The 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year Award

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Once again, remember that the misdeeds can be cumulative. They need not have all happened in 2011. This year’s winner will be added to the annals of ignominy, along with prior winners Forrest Allgood, Mary Beth Buchanan, and Tanya Treadway.

 

Who should win the 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year award?
 Tracey Cline
 Catherine Voelker
 Paul Ebert
 Lisa Riniker
 Lynn Switzer
 Anita Alvarez
 John Bradley
 Jim Hood
 Carol Chambers
 R. Seth Williams

pollcode.com free polls 

 

 

Durham, North Carolina, District Attorney Tracey Cline

Mike Nifong’s successor is doing all she can to live up to her predecessor’s infamy. In September, the Raleigh News & Observer published a series on Cline’s conduct as a prosecutor, going back to when she worked in Nifong’s office as an ADA. The series hitched off the case of Frankie Washington, convicted of home invasion, kidnapping, assault, and sexual assault in 2007. An appeals court overturned the convictions, finding that Cline had withheld biological evidence for several years, then claimed she had sent it to the beleaguered state crime lab, which she said was responsible for the delay. The News and Observer series found a pattern with Cline:

In her quest to convict those accused of serious crimes, Cline has misstated facts to judges in other cases, a News & Observer investigation shows. She has not provided evidence favorable to defendants, as is required under the U.S. Constitution, state law and ethics rules that govern lawyers.

Cline’s conduct is under scrutiny for similar behavior in at least five cases other than Washington’s that are in various stages of the courts, according to documents and interviews.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, the senior resident judge in Durham, dismissed a murder charge against Michael C. Dorman II of Mebane after ruling that the prosecution by Cline violated the man’s rights. The evidence in the case, a partial skeleton, had been destroyed before the defense could examine it.

Amusingly, Cline responded by calling the newspaper’s series a “terrible injustice” to her.

Then, last month, it got surreal. Michael Peterson, a former newspaper columnist who was convicted eight years ago of killing his wife, was seeking a new trial based on the allegations of corruption and sloppiness at the state’s crime lab. Cline was the prosecutor handling Peterson’s hearing, Hudson the judge. Cline then asked that Hudson be removed from the case, oddly alleging that Hudson had orchestrated a vast conspiracy to destroy her, one that also involved several defense attorneys and the News & Observer. She filed other motions accusing Hudson of “moral turpitude,” and asking he be barred from hearing other criminal cases. She subpoenaed more than 50 people for the Peterson hearing, including Hudson, court clerks, defense attorneys, other active and retired judges, staff from the News & Oberserver, and, as the paper put it, “a considerable part of Durham’s legal community.”

Judge Carl Fox, brought in from another county especially for the hearing, gave Cline unlimited time to make her arguments. According to the News & Observer account of the hearing, Cline presented stacks and stacks of evidence that had nothing to do with the Peterson case. She was making her case for a broad conspiracy.  At one point, she mentioned an appeals court decision she realized she hadn’t yet read. So she asked for time to read it. The News & Observer reports a scene that would be downright comical were it not for what was at stake.

The packed courtroom sat in silence while Cline sat alone at her table, flipping through documents. After 14 minutes, Fox broke the silence: “Are you still reading the case?” Cline said she hadn’t located the correct citation.

When it was clear that Fox wasn’t going to rule in her favor, Cline withdrew the motion. Once defense attorney told the paper:

“She tied up almost the entire defense bar of Durham trying to defend her own reputation, and that’s pitiful and a waste of resources,” Holmes said. “She had detectives out serving subpoenas all weekend when they could have been out solving crimes.”

 

Catherine Voelker, supervisor of the Narcotics and Misdemeanors division, Ventura County, California, DA’s Office

Actually, the entire office apparently turns winning convictions into a competition. (Hey, games make work more fun!) Prosecutors who bring in the most convictions in Ventura County get their name engraved on a plaque that hangs in the office. One former DA told the Ventura County Star that “management would sometimes ‘turn up the heat’ and push prosecutors to take cases to trial regardless of whether there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Another added, “They still want you to take a swing at it even though the defendant is probably innocent.”

But Voelker took it all a step farther, circulating an email in late 2010 in which she formalized the competition, offering specific rewards for case volume, and encouraging prosecutors to get inspiration from the viral “Honey Badger” video.

James Ellison, the second-in-command at the office, said Voelker’s competition was ended quickly, and denies the office rewards prosecutors for taking on more cases, or punishes them for taking on too few.

