Before you vote, be sure to read up on the candidates below. A couple of caveats: Since this is the first year of what I’m sure will (unfortunately) be an annual award with many deserving candidates, some of the transgressions committed by this year’snominees extend back to before 2007. I’m also taking two candidates out of consideration. The first is Alberto Gonzalez, mostly because he’d be the overwhelming winner if I included him. The other is Mike Nifong, who while certainly deserving, has at least been held accountable for his transgressions. The prosecutors below have not.
The nominees are…
Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The politically ambitious Buchanan is nothing if not savvy. After then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez announced that prosecuting pornography would be a “top priority” of his Justice Department, Buchanan waged the first federal obscenity prosecutions in 20 years, including against porn distributor Extreme Associates. A fine use of taxpayer dollars.
Buchanan is probably best known for “Operation Pipe Dreams,” in which she spent $12 million to nab 55 people for selling bongs over the Internet. Her biggest catch was Tommy Chong, he of the Cheech & Chong movies. Though Chong was the only person caught in the sting without a prior criminal record, he received the longest sentence (nine months). Buchanan’s office made no bones about throwing the book at Chong because of his movie career, in which he satirized and promoted the use of marijuana.Buchanan’s has also been accused of too zealously pursuing charges against prominent Democrats and Democratic sympathizers (while declining such investigations of Republicans).
No less than Richard Thornburgh–former attorney general in both the Reagan and Bush 41 administration–has called for Buchanan’s resignation. Thornburgh is currently representing noted forensic pathologist Cyrill Wecht, whom Buchanan is prosecuting for what appear to be very minor abuse of state office equipment and staff for personal use. Thornburgh says Buchanan went after Wecht (an outspoken Democrat) at the behest of higher-ups in the Justice Department as part of DOJ’s plan to use U.S. Attorneys to help elect Republicans to office.
But I’d argue Buchanan’s biggest blunder was her relentless pursuit of Dr. Bernard Rottschaefer. Buchanan lined up five witnesses, all female, who alleged Rottschaefer wrote them prescriptions for OxyContin, anti-anxiety medications, and other drugs outside of normal medical practice, sometimes in exchange for sex. Since Rottschaefer’s conviction, strong evidence has emerged that all five witnesses perjured themselves on the stand.
Buchanan’s star witness, Jennifer Riggle, admitted in multiple letters to her boyfriend that she made up her stories of drugs for sex to win favor from Buchanan’s office, hoping that they’d grant her leniency on her own drug charges. Buchanan not only refused to bring perjury charges against Riggle, she refused to reconsider her case against Rottschaefer in light of Riggle’s letters. Riggle, incidentally, has since had other run-ins with the law, and is now on the run. The other four women who testified against Rottschaefer later revealed in civil lawsuits that other doctors were treating them with the same types of drugs for the same ailments diagnosed and treated by Dr. Rottschaefer. The government’s expert medical witness at Rottschaefer’s trial didn’t know some basic facts about pain treatment, and failed to review the five women’s entire patient histories. Other experts have since reviewed Rottschaefer’s treatment, and found it to be well within accepted medical practice.
Buchanan went after Rottschaefer at at time when OxyContin horror stories were all over the news, and Congress and DOJ were demanding a crackdown. No way she could admit a mistake, and let this prosecution go.Dr. Rottschaefer is currently serving a five-year sentence in federal prison. He’ll remain prison while he appeals.
Buchanan has been promoted twice since taking office.
Forrest Allgood, Mississippi District Attorney for Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, and Oktibbeha Counties.
Allgood’s a long-serving DA who my sources say is about as good ol’ boy as good ol’ boy gets. He was most recently the prosecutor in the Tyler Edmonds case, where he solicited the infamous “two hands on the gun” testimony from Dr. Steven Hayne, testimony so outrageous it earned a first-ever (but long overdue) rebuke of Dr. Hayne from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Allgood may also be the first prosecutor (at least that I know of) to send two people to death row who were later acquitted.
The first is Sabrina Butler, an 18-year-old mentally retarded woman Allgood convicted of killing her infant son in 1990. After spending five years on death row, Butler was retried in 1995, after the state supreme court ruled that Allgood was wrong to tell the jury they could take Butler’s refusal to take the stand in her own defense as a sign of her guilt. In the retrial, the medical examiner (not, to my knowledge, Dr. Hayne, though I’ve been told Dr. Hayne did participate in Butler’s prosecution behind the scenes) admitted to making some key mistakes, and outside experts determined that Butler’s child likely died of SIDS or kidney disease. Butler was acquitted, and released from prison.
