We examine a range of examples: Like everyone else on the planet, prosecutors can sometimes be wrong.
In his column in Monday’s New York Times, Charles Blow offered a painful example:
BLOW (5/4/15): Last year Glenn Ford, Louisiana’s longest-serving death row prisoner, was also set free after nearly 30 years facing execution for a murder that he also did not commit. According to The New York Daily News: “A judge freed Ford from the Louisiana State Penitentiary a year ago when evidence, believed to have been suppressed during the trial, surfaced exonerating him from the all-white jury’s decision in the murder of a nearly blind Shreveport watchmaker, Isadore Rozeman.”Over the past twenty years, cable news has presented a boatload of former prosecutors for whom everyone always seems to be guilty, where possible of every known human offense. Sometimes, prosecutors can be wrong in their judgments and even in their basic attitudes, as Blow helps us see in this case.
The lead prosecutor in the Ford case, A.M. Stroud III, apologized in a column published by The Shreveport Times, saying: “In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie ‘And Justice for All,’ ‘Winning became everything.’ ” He concluded: “How totally wrong was I.”
We were struck by Blow’s example for the following reason. Earlier in his column, he had presented the words of another young prosecutor who could, at least in theory, also be wrong in some of her judgments:
BLOW: Mosby said at a news conference on Friday as she laid out the case and announced the charges: “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’ ” She continued: “Last but certainly not least, to the youth of the city. I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s ensure we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause and as young people, our time is now.”Stroud was 33 when he erred; Mosby is 35. Is it possible that she has made some mistaken judgments in the current case, perhaps for different types of reasons?
Mosby seemed to recognize in that moment that this case and others like it are now about more than individual deaths and individual incidents, but about restoration—or a formation—of faith for all of America’s citizens in the American justice system itself.
Of course it is! Only time will tell. That said, Blow seemed fairly sure that she had the right idea. We tend to presume good judgment on the part of people with whose actions we’re broadly inclined to agree.
(Did Mosby err about the knife? We don’t know; click here.)
Watching cable’s former prosecutors, we’ve become a trifle suspicious of the whole indispensable breed. Things tend to be different with Rachel Maddow, who tends to cheer when prosecutors threaten to hang them high.
Last Friday, Rachel was letting us viewers down easy in the case of David Wildstein, who has pled guilty to various charges in the Fort Lee traffic jam matter. Sadly, she gave us fair warning:
MADDOW (5/1/15): David Wildstein pled guilty on two federal counts today. He is due to the sentenced in August, although he is cooperating with federal prosecutors. And so the U.S. attorney in New Jersey warned us today that we shouldn’t expect David Wildstein to get too much prison time.Dag! That said, at least we’ve been warned!
Two other former Christie aides were charged in the case—Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly. Last Friday, they both pled not guilty.
Trials are scheduled for early July. We’ll be curious to see what transpires, for the following reason:
The apparent dumbness of the deliberate traffic jam has always been hard to fathom. Obviously, many people are going to notice if you deliberately tie up their city—or their “little town,” as the story-telling Maddow always says.
Why would any sensible person engage in such risky behavior? Because Christie isn’t the stupidest person on earth, we’ve always found it hard to believe that he could have been involved.
Wildstein may be that person! But what about Baroni and Kelly? Assuming that the trials proceed, we’ll be curious to see their accounts of what occurred. (The prosecutor in this case is experienced and well regarded.)
Meanwhile, we were struck by all the misdirections which were churned on Maddow’s Monday night program. Some of them came from Maddow herself. Others came from state rep John Wisniewski, who we came to respect a bit less.
Maddow and Wisniewski seem to have a misleading story about every remaining part of the case. Let’s restrict ourselves to Christie, since he is the biggest fish.
Maddow loves to suggest that Christie may still get caught. Everything is possible, of course. But can you see the way in which this familiar presentation from last Friday night doesn’t exactly make sense?
MADDOW: David Wildstein, who is cooperating with prosecutors, is not done talking about what he knows. And that is potentially trouble for the man all of these individuals worked for, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.Did Christie “know about the lane closures while they were occurring?” We have no idea. But that isn’t the issue.
Watch this moment from today’s press conference with David Wildstein’s attorney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Was Governor Chris Christie involved, counselor? Was Governor Christie involved?
ALAN ZEGAS, ATTORNEY: I had made a statement on behalf of Mr. Wildstein in January of 2013 that Mr. Chris Christie knew of the lane closures while they were occurring and evidence exists to establish that. That is as much—that is as much as I can say and as much as I will say at this time. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, really?
David Wildstein has long contended that Governor Chris Christie knew about the lane closures at the time they happened. There are pictures of David Wildstein and Chris Christie together when the lane closures happened. But today, David Wildstein has not produced any evidence that Chris Christie knew, even though he says he has it.
And Chris Christie, including today, all along contended he’s done nothing wrong and he knew nothing about the scheme.
Now, though, David Wildstein says he has the evidence that Chris Christie knew about it and he is eager to testify. And now, we know that there is likely to be a trial now, at which David Wildstein will finally get to testify. And if he has got that evidence, presumably that will be his opportunity to share it.
Many people knew about the closures while they were occurring. The question would be, did Christie know that they were causing havoc in Fort Lee? And did he know that the havoc was being created on purpose?
Zegas never makes such claims. Rachel, though, always pimps the pointless thing he does say.
Sometimes, prosecutors can want convictions too much. So too with the hang-him-high types, and the entertainers, on our cable “news” channels.