 

Prince William County, Virginia, State’s Attorney Paul Ebert

This Paul Ebert’s third nomination. Ebert, you may remember, made the list several years ago for refusing to investigate the massive corruption among public officials in Manassas Park, Virginia in their efforts to shut down David Ruttenberg’s Rack & Roll pool hall. In 2008 and 2009, Ebert was the special prosecutor in the Ryan Frederick case. Frederick shot and killed Chesapeake, Virginia Det. Jarrod Shivers during a drug raid on Frederick’s home. Frederick had no prior criminal record, and says he thought he was being robbed. Which is credible, given that police informants had broken into Frederick’s home days earlier to obtain probable cause for the raid, part of a possible pattern of illegality among police informants Ebert found unimportant.

Ebert tried Frederick for capital murder. He attempted to change the venue, arguing that bloggers and Internet writers had made it difficult for the state to get a fair trial. He told jurors Frederick was a pot-crazed killer, then sought to exclude video of Frederick’s post-raid interviews at the police station, where a clearly despondent Frederick bursts into tears and vomits upon being told that he had killed a cop. Best of all, Ebert put on the stand a perfectly-named jailhouse snitch named Jamal Skeeter who claimed that during their one hour per day of rec time at the jail, Frederick repeatedly boasted about killing Shivers and mocked Shivers’ widow. Skeeter was so utterly devoid of credibility, fellow Virginia State’s Attorney Earle Mobley made the admirable and rare move of speaking up in  mid-trial to say that he and other area prosecutors had determined Skeeter was a professional liar, and had stopped using him years ago. You’d think that’s something a prosecutor might look into before using a witness to help put a man in prison for the rest of his life.

Ebert makes the list again this year after getting reprimanded by a federal judge in a death penalty case. In August, U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson vacated all charges against Justin Wolfe, whom Ebert convicted in a 2002 murder-for-hire case. The hit man who testified that Wolfe had hired him recanted in 2005, claiming police told him he’d get the death penalty unless he implicated Wolfe. Even though the state’s entire case hinged on the hit-man’s testimony, Ebert fought another six years to protect his conviction. From Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick:

Jackson’s 57-page memorandum opinion is scathing in its findings of prosecutorial misbehavior by Ebert and his assistant, Richard A. Conway. Conduct evidently included choreographing and coordinating witness testimony, withholding tapes of witness interviews from the defense, and knowingly allowing false testimony to be introduced at trial. Jackson finds that prosecutors failed to turn over a report showing that it was police detectives who first introduced the idea to Barber that Wolfe had masterminded the killing, and who gave him the option of implicating Wolfe or receiving the death penalty. He finds that they suppressed evidence that Barber confessed to his roommate that he’d acted alone.

Ebert’s incredible justification for withholding exculpatory evidence: He feared that it would have allowed Wolfe’s attorneys to “fabricate a defense around what is provided.” Ebert is the longest serving prosecutor in Virginia. He also leads the state in capital convictions, with 13.

 

Grant County, Wisconsin, District Attorney Lisa Riniker

You charge a 6-year-old boy with first-degree sexual assault for playing doctor with a neighbor girl, then yeah, you’re gonna’ make this list. When asked why the hell she’d charge a 6-year-old with a sex crime, Riniker responded, “the Legislature could have put an age restriction in the statute . . . the legislature did no such thing.” You know, I’d be willing to bet the legislature didn’t also specifically exempt breastfeeding from . . . well, let’s not give Lisa Riniker any ideas.

Bonus mendacity points: Riniker generously offered the boy’s parents a “deal” in which the kid would still have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

 

Texas 31st Judicial District Attorney Lynn Switzer

Since Gov. Rick Perry appointed her in 2005, Switzer has done her damndest to make sure Hank Skinner is executed before he ever gets the chance to have DNA testing on key pieces of evidence from his trial. Switzer didn’t even convict Skinner, which makes her stubbornness all the more troubling. Skinner was once less than an hour away from execution before the U.S Supreme Court intervened. Then, earlier this year, he was days away before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stepped in.

It’s bad enough that Switzer wants a man executed when there is still key DNA to be tested, including a rape kit taken from one of the victims, scrapings from under the same victim’s fingernails, and the presumed murder weapon itself. But after the Supreme Court stepped in last year to stay Skinner’s execution, the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing defendants like Skinner to obtain post-conviction DNA testing even if they didn’t request it at trial. (Skinner maintains he did request it, but his court-appointed attorney—a disgraced former prosecutor and friend of the judge—thought Skinner was guilty, so didn’t ask for the testing.) The sponsor of that bill explicitly said that Skinner was the inspiration for the bill.