The other case is the still-pending case of Kennedy Brewer. Brewer was convicted of raping and killing a little girl based largely on the testimony of Dr. Michael West, a quack bite-mark “expert” that Allgood still insists on using, despite the fact that West’s charlatanism has been exposed in several national media outlets, and that he has been suspended from or rebuked by several professional organizations. West testified at trial that he found bite marks on the little girl that he could positively trace back to Kennedy Brewer. Another, more qualified expert testified that the marks were actually bug bites the little girl’s body sustained after being dumped outside. Brewer was convicted and sentenced to death. Allgood then moved to have the evidence in the case destroyed. Brewer’s lawyer objected, and managed to have it preserved.
About a decade later, more advanced DNA testing determined that there was semen from two men inside the little girl—but neither of them was Kennedy Brewer. The state supreme court ordered a new trial, and Brewer was released not only from death row, but also from prison on bond.Allgood then rather shockingly announced he would try Brewer for murder again. Peter Neufeld, director of the Innocence Project, says it’s the first time he can ever remember a prosecutor retrying someone for murder after testing showed DNA from other men at the crime scene, but not from the accused.
Allgood then again shocked those close to the case when said he planned to again call the disgraced Dr. West to testify against Brewer. Of course, he pretty much had to if he was going to try the case again. West was just about all he had against Brewer.
But it doesn’t stop there. When defense attorneys asked that the DNA found in the little girl be tested against a man already in prison for a similar rape and murder in the area, Allgood inexplicably tried to prevent that test from happening (my sources in Mississippi tell me it’s because Allgood prosecuted the other guy, too, and there’s a good chance he’s also innocent). Allgood then told the New York Times he didn’t check the DNA found in the little girl against the state’s DNA database because the state doesn’t have such a database. This came as a surprise to the man who’s been running said database for the last several years.
Finally, if I may quote myself, here’s a passage from my article on Dr. Hayne with some juicy stuff on Allgood:
Lloyd White served as state medical examiner from 1989 to 1993, under Democratic Gov. Ray Mabus. He is now a state medical examiner in Tarrant County, Texas. (He performed the autopsy on the slain Tejano pop star Selena.) Among other changes, White tried to require minimal competence tests and continuing training for Mississippi’s county coroners. Most of his suggestions are officially still part of the state’s regulations, but they’re ignored.
White was especially concerned about the cozy relationships between coroners, district attorneys, and private medical examiners like Hayne, relationships that the ad hoc autopsy system seemed to encourage. “There’s a tendency to slant things to favor the people you’re working for,” White says. “The politics and power could sometimes run roughshod over people’s civil rights.”
White left his position in 1992 with the election of a new governor. But he went out with a bang. Before leaving, he wrote a blistering public letter to Charles Tisdale, editor and publisher of the Jackson Advocate, a hard-hitting black paper sometimes called “the most firebombed newspaper in America.” Tisdale’s paper had been doggedly pursuing a series of suspicious suicides in Mississippi’s jails that many civil rights leaders believed to be homicides.
White himself suspected the deaths really were suicides. But he didn’t believe they were being properly investigated. In particular, he was troubled that the bodies were being sent to examiners like Hayne, who, experience taught him, couldn’t be trusted to give an unbiased conclusion. White’s letter called Hayne out by name, noting that despite his lack of credentials and poor practices, “Hayne continues to autopsy jail and prison deaths, as well as persons killed by police or sheriff’s deputies, and to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal income as a result of his extremely cozy relations with…state employees and officials.”
White also cited a case in which he had performed an autopsy on a woman who’d been found dead in her bathtub. White concluded it wasn’t immediately possible to determine a cause of death; he needed to wait for the results of toxicology and microscopic tests. According to White’s letter, he soon received a phone call from Hayne, who told him the body had been taken to Hayne’s office for a second examination at the request of Forrest Allgood, the district attorney for Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, and Oktibbeha counties. Although White was the state medical examiner at the time, he said the second autopsy was performed “surreptitiously, without my knowledge or permission.” Allgood already had a suspect he wanted to charge with the crime, White said, and “he was afraid my autopsy wouldn’t provide him with the evidence he needed.” (Allgood’s office did not respond to requests for an interview.)
According to White, Hayne told him he had concluded that the woman was strangled. White said Hayne then suggested it would be in White’s “best interest” to issue a report agreeing with him.
Rather chilling to think about how many people this guy has wrongly put in prison. Allgood is still a district attorney in Mississippi, though the court kicked him off the Brewer case, and assigned a special prosecutor to take over (the new prosecutor still plans to retry Brewer, and still plans to ask Dr. West to testify). Dr. Hayne is still doing the overwhelming majority of autopsies in Mississippi. Though Dr. West has largely been discredited even in Mississippi, I’m told that Allgood is one of the few DA’s who still uses him.
