Given his history as former chief counsel to former Senator Trent Lott, others may not consider Jackson attorney Steve Seale a white knight for taking issue with King of Torts author and former AUSA Tom Dawson at the monthly meeting meeting of the Capitol Press Corps. However, before Mr. Seale went to Washington, he was a member of the Mississippi State Senate who earned white knight status for the strength of character he regularly demonstrated in discussions of difficult issues. Given that history, Mr. Seale’s remarks are worthy of more consideration than the clarification published yesterday:
As Magnolia Marketplace reported here, Seale had some pretty strong words for Dawson, who was the lead prosecutor in the judicial bribery cases that led to Dickie Scruggs being hauled off to prison.
Anyway, Seale was a little upset because I didn’t talk to him afterward to get a completely clear picture of what he meant before I posted the original entry. Fair enough.
So after a 15-minute phone conversation with Seale, here’s what we know:
Seale said he has no problem with Dawson writing a book about the Scruggs cases per se. The issue is Dawson profiting from work he performed while he was a federal prosecutor. (Dawson has since retired from the post.)
“I think a prosecutor should be held to a higher standard,” Seale said.
The author of the article, Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Clay Chandler, quotes Seale as saying, “The client of a U.S. attorney is the general public…and any profit gleaned from serving that client should come with the client’s permission”. However, Chandler seems satisfied Seale has no case given Dawson’s position:
“For his part, Dawson writes in the Reading Notes and Acknowledgements section of “Kings of Tort”: “Bar associations recognize the absurdity of obtaining permission of all citizens of the country in releasing case information, and generally leave it to the author to use common sense.”
Dawson also said that he adhered to Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure regarding nondisclosure of matters before a grand jury. “Any reference to grand jury testimony is derived from transcripts publicly filed by criminal defendants in their own motions and responses,” Dawson writes. He goes on to write that he did not divulge any federal prosecutor trade secrets, and chose not to quote directly in the book Department of Justice officials or defense lawyers.”
Seale, however, took exception in a comment posted with the article:
Clay, with all due respect, you again omitted some critical parts of our conversation wherein I explained in detail the reasons for my opinion that a prosecutor (or former prosecutor) should not profit by writing about facts and information gained only due to his position as a prosecutor.
Prosecutors have a special status and power in the criminal justice system. They have access to the power of a subpoena and the prospect of sanctions by a court whereby they can compel the testimony of witnesses and obtain documents and other evidence. The threat of a criminal prosecution and punishment including incarceration are powers that regular folks like us don’t have. My point was and is that Mr. Dawson shouldn’t profit from the work he did in this special status in our criminal justice system on behalf of his “client” without his client’s permission.
Mr. Dawson states in his book that his client was “… the United States and the public at large.” He recognizes that prosecutor’s owe ” … a duty of confidentiality to his or her client” but cites us to the recognition by bar associations that it would be “absurd” to seek the public’s permission to reveal matters which would otherwise be confidential.
I don’t doubt, as I said when I asked the question during his remarks, that Mr. Dawson followed the “rules” the government, the courts and bar associations recognize with respect to writing a book. But, I don’t think it’s “absurd” for his client (us/the public) to expect that prosecutors with such special powers will not profit by writing books about what they learn in their work due in large part to that power they have in that special status.
Writing books about their cases is not what I think we expect from prosecutors … especially if that involves making a profit by doing so. We expect prosecutors in the conduct of their work to be motivated by serving the public’s interest in a fair and impartial justice system. There may be no rule, law or ethical or professional practice which requires Mr. Dawson to obtain our permission to profit from his work by writing a book about it, and it may be “absurd” to think that he could obtain it if he tried. But, he should employ some of the “common sense” he refers to in the book and, if he is truly interested in furthering the cause of justice by having a clear record on these issues available to the public, he should donate the profits he may derive from this book to some entity that will serve the public’s interest and use those funds to promote the cause of justice.
Quoting Goldfinger is oxymoronic given Seale’s concern but “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action” and Seale’s point about the power of “threat of a criminal prosecution and…incarceration” merits further examination in the context of the full record of the cases reported in part in the Kings of Torts.
- “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
- – Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)