Nevertheless, within hours of the bill becoming law, Switzer’s office hurried to Skinner’s trial judge to request an execution date. She was trying to have Skinner killed before he could take advantage of the new law passed explicitly in response to his case. And the trial judge agreed.

Fortunately, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals intervened, and postponed Skinner’s execution to get this all settled. Despite the new law, here has still been no order for DNA testing. But at least they aren’t going to kill the guy before they even have the discussion. That’s what Lynn Switzer wanted to happen.

 

Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez

After her election in 2008, Alvarez first distinguished herself by defending Illinois’ asset forfeiture law—one of the most onerous in the country—all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court dismissed the case because the defendant and county had already settled the matter. So the law is still in effect.

The Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern’s journalism school has freed 11 wrongly convicted men from death row in Cook County. So in 2009, as Cook County’s chief law enforcement officer, Alvarez naturally took aim at the school—she subpoenaed the student participants’ grades, class syllabus, and personal e-mails.

In the Dixmoor cases, Alvarez fought the DNA tests that eventually cleared five teens accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. Even after the tests, Alvarez’s office tried to play down the significance of the results. Three of the men had served over a decade in prison when they were finally exonerated in March. In the Englewood cases, Alvarez is still fighting the exonerations of four teens convicted of raping and killing a 30-year-old woman in 1994, despite DNA tests conducted in May that found the semen of a known rapist/murderer at the time in her body. A judge overturned the convictions in November, but Alvarez has yet to dismiss the charges.

But Alvarez most distinguished herself for this award this year in the case of Tiawanda Moore. In July 2010, Moore says a police officer called to her home on a domestic complaint asked to speak to her in her bedroom, then grabbed her breast and slipped her his phone number. Moore says that when she went to a Chicago PD station to file a complaint, the Internal Affairs officers threatened her, and attempted to dissuade her from completing the report. That’s when she switched on her cell phone to record the conversation. She was promptly arrested for violating the state’s wiretapping law, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Normally in these cases, prosecutors negotiate a plea or drop the charges, mostly because just about everyone realizes the law is insane. Or, if you’re more cynical, the charges never make it trial because police and prosecutors know that if anyone is ever convicted and sentenced (to my knowledge, no one yet has), the law will be challenged, likely overturned, and police will no longer be able to use it to harass citizens who record them on the job.

Yet with a jaw-dropping lapse in prosecutorial discretion, Alvarez moved ahead with the felony charge against Moore. Never mind the alleged harassment. Never mind the allegations that Chicago IA cops were attempting to talk a citizen out of filing a complaint. Given Chicago PD’s dismal record investigating complaints against officers, and that at the very time all this was happening, a federal lawsuit against the department alleged a pattern of ignoring and covering up sexual misconduct by Chicago cops, Alvarez’s pursuit of Moore sent a troubling message to any woman legitimately harassed by  Chicago cop. No one is going to help you. Not internal affairs. Not her office. No one. And if you try to create an independent record of your attempts to report the harassment, Anita Alvarez will send you to prison.

In what appears to be a laudable act of jury nullification, Moore was acquitted in August. Alvarez is still pushing on with another felony wiretapping charge against Chicago artist Christopher Drew.

 

Williamson County, Texas District Attorney John Bradley

John Bradley isn’t the prosecutor who wrongly convicted Michael Morton of beating his wife to death in 1987. His mentor and predecessor Ken Anderson did. Anderson is now a state district judge. But Bradley fought like hell to deny Bradley the DNA testing that exonerated him after 24 years in prison. Anderson withheld reams of exculpatory evidence from Morton’s attorneys over the years. Once he left office, Bradley kept up the tradition. From the Texas Tribune:

Beginning in 2005, [Morton] pleaded with the court to test DNA on a blue bandanna found near his home shortly after the murder, along with other evidence.

For six years, the Williamson County district attorney, John Bradley, fought the request for DNA testing, based on advice from Anderson, his predecessor and friend. In 2010, however, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing, and the results showed that Christine Morton’s blood on the bandanna was mixed with the DNA of another man: Mark A. Norwood, a felon with a long criminal history who lived about 12 miles from the Mortons at the time of the murder. By then, Morton had spent nearly 25 years in prison.

