.

When the communications official explained to her that I have a right to express my opinion as “a matter of academic freedom,” and that Harvard has no control over what I say, she did not seem to understand.

She persisted in her nonstop whining, claiming that she is prohibited from responding to my attacks by the rules of professional responsibility — without mentioning that she has repeatedly held her own press conferences and made public statements throughout her career.

I might take this with a grain of salt, except that it is corroborated with stories of Angela Corey's behavior in the face of prior criticism. Ron Littlepage of the Florida Times-Union describes Corey's history, which apparently involves screaming at and threatening Littlepage and the Times-Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Florida State University (which she threatened implicitly by issuing a public records request about a professor who had criticized her handling of a case).

I've sent out some emails and will try to interview some of these people and report back. I also obtained Angela Corey's angry, threatening letter to the Times-Union from a source, only to see that Legal Insurrection got there first. The letter betrays anger management issues, entitlement problems, a weak grasp of pertinent First Amendment law governing statements of opinion, and a rather frightening attitude from a government official with such power.

But Dershowitz and the others should count themselves lucky. Having your colleagues screamed at, being threatened with frivolous libel suits, being abused for stating your opinion — all of that pales next to what a truly vengeful prosecutor can do. Consider AUSA Tanya Treadway's contemptible and totalitarian pursuit of the late Siobhan Reynolds for her criticism of federal drug prosecutions of pain relief specialists. Where Angela Corey's tools to date are threats and attempted intimidation, Treadway's tools were borrowed from the full might of the federal government, including motions for gag orders and an expensive and harassing grand jury investigation.

Not all prosecutors are like that. I've known many who shrug off bad press — even unfair bad press. But there is a mindset that feels entitled to unearned respect and that believes in a protected right to be free of rebuke. People with that mindset have no business in positions of government power. We ought to identify them and chase them out whenever we can, whether or not we like their substantive government work. They're dangerous.

I suspect that the politically, socially, and racially inflammatory Zimmerman case will bring more attention to Angela Corey's behavior than it might otherwise receive. I also suspect that some criticism of her will be colored by disagreement that Zimmerman should be prosecuted at all, and that some defenses of her will be colored by the opposite view. I'm not offering opinions on guilt or innocence or on proof, other than to note that the affidavit Corey approved was shoddy. I hope that people will look past the politics. Corey's behavior is alarmingly unprofessional and censorious, and would be no matter what case were at issue.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

14 Comments

12 Comments

  1. perlhaqr  •  Jun 11, 2012 @1:32 pm

    Tanya Treadway is an evil, vicious harridan. Angela Corey seems to be cut from the same bolt of cloth.

  2. Ricker  •  Jun 11, 2012 @2:59 pm

    Google Tracey Cline. Another case of exactly what you are talking about.

  3. Joe  •  Jun 11, 2012 @4:07 pm

    Thanks for writing about Angela Corey. I've been following her shenanigans as part of the Zimmerman trial. She is a public official and therefore people will comment about what they think of her, and these people have the right to express an opinion about how they think she is doing her job. If she doesn’t like it she shouldn’t be a public elected position. Calling Harvard Law School for Gods sake and ARGUING with them about whether Dershowitz has the right to express his opinion of her I mean, seriously, does she really think that the American Bar Association would disbar this man because her enormous ego was bruised, or that Harvard would fire him for his accurate assessment of her performance? Slander and libel? Does she know anything about the First Amendment? This woman has an over inflated opinion of her own self importance and using her position to throwing a hissy fit and make veiled threats to those who make their negative opinions public does not reflect well on her office. She needs to be voted out next time around if not sooner. She's an embarrasment.

  4. VPJ  •  Jun 11, 2012 @4:25 pm

    Kinda figured the nice prosecutor lady's wacky antics would find their way here sooner or later.

    A minor quibble, though. Doesn't affect the gist, but…

    and Florida State University (which she threatened implicitly by issuing a public records request about a professor who had criticized her handling of a case).

    Sandy D'alembert was a bit more than random professor at FSU. Was the President of the University at the time.

    Course, love him or hate him, I'd also say that Alan Dershowitz isn't exactly a random professor either.

  5. Jess  •  Jun 11, 2012 @4:31 pm

    Dersh has now apparently challenged Corey to debat. Maybe he can take her down a few pegs.

    http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/422234/charles-broward/2012-06-11/harvard-law-professor-alan-dershowitz-now-challenges

  6. Caleb  •  Jun 11, 2012 @5:01 pm

    C'mon Corey! You are a public figure! Even if your chosen career path never takes you into 1st Amendment territory, surely you can reach back into the mists of time to lawschool. New York Times v. Sullivan ring a bell? You know, the single most famous free speech case in the casebook? It's far enough in the public consciousness to warrant citation in internet comedy videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bklKkqNEX5k

  7. Dan Weber  •  Jun 11, 2012 @6:44 pm

    I'm pretty sure Patrick has brought up Tracey Cline. She strikes me as vastly more incompetent than censorious, though.

  8. EH  •  Jun 11, 2012 @8:47 pm

    I was just reading something related to the US Presidential elections earlier today, watching the famous George Carlin bit about why he doesn't vote (it's on YT), and it occurred to me that we just don't have very high standards. People need to get hounded out of politics (and law enforcement) more often.

  9. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Jun 12, 2012 @12:36 am

    A FORTY MINUTE rant? I am reminded of Tom Wolfe's reaction to certain august personages criticisms of his second novel. My God, where does she get the time and energy?

    Just that she is capable of a forty minute rant suggests that she is in the wrong job and has missed a true calling. Stand up comedian springs to mind. Or televangelist. Maybe stump speaker for KKK or Islamic Jihad rallies. Something that involves defying common sense for a living.

  10. Vmaximus  •  Jun 12, 2012 @7:58 pm

    I am less and less with Governor Scott. This is a serious lapse of judgement and I wonder what he was thinking or if someone gave bad advice.

  11. Doublebonus  •  Jun 15, 2012 @8:51 am

    I'd say what I think of Tanya Treadway, but I'm afraid she'd have me arrested.

  12. marco73  •  Jun 19, 2012 @4:16 am

    I see that someone brought up Florida Governot Scott. He took advice from Florida AG Pam Bondi on the appointing of a special prosecutor for the Zimmerman case. Not sure what they were thinking bringing in Ms. Corey. Her first action on the case was to meet with Martin's parents and pray with them.
    She has invested so much of herself into this case, particularly see revoking GZ's bond and arresting the wife for perjury. This past couple days, there have been the jailhouse calls released to the media: talk about tainting the jury pool. This guy will have to travel to the Moon to find a moderately fair jury.

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