"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Plague of Ambitious Prosecutors

A society's ability to function is based solidly on its government's willingness to treat people fairly and equally. The temptations of power, however, tend to corrupt the individuals who serve in office, as Lord Acton observed and as the Republicans in Congress have demonstrated in recent years. Nowhere is that temptation more damaging to individuals, however, than in the case of ambitious prosecutors.

As another old saying has it, "Every District Attorney looking in the mirror sees a Governor," and politically motivated prosecutions are an inevitable result of that reality. The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.

But the king of them all today is surely New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who is now running for governor of that state, in full confirmation of the old saying. As today's Wall Street Journal notes, Spitzer has truly taken the art of political prosecution to new heights, using the powers of his office to bully and intimidate all those whom he sees as obstacles to his agenda. Here's a good example of his style, from the Journal article:

A spokesman for New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly reported in 2003 that after Ms. Kelly disagreed with Mr. Spitzer over legislation that he felt would hamper his investigations, he hit her with a "slew of political threats and personal insults," warning he'd come to her district and "cause problems." Mr. Spitzer's office described the event as "spirited and frank." To which Ms. Kelly's spokesman bluntly replied: "The attorney general acted like a thug, and his office can try to spin it any way they want to."

The Journal article includes several other examples, and indeed an entire book could be written about Spitzer's use of his office for vendettas against prominent businesses and individuals. He is not the most repugnant AG ever, one supposes, but his roughhouse tactics and naked ambition show just how vulnerable society is to the ambitions of its leaders (as if any confirmation were needed). As the Journal story notes,

[T]here are disturbing suggestions that Mr. Spitzer is peddling information to the public that may not be accurate. You can bet that if this were President Bush, the press would be all over the disparate versions of events. But this is Mr. Spitzer, who at this very moment is running campaign ads that are nothing more than a compilation of the adulatory headlines he's received over his tenure.

Far better for the public if a little more light were directed on these discrepancies. Mr. Spitzer is asking to govern one of the most populous states in the nation. Politicians are certainly allowed "passion," but given the power they wield they also have to demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment. Voters deserve to know if Mr. Spitzer has the character to hold such a job.

Yes, we must expect our governors to "demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment." But we should expect that of our attorneys general, too, and indeed of all those who step forward to serve the public in leadership positions.

9 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think it's OK. Our pendulum needs its scolds, altho after Jimmy Carter, I do dread getting lectured by our president from 2009-2013. You think Bush is bad? Better to want to kill your president than kill yourself.

Let the Great State of New York wear the hair shirt for the next four years after electing the righteous Mr. Spitzer. They deserve it for inflicting their current senators on our nation. I want them to feel our pain.

S. T. Karnick said...

Good point, Tom, but one reason for limited government is that not everybody in NY, for example, voted for their current lot of leaders, and therefore it's not right for those leaders to make people suffer when they didn't vote for them.

Of course, that is the norm, for the very reasons noted in my post....

Alan Reynolds said...

"An entire book could be written about Spitzer's use of his office for vendettas against prominent businesses and individuals."

That book really should be written. I'd buy a few copies.

I once got a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter who had heard I was paid off by Merrill Lynch to attack Mr. Spitzer.

I explained that I knew nobody at the firm, did not do business with then and did not own the stock. Besides, I noted that I am much too wealthy to be cheaply bribed (a million bucks is chump change).

When I asked where he got the idea the reporter told me he got a call from . . . Spitzer's office.

Power corrupts and he has way too much of it.

Devang said...

Power corrupts and he has way too much of it.

Except... it's ok if he only goes after those who have more power than he does :) That's the definition of a Democrat in politics you know...

S. T. Karnick said...

No, it's NOT ok to go after people more powerful than oneself, and there is no private individual or organization with power like his. No business or individual has the power of subpoena, the ability to grab someone off the street and hold them legally for 24 hours, to authority to bring criminal charges against those whom they don't like, and so on.

THAT'S WHY IT'S NOT OK!!!!!!!!

Devang said...

The one attorney general, with a 61% approval rating, who managed to go after mutual funds and insurers among others, the two biggest laissez faire financial industries, apart from maybe the credit card industry got it nipped in the bud for being bad, and this attorney general is one of the most hated men alive all of a sudden.

I'm sorry but, that simply does not calcute...

He did go after those who hold more financial power than him, which affects many more individuals than the power of subpeona which can only be used against so many individuals, and much less mis-used.

I would love to see this book too, and I'm sure it will probably materialise before the elections if someone on the right wants the governership of NY bad enough.

S. T. Karnick said...

The notion that the average individual is likely to suffer far greater harm from an insurance company than from an ambitious prosecutor is perfectly ludicrous. Just ask the Duke lacrosse team, and their families, and their coach, and the countless innocent victims of Spitzer's vendettas, and the dozens and dozens of other people whose lives have been ruined by politically motivated prosecutions.

You lefties are always moaning about people being prosecuted and put in jail unfairly—unless the victim is someone who makes more money than you. Clearly your obsession with equal treatment under the law is merely a fig leaf for personal envy and hatred.

Devang said...

I said misuse of financial power affects more poeople, than the misuse of subpeona power, feel free to ask Arthur Anderson or Enron employess. I did not imply what you said.

It's not about money, those who commit white collar crimes think they're more likely to get away with it, and will use financial power to stop inquiries. Excuse me if I think Mr. Spitzer's tactics, whatever they maybe, legally, are fair game against those individuals.

S. T. Karnick said...

You are excused and wrong.