Norwood has been arrested and charged in Christine Morton’s death and is a suspect in a similar murder from 1988.

Which means that had they not fixated on Morton, they may have found the right guy, possibly preventing another killing.

In 2007, the Grits for Breakfast noted that Bradley gave some unusual advice to a fellow prosecutor on an Internet discussion board. The other prosecutor was asking about how to construct a plea agreement in a way that would forfeit any future right to DNA testing. Bradley lamented, “Innocence, though, has proven to trump most anything.” He then added:

A better approach might be to get a written agreement that all the evidence can be destroyed after the conviction and sentence. Then, there is nothing to test or retest. Harris County regularly seeks such agreements.

Got that? Let’s be sure those innocents never get the chance to prove us wrong.

Finally, showing once again that when it comes to the criminal justice system there’s no level of incompetence too revolting to be rewarded, you may remember that in 2008, just as it was about to launch an investigation into the Cameron Todd Willingham case, Rick Perry replaced several members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission with more prosecution-friendly appointees. He appointed John Bradley to replace chairman and defense attorney Sam Basset. Bradley immediately suspended the Willingham investigation, then restructured the commission in a way that allowed him to skirt Texas open meeting laws.

 

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood

Hood is another repeat nominee. Rather than add a couple dozen paragraphs to an already-long post, I’ll just direct you to my write-ups for his 2008 and 2010 nominations. Read those, then read here, here, here, and here to see how Hood further distinguished himself over the last year.

Then sit in sad contemplation of the fact that in November, Mississippi voters elected Hood to another term. And by a considerable margin.

 

Colorado District Attorney Carol Chambers

Another repeat nominee. Last time Chambers made this list, it was for a single case in which DNA testing showed that the biological evidence found in an eight-year-old victim of sexual assault didn’t match the guy Chambers wanted to charge. Chambers dismissed the tests on the interesting theory that young girls dress really slutty these days, so anyone’s DNA could, completely by happenstance, drop into their pants. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Chambers has made a name for herself in a number of other cases. To begin, she’s Colorado’s death-happiest prosecutor, seeking the ultimate punishment against six defendants over a span in which there was only one other capital case in the entire state. She has also issued a veiled threat against a judge who ruled against her, and allegedly threatened an attorney with a grand jury investigation for seeking to collect a debt against a powerful figure in Chambers’ Republican party. A memo leaked to the Denver Post in March detailed how Chambers offered conviction bonuses to her assistant DAs.

In the courtroom? Last January, Chambers charged a 10-year-old with felony arson for a fire he and a friend accidentally set while playing with matches. She’s known to enforce the state’s habitual criminal statute to an extreme, seeking lengthy sentences for petty crimes. In 2009, a judge found that her office had withheld a large cache of exculpatory documents in the murder trial of David Bueno that were consistent with Bueno’s defense. In fact, by the time her office fully complied with the judge’s order, Chambers’ office had released more documents to Bueno’s attorneys a year after conviction than they had released before his trial. Bueno’s conviction was vacated last year.

Chambers was the first DA in Colorado to bring criminal charges against a doctor for writing a marijuana prescription that her office deemed medically unnecessary (she lost).

Mitigating factors: Chambers has been known to take on bad cops. She has also set up a juvenile diversion program that has won praise from the sorts of activists who normally oppose tough-minded prosecutors. She also declined to bring charges in one high-profile rape case, and even fought a judge’s order to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue the case. Whether this is a plus or a minus I guess depends on how strong one might have found the evidence in that case.

 

Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams

In February, Pennsylvania resident Mark Fiorino walked through the city of Philadelphia openly carrying a gun, as he is permitted to do under Pennsylvania law. Fiorino was stopped by Philadelphia police, who repeatedly threatened to kill him. Once the police looked up the law they found that, as Fiorino had by then told them repeatedly, he had done nothing illegal.

We know all of this because Fiorino recorded his conversation with the cops, which he then posted YouTube. This also is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania. The state’s courts have repeatedly found that the wiretapping laws do not bar the recording of on-duty cops, even without their consent, because on-duty cops have no expectation of privacy.