Douglas County, Georgia District Attorney David McDade.
McDade was the man who prosecuted Genarlow Wilson. Wilson was acquitted on one charge of rape, but convicted on a second charge of having consensual oral sex with a minor. He was 17, she was 15. Under Georgia law, the second charge earned Wilson a 10-year prison sentence. McDade’s first abuse of discretion was bringing the second charge in the first place. Had the sex been regular old vaginal sex, Wilson wouldn’t have committed any crime. After some early publicity, and apparently realizing the absurdity of that law, the Georgia legislature amended it. But they refused to make the law retroactive, and the debate over retroactivity was apparently driven by the Wilson case.
Why would the Georgia legislature realize it passed an erroneous law, but fail to provide relief to the guy whose case generated the publicity that helped them realize the problems with the law in the first place? It now appears that DA McDade had a lot to do with it. McDade and his office distributed at least 35 copies of a videotape depicting the minor Wilson having sex at the party. As public outrage over Wilson’s sentence heated up, McDade went about protecting his conviction by giving the tape to lawmakers, journalists–anyone he could find, really, who wanted to see it. The act in the tape was actually the act for which Wilson acquitted. But no matter. McDade’s aim was to counter rising public sympathy for Wilson. And circulating a tape that confirmed white stereotypes about oversexed, morally bankrupt black teenagers did the trick. The legislature repaired the broken law, but made sure their amendment to it wouldn’t help Wilson.
McDade pretty clearly breached Georgia’s ethics code for prosecutors, which prohibits outside-the-courtroom politicking to turn public opinion against a defendant. According to U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, McDade also likely violated federal laws against distributing child pornography, though Nahmias apparently decided against charging McDade (it’s too bad McDade didn’t show similar discretion when choosing to prosecute Wilson in the first place).
McDade also had some suspicious conversations with the alleged victim in this case and her mother, including one in which McDade’s office surreptitiously recorded a conversation between the mother and a newspaper reporter.
Wilson is free now, thanks to the Georgia State Supreme Court. But to my knowledge, McDade has yet to be held accountable for his behavior in the case.
Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys Paul Ebert and Robert Horan.
Horan and Ebert each had an opportunity to launch an investigation into the massive corruption and civil rights violations taking place in Manassas Park, Virginia in the David Ruttenberg/Rack ‘n’ Roll Pool Hall case. Despite ample evidence uncovered by yours truly and Virginia politics blogger Greg Letiecq, as well as the findings of a Virginia State Police investigator also recommending a formal investigation, both declined.
Ebert and Horan are both long-serving prosecutors, firmly entrenched in Virginia’s good ol’ boy network. Ebert’s been such an awful public servant, his recent reelection campaign (for which he faced no real opponent) inspired a write-in campaign for a ham sandwich. Horan gets bonus points for his refusal to find anything on which to indict Fairfax County police officer Deval Bullock, the man who somehow accidentally shot and killed unarmed, nonviolent gambling-on-football-games suspect Sal Culosi during a SWAT raid. Not that that decision should be terribly surprising. Horan hadn’t brought a single indictment against a police officer in 40 years on the job.
Horan retired in September. Ebert won reelection this year.
Scott Andringas, former Florida state’s attorney for Pinellas, Pasco, and Monroe counties.
Andringas is the man who brought the case against Richard Paey. Andringas has acknowledged that Paey is a paraplegic, has multiple sclerosis, and was in chronic pain resulting from a car accident and botched back surgery. He also acknowledged that there was no evidence that Paey was selling or otherwise distributing prescription drugs. He was obtaining painkillers to treat his own pain. Nevertheless, Andringas forged ahead with drug distribution and prescription fraud charges against Paey, which carried a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence. Instead of arranging for Paey to turn himself in, Andringas sent a SWAT team for a middle-of-the-night raid on Paey, his wife, and their two children. Paey had no prior record, was wheelchair-bound, and of course posed no threat of violence.
What’s worse, Andringas further acknowledged to NY Times columnist John Tierney that the 25-year sentence was harsh, but that “Paey was to blame” for refusing a plea bargain. In other words, Andringas allowed Paey to receive a sentence Andringas himself believes Paey didn’t deserve because Paey insisted on his constitutional right to a jury trial.
Paey was sent to a high-security prison, where he was verbally and physically abused and subjected to sleep deprivation. After Paey told his story to Tierney, he was punished for talking to a journalist with a transfer to a maximum security prison across the state, hours from his family. When he arrived at the new facility, he was immediately put in solitary confinement.
Paey was granted a full pardon in September of this year by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist and the two cabinet members who voted for the pardon called Paey’s case a gross miscarriage of justice. Andringas, now in private practice, had no comment on Paey’s pardon.