No Country For Thin-Skinned Prosecutors
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
- Follow-Up: U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Right This Time - September 12th, 2014
- The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained, But It May Have A Litmus Test - September 11th, 2014
- [Rerun from 2011] Ten Things I Want My Kids To Learn From 9/11 - September 11th, 2014
- Yale Might Want To Look Into Some Sort of Basic Civic Literacy Course - September 10th, 2014
- U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Very Wrong - September 6th, 2014