Yet DA Williams decided to charge Fiorino with “reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.” Fiorino’s real crime was embarrassing the city’s cops, who threatened to kill a man because they were ignorant of state law. I’ll just repost a bit of what I wrote at the time:

What Williams has done . . . is premeditated. Much more than the cops, Williams should know the law. Moreover, even if he didn’t know the law at the time, he has since had plenty of time to research it. By now, Williams  does know the law. (If he doesn’t, he is incompetent.) And he knows that even if Fiorino did deliberately provoke the cops to test their knowledge of Philadelphia’s gun laws, that also is not a crime.

Yet he’s charging Fiorino anyway . . . A spokesperson for Williams said Fiorino was “”belligerent and hostile” to police who were investigating a possible crime. Read the transcript of the audio in the linked article above and tell me who is “belligerent and hostile.” Read it knowing who was breaking the law, who was following it, and while remaining cognizant of which party was threatening to put a bullet in the head of the other.

Note that nothing Fiorino did was on its own illegal. Willliams is attempting a striking, blatantly dishonest bit of legal chicanery. His theory goes like this:  If you undertake a series of actions that are perfectly legal and well within your rights, but that cause government agents to react in irrational ways that jeopardize public safety, you are guilty of endangering the public . . .

It’s a blatant abuse of office. Williams is using the state’s awesome power to arrest and incarcerate to intimidate a man who exposed and embarrassed law enforcement officials who, because of their own ignorance, nearly killed him. Exposing that sort of government incompetence cannot be illegal. And it isn’t illegal.

Fiorino was acquitted in October, and is expected to file a civil rights claim. This is just one offense. But it’s so egregious, and the message it sends is so dangerous, that I think it merits a nomination.

Possibly also worth mentioning: Williams’ office defended one of the few prosecutors in the country to be stripped of qualified immunity. Over the summer, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied immunity for Philadelphia ADA Gina Smith, who had arrested and jailed a material witness in a rape case, then left the witness (who had done nothing wrong) in jail for nearly two months while the trial was delayed. The city settled with the witness in October. (Williams’ office was also able to rope in the city’s public defenders system to pay part of the damages.)

In fairness to Williams, Smith’s transgression occurred well before Williams took office, and Smith no longer works for the DA. I’m not familiar with how Pennsylvania law works in these sorts of cases, so it could well be that Williams was obligated to defend the former employee, particularly since the city would ultimately be paying the damages.

 

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58 Responses to “The 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year Award”

  1. #1 |  CharlesWT | 

    So many women in the list. I remember hearing the argument decades ago that, with more women in positions of influence, power and authority, it would be a kinder, gentler world. :(

  2. #2 |  (B)oscoH | 

    There should be a trophy awarded to the winner. I’m thinking Lady Justice with a blindfold and her fingers in her ears.

  3. #3 |  Seitz | 

    They’re all winners in my book.

  4. #4 |  Paul | 

    Greetings,

    …Actually, the entire office apparently turns winning convictions into a competition. (Hey, games make work more fun!) Prosecutors who bring in the most convictions in Ventura County get their name engraved on a plague that hangs in the office. One former DA told the Ventura County Star that “management would sometimes ‘turn up the heat’ and push …

    I an not certain, and although it might be appropriate, I believe that you mean PLAQUE, and not PLAGUE. Just sayin’.

    Happy New Year

  5. #5 |  Homeboy | 

    I cannot choose between them. They are all abject scum, and deserve to die by the most hideous torments and afflictions that the human mind may conceive.

  6. #6 |  Alex | 

    Hard to pick a winner, but this clinched it for me:

    “[Switzer] was trying to have Skinner killed before he could take advantage of the new law passed explicitly in response to his case.”

  7. #7 |  Tybalt | 

    “They are all abject scum, and deserve to die by the most hideous torments and afflictions that the human mind may conceive.”

    But they aren’t. I bet most of them are fine people. That they have been warped, professionally, by an adversarial system and a political culture that denies the humanity of those who have entered The System doesn’t make them scum.

    If there’s a single lesson that people should take from the perverse and twisted criminal justice system, it’s not to dehumanize the people within it. The way out of the problem we have is to work to stop the insanity, rather than make it crazier.

    Ebert wins for me; it shows how the system rewards those who abuse it the most.

  8. #8 |  JimBob | 

    Thanks, Radley. It’s good to see you getting back to your roots and giving us a nice Monday-morning nut-punch.

    Jesus, a lot of my family lives in Williamson county. I’ve seen enough of the family court system in Williamson and Bell counties to know that the standards for the bar in that part of Texas aren’t all that high. But I didn’t know that Bradley was part of the Willingham murder. Fucking scumbag.

