Job Description: Prosecutor

When Rick Horowitz and Jeff Gamso ripped the decision of Sam D’Aquilla, District Attorney of Lousisiana’s 20th Judicial District and the brains behind reindicting Herman Wallace in the hours before his death from cancer, they noted his banal explanation:

I’m a prosecutor. This is what we do.

It was not merely heartless and infuriating, but it was also false. A blatant lie. It’s the sort of statement that adds fuel to the fire of hatred toward prosecutors, when it’s a reflection of one prosecutor, a rogue, whose exercise of discretion was used to vindictively and, in this instance, absurdly, explain the job.  Not even D’Aquilla can prosecute a dead man, as much as he may want to or think it’s “what we do.”

A great many criminal defense lawyers began their careers as prosecutors. Some wear their past as a badge of honor. Some use it to fool unsuspecting clients. Some see it as a part of their whole, a valuable experience.  Some deny it, wondering how they could have ever spent their time putting people in prison as a tool of the system.  Opinions vary. But most were not Sam D’Aquilla, and when D’Aquilla says “we,” he does not speak for them.

At Crime & Consequences, even Bill Otis has prosecutors he doesn’t like, surprising as that may be.  Of course, to get to the point of saying so takes a bit of meandering thought.

Being a prosecutor is in some ways easy and in some ways hard.  It’s easy because just about all your defendants are guilty as sin, and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it.  It’s also easy because, when you go home at night, you do NOT have to explain to your 12-year-old why you did your darndest to fox the jury into acquitting a child molester so he could go home and do it again to someone else’s 12-year-old.

It’s hard because, as a result of your efforts, you’ll get branded in academia, the ACLU, the NACDL and NAMBLA  —to name several dissimilar organizations united in their contempt for prosecutors— as a sleazy, heartless thug without a wisp of compassion.  It’s also hard because there is the occasional very, very bad apple in the barrel.

While I can’t speak to what NAMBLA thinks of prosecutors (I frankly didn’t know that NAMBLA still existed), but appreciate Otis’ wrapping all the “dissimilar” godless organizations up in their unifying theme, he’s wrong about the ACLU and NACDL.  No rational person thinks we would be better off without police or prosecutors. No rational person fails to realize that there are people who harm other people, and that harm must be prevented and its perpetrators punished.

Of course, conceding, even for an instant, that the problem isn’t with prosecutors, but with bad prosecutors, would deprive Otis of the use of a slew of adjectives, “sleazy, heartless thug without a wisp of compassion,” and make him appear petty and ignorant.  It would be mean to reduce Bill Otis to such an insulting status, and just because he creates fantastical strawmen to capture his hated adversaries, the defenders of child molesters who are coming after his [metaphorical?] 12-year-old, I would never want to hurt Otis’ feelings and make him sad.

Given his claim that the defense bar’s definition of prosecutor is “sleazy, heartless thug without a wisp of compassion,” you might suspect that there is no line beyond which a prosecutor cannot cross that would render him a disgrace. Not so.  Don’t underestimate Otis.

Though he may relegate the bad ones to the “occasional very, very bad apple in the barrel” meme, there is a line that not even Bill can tolerate: Honor.

One obvious case we’ve discussed is Mike Nifong, a politically-motivated, anti-white thug (not to put too fine a point on it). Another is Bill Killian, an Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney who all but threatened to jail anyone who had something unpleasant to say about Muslims (although trashing Christians and Jews seemed to be OK).

Well, okay. He had to call Nifong an “anti-white thug,” and attribute Eastern District of Tennessee United States Attorney Bill Killian to Obama, though Killian’s evil was defending Muslims from attack, even though they’re all terrorists and want to destroy our way of life.  But Otis has a third prosecutor to add to his list of dishonor:

Today, Scott Johnson at Powerline tells the story of yet another Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney, James Letten, who either oversaw, or turned a blind eye toward, long-running, scandalous misconduct by his First Assistant and another high ranking AUSA during a very high-profile trial. Fortunately, their shenanigans were discovered by some alert defense lawyers, brought to the court’s attention, and now there will be, as there should be, hell to pay.

What?  He’s, he’s, he’s, right.  The “scandalous misconduct” gave rise to reversal of the conviction of the Danziger Bridge cops.  It was, indeed, disgraceful that it happened, and it happened under Letten.  But it’s rather surprising that Otis would single out Letten for something done by his underlings which, in the scheme of bad things done by prosecutors, is far from the worst. Especially in Lousiana. Especially New Orleans, where bad things done by prosecutors are, well, pretty much the norm.

But then, Otis lets us in on a dirty little secret, why James Letten joins that “very, very” small group of bad apple prosecutors deserving of his disgust:

He has also apparently become unhinged.

Next to molesting children, unhinged is just about the worst thing you can say about someone. So what gives rise to this slur?  That would be the Powerline story where Letten says mean things about conservative activist James O’Keefe, who he had previously prosecuted.

James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas group released its latest video on Monday, this time recording former U.S. Attorney James Letten calling the conservative activist a “nasty, little cowardly spud.”

O’Keefe and his team confronted Letten, formerly a prosecutor for the Eastern District of Louisiana, at Tulane University in New Orleans last month. Letten’s office prosecuted O’Keefe and three others in 2010 for posing as a phone crew in order to enter the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Perhaps Letten’s failure to control his assistants, a remarkably ordinary occurrence, is really the problem?  If it was, the list would be far, far longer.  Perhaps the definition of prosecutor needs to be expanded to include not calling conservative activists mean names?  Because the short list makes it plain that withholding Brady, suborning perjury and convicting the innocent don’t bring dishonor to the job.

7 comments on “Job Description: Prosecutor

  1. jtf

    I realize that this is preaching to the choir, but I simply cannot understand the mindset that leads to people advocating for the “rights of the victims” as if that’s something that isn’t adequately served by our current system. It’s as if they believe that all men that take up the office of prosecutor are angels, and then bludgeon the facts or stretch their definition of “angel” until it’s true – excluding, of course, anybody who dares go after members of a privileged majority group. Then those guys are just assholes, apparently.

      1. jtf

        Granted, I may be jumping to conclusions – I’m no lawyer, only a casual observer of the legal process, and I take “rights of the victims” to be a fairly transparent proxy for “rights of the government/prosecution.” However, I’m mainly just trying to be as charitable as I can in discerning a principled philosophical justification for the stance of Bill Otis, and coming up blank.

        1. SHG Post author

          No disagreement, but Bill Otis represents what might be called the extreme prosecutorial wing, where he’s never met a defendant who shouldn’t fry. Most prosecutors (and former prosecutors) are not as radical as Otis. Some are very decent and honorable people.

          1. jtf

            I would venture (even without any firsthand experience) to say that most people in that line of work are decent, hardworking and honorable. Despite that, I think we can both agree that safeguards are in place because prosecutors are men, not angels.

          2. Ultraviolet admin

            The biggest problem is the good and honorable ones too often aren’t the political ones. I know more than a few folks who see the DA’s office as a way to public glory rather than public service. A pity the ones we hear of tend to be the former than the latter.

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