Alstory Simon Column Shows There’s No Competency Test For Soapboxes

To paraphrase contrarian extraordinaire Christopher Hitchens, to describe this latest column from the Chicago Tribune as a piece of crap “would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental.” The column starts with a hyper-cynical version of what Alstory Simon went through:

For the last several years, Alstory Simon has had a good run in the media.

His version of an important local story — devious critics of the justice system hoodwinked me into confessing to a double murder I didn’t commit in order to get the real killer off death row and undermine capital punishment — has become the dominant narrative.

A better starting point would’ve been, “For 15 years, 8 months, Alstory Simon had a horrible run in the justice system. During that time, he was locked up 23 hours a day for a crime he did not commit.”

When Simon was finally exonerated, the proprietor of this space wrote about it, about how the deeply passionate Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project – led by a journalist — tricked and coerced Simon into confessing to a crime he did not commit in order to save one of their own, whose name is Anthony Porter.

The Project’s conduct was described by Anita Alvarez, the head of the Cook County State Attorney’s Office at the time, as involving “a series of alarming tactics that were not only coercive and absolutely unacceptable by law enforcement standards, they were potentially in violation of Mr. Simon’s constitutionally protected rights.”

Simon has since sued the people who coerced him to confess, and those people are referred to by columnist Eric Zorn as “the innocence industry,” who are now fighting back against Simon’s “far-fetched conspiracy theory” that resulted in his exoneration:

Attorneys representing those Simon has accused in a federal civil suit of conspiring to frame him, including former Northwestern University professor David Protess and private investigator Paul Ciolino, are mounting a vigorous defense that promises to reframe this story yet again.

Her team of top prosecutors produced a 28-page, single-spaced report. Did they buy into Simon’s astonishing and tardy recantation and recommend his release? Alvarez didn’t make their report public when she held a news conference to blast Team Protess and free Simon, but the document has recently been made available, under a protective seal, to all the attorneys in the civil case.

The attorneys can’t reveal the findings, and the report’s lead author, Cook County’s former head of criminal prosecutions Fabio Valentini, declined to comment when I reached him Tuesday. But, perhaps tellingly, Ciolino’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, moved during a status hearing in federal court Monday to lift the confidentiality order.

Did Alvarez recommend his release? Well, yes. She did, and chastised the Innocence Project’s tactics whilst doing so. The irony here is that Zorn is the one making a conspiracy theory out of the project’s defense lawyers fighting back and disputing Simon’s claims, which is what they are supposed to do while providing competent representation. But the money quote appears a few paragraphs up:

False and coerced confessions happen, to be sure. But defendants usually make such claims hours or days after the fact, not years. It was a far-fetched and unprecedented claim. (My emphasis.)

This is as wrong and terminally misinformed as it gets, even for a column as crappy as Zorn’s. Is there a cite, a hyperlink? This is babble that’s completely removed from reality. How about a defendant who doesn’t tell his defense lawyer weeks or (gasp!) months into the case that the cops beat him to a pulp or threatened him into a confession?

But putting aside the temporal distinction of days versus years, defendants have the right to attack a wrongful conviction until they draw their last breath behind bars, or in other cases until the moment the warden gives the OK sign to push the plunger. Even the dead are not precluded from being vindicated.  Hell, it took 350 years for the Vatican to overturn Galileo’s recantation, which was obtained under threat of immolation.

In Zorn’s world, there’s a statute of limitations as to when a wrongfully — or not, because that’s not the point – convicted person has the right to claim his confession was obtained through unlawful means. It’s a simplistic notion that is guaranteed to make the world dumber. Are there no standards anymore?

10 thoughts on “Alstory Simon Column Shows There’s No Competency Test For Soapboxes

  1. SHG

    Ah, the joys of how law looks when you have no clue what you’re talking about. If only people wanted to read knowledgeable people rather than the guy who was hired to stand on a big soapbox and enjoys the attributed credibility of a major paper despite being utterly clueless. But they don’t. People do so believe whatever is shouted from the top of the big soapbox, not matter how absurdly stupid it may be.

    1. Mario Machado

      In a hopefully not-too-distant galaxy, people like Zorn get fired and scorned for writing such piffle. Aside for being stupendously ignorant on the subject, he goes and makes light of what Simon went through because of someone else’s misdeeds.

      Then one remembers that an editor or two for the main newspaper for America’s Second City gave it the OK for publishing. Reality can be a sobering thing.

      1. SHG

        Remember my first rule at FL? That’s why they won’t give me a column in the New York Times. Well, that plus they hate that I’m a slave to reason.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    There actually is a competency test for soapboxes, but it doesn’t measure what you would hope it does. Somebody’s got to be able to buy more soap.

    1. SHG

      That’s one of the reasons smart posts by knowledgeable people that require thinking can’t sustain themselves. Nobody’s buying soap.

      1. Mario Machado

        “Smart posts by knowledgeable people that require thinking can’t sustain themselves”

        Boy does that remind me of a former crim law online commentary magazine that used to be. I think the initials were L & F, or the other way around.

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