  9. #9 |  Mattocracy | 

    All of these people are just terrible. But I voted Riniker. Anyone who would go out of their way to destroy a child’s life is the worst kind of person to me.

  10. #10 |  Lyle Jones | 

    How do you choose just one?

  11. #11 |  spudbeach | 

    I had to go with Riniker. As a cheesehead, I just had to go with the favorite daughter. Before I moved here, I always thought of WI as a state of polite, rational people. Since then, I’ve seen that there are plenty of mean people here. I’ve seen people argue against GED courses in the local jail since the inmates already had their chance and why should taxes be raised on innocent people? The argument that it’s cheaper in the long run not to stigmatize everybody just could not get through their armor. The statutory rape laws here are just perfect for people like that, since it criminalizes _all_ sexual contact with people under 18. Yep, if two 17 year olds go to second base, it’s a crime. Any light we can shed on this culture of vindictiveness is to be welcomed.

    Beyond that, I was also moved by the shear pettiness of it. She had to use her awesome power to ruin the life of a small child, for something that is absolutely normal. And unlike the Skinner case and others, there probably isn’t even a large bloodthirsty faction egging her on (even the mean people here are speechless). The icing on the cake, of course, is the gag order preventing the parents from talking about the case. Everything is there, in miniature, making this a deserving winner.

  12. #12 |  ArthurKC | 

    This is just too depressing. This is what we get when we allow absolute immunity from suits for anyone engaging in the “prosecutorial function”. A little free market civil liability would allow the judicial system to self-police such egregious misconduct.

  13. #13 |  SJE | 

    Can we also have some additional categories?
    -Worst judge
    -Worst politician

  14. #14 |  Stan | 

    Williams is actually a huge improvement over his predecessor. I believe that there have been more prosecutions of crooked cops under his watch than I can remember in the almost 30-year term of Lynn Abrahams, who retired 2 years ago. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Philly has also fired a number of cops for corruption in the last few years. In addition, I believe one of his first acts was to announce that marijuana prosecutions would be given a very low priority.
    However, his perspective on guns is colored by the unfortunate plague of random shootings by stupid kids. The level of random gun violence in Philadelphia is high, and there has been a large toll of innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. I believe that he is convinced that getting guns off the street is one of the solutions, and doesn’t draw a distinction between licensed guns and street guns.

  15. #15 |  ricketson | 

    “They are all abject scum, and deserve to die by the most hideous torments and afflictions that the human mind may conceive.”

    These are the sentiments of an authoritarian thug — more interested in punishing people he dislikes than in securing liberty for the innocent.

  16. #16 |  Jack KC | 

    Nobody gets elected prosecutor for being “just” or “fair-minded”. Decades of law and order politics, sensational press and cop shows on TV have created a comic book culture in which criminals are monsters, too dangerous for ordinary procedures. In this twisted scenario, the Bill of Rights and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are luxuries we can no longer afford. This trend is extremely dangerous and needs to be reversed. Where should we begin?

  17. #17 |  RobSmalls | 

    I like to stay local, so Ebert gets my vote.

  18. #18 |  Homeboy | 

    @#7, Tybalt

    “But they aren’t.”

    – Yes, they are.

    “I bet most of them are fine people.”

    – You lose. The mere fact that they are willing to work with ardor and committment to victimize innocent people makes that a sucker’s bet.

    “That they have been warped, professionally, by an adversarial system and a political culture that denies the humanity of those who have entered The System doesn’t make them scum.”

    – No, it wouldn’t, but the fact that they choose to pursue discretionary conduct that irretrievably renders them scum does make them scum.

    I would recognize more merit in your assertion if it were more reflective of reality, especially the real process of self-selection whereby these people become the doers of evil, scummy deeds. Working with such people, it is patently and painfully obvious to me that they are scum to their cores, and it is that nature that impelled a career choice that allows them to use their discretion to afflict others. For example, I occasionally work across from a prosecutor who would make an ideal poster child for the cause of wrongful prosecutions. She is very proud of the fact that throughout her career she has taken cases to trial at a rate of more than 15 per year, by far the most in her office. She has been so bold as to state publicly that “the most important” of those were the cases where there was “no evidence” of the defendant’s guilt, yet she pursued the prosecution anyway as “a favor to a cop who really wanted to see the guy do some time.” Privately, this woman speaks with genuine malice toward humanity as a whole, and advocates that a larger segment of American society should be locked in prison simply as a general proposition, just because it would be good for us. She is a mad power monger, who mocks and derides any notion that her power should be held in check. She was evil, misanthropic scum when she was in law school, she was evil, misanthropic scum when she graduated, and she is now evil, misanthropic scum in the eighth year of her career as a prosecutor. While she may be the most extreme example who comes to mind, she is hardly the only such prosecutor I can think of.

