White Knight takes issue with author of Kings of Tort

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)

12 thoughts on “White Knight takes issue with author of Kings of Tort”

  1. To the form of judicial matters I’ve seen. My encounter with this firm. The pot calls kittle black. This is unreal. Wise,Carter,Child and Caraway 1998. hppt://www.mftms13.wordpress.com

  2. Mr. Dawson is not with the government now and for him not to be able to write a book about his experiences is ludicrous. Who can write any book without some experience and knowledge of the subject? He hasn’t given away any “trade secrets” and has just used the pieces that are all over the internet about Scruggs and Minor and put them together nicely for all of us to be able to see the complexity of these crimes clearly. And why shouldn’t he get any profit? He did the work on putting it all together, getting it published etc. Just because he was a former Government employee shouldn’t mean he has no recourse to make money in retirement. You are way off base Mr. Seale. Cobbler stick to your shoes. Is it because you hate to see Scruggs and Minor so clearly nailed and it voids all the blogs and internet pleas for them to be released because they are “political prisoners”? PAH-Leeese, give us a break. If they are “political prisoners” then Scrooge McDuck is a philanthropist. They both are guilty as sin and should be right where they are. If, somehow, Minor is released on appeal (and I don’t see how he possibly could be) I may vomit. The only one that should be “donating money back” is Minor and scruggs to the people they stole it from and not be able to just keep it, do their time and come out and lavish themselves with all that ill gotten gain. That is what is not right about this whole mess. Nothing to do with Mr. Dawson writing a book. And by the way– Thank you Mr. Dawson and Mr. Lange for this excellent piece. It was needed and you delivered. Kudos and my hat is off to you.

  3. I think that is the point Kirk, Dawson worked on the book while he was still at DoJ albeit as a contract employee while working the case. From a legal ethics standpoint it raises all sorts of questions.

    Since I’m not a lawyer I’ll leave that for the legal profession to haggle out, but I think the use of guilt by association to attack Steve Seale smacks of desperation as the points he raises are valid.

    What interested me was that Alan Lange said he wrote King of Torts because of the need for a fact driven narrative yet the book itself is riddled with factual inaccuracies such as Lecky King being some sort of cosmic cross dresser.

    I don’t know where Nowdy is in the book but I’ve watched the promotional rollout of the book with the accompanying good reviews from the main stream press here in Mississippi with some amusement. Lange links lots of newspaper sites and has evidently bought some good will in the process. Basic things like Lecky being “a he” are evidently trumped by that.

    Since this was really a race against Ole Miss Journalism Professor Curtis Wilkie it will be interesting to see if any controversy accompanies the release of his book next spring.


  4. I kiss the Ass of Providence for getting slabbed every morning.
    It’s just a thing now, we can’t even look out the window until checking for one of your titles to (as Dr Laura the Haint would say) Face The Day. Doucy, you remind me of like the Anti-Dr. Laura, a sorta Dear Abby Hoffmanesque hero action figure.

  5. Perhaps someone reading will know Mr. Seale and pass your message on, Dr. Smith. The controversy over what Mr. Dawson could and could not do is a matter of law that will be settled at some point. However, I would be remiss in not asking what “ill gotten gain” you attribute to Minor and Scruggs.

    As a doctor, surely you don’t question fees just because they’re high. Admittedly, I’m still reading the book but I’ve read beyond the claims about Minor and saw nothing about him “stealing” money. In fact, everything I read about Minor was consistent with the behavior of someone suffering from the disease of alcoholism – and, political prisoner or not, he was obviously a prisoner of the disease long before his conviction.

    What he’s asking the Court to decide, however, is if that conviction is lawful and there are substantive matters of law at issue that were unreported in the related discussion in the King of Torts.

    …the first prosecution of Mr. Minor ended with an acquittal on various charges and a hung jury on other charges. On retrial. after the presiding judge revised his evidentiary rulings and relieved the prosecution of the need to prove certain elements of the alleged [bribery] crime, Mr. Minor was convicted of what have been described as

    1. I have not talked to anyone about the factual accuracy of the stuff on Minor. Mr. Diaz would be the expert there and it appears the shoddy job getting basic facts straight permeates that section as well Belle.

      I think what is really showing through besides the poor job on research is the fact that Lange’s well articulated views on the half of the bar that works for the general public resulted in him getting right about half of the story.

      One trial lawyer who I will not name that Lange contacted (and was turned down) told me he didn’t think Alan possessed the life experience required to do the topic justice which was the reason he turned him down.

      I rather suspect the Kings of Tort experience has been a broadening one for the authors.


  6. Got it covered best I could in time available in Honest Services, part 2…but keep an eye out as your timely tips and comments are most appreciated.

  7. This is first I’ve heard of the “life experience” issue and it’s an interesting thought – one that can explain, in part, the divergent views on both the Scruggs and Minor cases.

    Age may be a factor, but IMO it’s not the most significant. That distinction belongs to “diverse life experiences” that include meaningful exposure to political reality from a variety of perspectives.

  8. If there ever is Slabbed the book I don’t think we’ll have much of a problem talking to the bunch that refused to cooperate with Alan Lange. The story from State Farm’s point of view and that of DoJ is in the public domain or blogesphere.

    For me on Minor the different jury instructions given on the same charges doesn’t sit well with me. From reading about honest services case at the USSC it appears it doesn’t sit well with the Supremes either.

    I’ll add Jim Brown, who Nowdy has quoted liberally during this discussion knows a thing or two on the topic.


Comments are closed.