Since the impeachment trial of Thomas Porteous is providing so many examples of unethical attorney conduct the ABA should require viewing and give CLE credit, does the full moon account for this ethical lapse or is there a C-span blackout in North Mississippi?
If anyone can pull in big bucks, it’s Tollison. Mid-summer the grapevine was reporting his son and law partner is a candidate for the vacant US Attorney position in the Northern District, Mississippi. Pop Tollison, of course, represented Jackson attorney John Jones in Jones v Scruggs, the case that set off the events that resulted in the USA v Scruggs et al.
So, is it a co-inky-dence or what that this invite was issued the day before USA Today published Prosecutors’ conduct can tip justice scales?
Federal prosecutors are supposed to seek justice, not merely score convictions. But a USA TODAY investigation found that prosecutors repeatedly have violated that duty in courtrooms across the nation. The abuses have put innocent people in prison, set guilty people free and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and sanctions.
Judges have warned for decades that misconduct by prosecutors threatens the Constitution’s promise of a fair trial. Congress in 1997 enacted a law aimed at ending such abuses.
Yet USA TODAY documented 201 criminal cases in the years that followed in which judges determined that Justice Department prosecutors — the nation’s most elite and powerful law enforcement officials — themselves violated laws or ethics rules.
In case after case during that time, judges blasted prosecutors for “flagrant” or “outrageous” misconduct. They caught some prosecutors hiding evidence, found others lying to judges and juries, and said others had broken plea bargains.
Such abuses, intentional or not, doubtless infect no more than a small fraction of the tens of thousands of criminal cases filed in the nation’s federal courts each year. But the transgressions USA TODAY identified were so serious that, in each case, judges threw out charges, overturned convictions or rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. And each has the potential to tarnish the reputation of the prosecutors who do their jobs honorably…
Unlike local prosecutors, who often toil daily in crowded courts to untangle routine burglaries and homicides, Justice Department attorneys handle many of the nation’s most complex and consequential crimes.
With help from legal experts and former prosecutors, USA TODAY spent six months examining federal prosecutors’ work, reviewing legal databases, department records and tens of thousands of pages of court filings. Although the true extent of misconduct by prosecutors will likely never be known, the assessment is the most complete yet of the scope and impact of those violations.
USA TODAY found a pattern of “serious, glaring misconduct,” said Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, an expert on misconduct by prosecutors. “It’s systemic now, and … the system is not able to control this type of behavior. There is no accountability.”
He and Alexander Bunin, the chief federal public defender in Albany, N.Y., called the newspaper’s findings “the tip of the iceberg” because many more cases are tainted by misconduct than are found. In many cases, misconduct is exposed only because of vigilant scrutiny by defense attorneys and judges.
However frequently it happens, the consequences go to the heart of the justice system’s promise of fairness…
Among the consequences of misconduct, wrongful convictions are the most serious, said former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh. He said, “No civilized society should countenance such conduct or systems that failed to prevent it.”
Even people who never spent a day in jail faced ruinous consequences: lost careers, lost savings and lost reputations. Last year, a federal appeals court wiped out Illinois businessman Charles Farinella’s 2007 conviction for changing “best when purchased by” dates on bottles of salad dressing he sold to discount stores. The judges ruled that what he had done wasn’t illegal and blasted lead prosecutor Juliet Sorensen for violations that robbed Farinella of a fair trial. Exoneration came too late to salvage his business or to help the 20 or so employees he had laid off.
“It’s the United States government against one person,” Farinella said in his first public comment on the case. “They beat you down because they are so powerful. They have trillions of dollars behind them. Even someone who’s innocent doesn’t have much of a chance”…
In a justice system that prosecutes more than 60,000 people a year, mistakes are inevitable. But the violations USA TODAY documented go beyond everyday missteps. In the worst cases, say judges, former prosecutors and others, they happen because prosecutors deliberately cut corners to win.
“There are rogue prosecutors, often motivated by personal ambition or partisan reasons,” said Thornburgh, who was attorney general under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Such people are uncommon, though, he added: “Most former federal prosecutors, like myself, are resentful of actions that bring discredit on the office.”
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