    What I find most alarming about your diversionary, apologetic perspective is the weight and favor it lends to arguments for prosecutorial immunity. After all, how would any of us like it if we were penalized for what seemed to be calculated and discretionary misdeeds, when those crimes were merely the inherent and inexorable result of a flawed system? After all, it does not reflect on the prosecutor’s character or culpability that he or she electively and voluntarily opts to abuse others heinously. No, it is the system, THE SYSTEM, that requires “fine,” decent people to use the latitude of their discretion to commit indescribably malicious and evil acts against others! How could we think of holding these wonderful folks accountable, when they are victims of the system just as much as those whom they afflict.

    True, our criminal justice system IS powerful and corrupt, and it is intended to be that way. It is equally true, however, that our system attracts venal souls who seek power and relish the personal and professional rewards that it provides, and it is these individuals who make it their business to ensure that our system stays corrupt. We will never get anywhere in our attempted reforms if we refuse to acknowledge the nature of our foes, and the impulsions that drive them. It does no good to say, “Oh, we shouldn’t scorn or “dehumanize” that Czarist executioner/SS concentration camp guard/Gestapo torturer/abusive, falsely imprisoning prosecutor; I am sure they are all fine people!”

    If someone chooses to pursue the corrupt discretion that a system allows them in order to harm, afflict, persecute, torment, and otherwise abuse others as a standard meme of their professional conduct, they are scum. Pure and simple. It is inconsistent to argue that a system needs reform to prevent corruption while concurrently arguing that the system is peopled by good and virtuous human beings, since that would theoretically provide a check against the havoc that the system’s failings might otherwise produce, making the system essentially serviceable. The reason the system is so dangerous, the reason it so badly and urgently needs reform, is because the people in it are afflictive authoritarians who feel no impulse to compensate for the system’s imperfection and its glaring inhumanity. The system allows people who seek to harm and destroy others a vehicle by which they may do it with impunity. By continuing to promote the fallacy that these crimes are committed by fine and conscionable people, we dissipate the sense of urgency needed to overhaul our criminal justice process. Meaningful reform will only come when we recognize that the system is capable of harboring animals, and that these animals must be dealt with in accordance with their nature. The longer we refuse to recognize that, the longer we will continue to shoot ourselves in our collective foot.

  19. #19 |  Homeboy | 

    @#15, Ricketson

    “These are the sentiments of an authoritarian thug — more interested in punishing people he dislikes than in securing liberty for the innocent.”

    No, not really. I think you may have addressed this response better to a post that had at least some hint of authoritarian sentiment, instead of one that decries authoritarian abuse. You could probably exhibit greater analytical prowess if you were to confine your problem selection to the children’s section, where the material does not generally require as much thought or reflection as what you find here.

  20. #20 |  BrentM | 

    all of the above

  21. #21 |  Harry Lime | 

    So hard to pick one. I ended up going with R. Seth Williams just because of the sheer vindictiveness of his actions. What an evil douche. In retrospect though, I’m kind of thinking I should have gone with Riniker for going after a kid.

  22. #22 |  BamBam | 

    To go along with worst prosecutor award is the 2011 Worst Police Misconduct Video, brought to you by Injustice Everywhere

    http://www.injusticeeverywhere.com/?page_id=5064

  23. #23 |  B | 

    Sad to say I voted for Tracy Cline in 2008, when I still lived in D-town. Of course, she was running against Freda Black, who almost certainly would have been just as bad.

    Sometimes not voting really is the right thing to do.

  24. #24 |  JSL | 

    They’re all horrid but I think Riniker just tips the scale over. Perhaps it was because she never got to play doctor herself. Clearly no boy would play house with her either. God help anyone who shacks up with her now.

  25. #25 |  Vandal Hurricane | 

    My vote is for John Bradley. That dude is ten kinds of nuts. Also good going with finally bringing some light onto these lesser known evil doers in our community. Might I suggest you also start a poll for worst thieves of the year, my vote is for the christmas mail thieves: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2011/12/30/fighting-bad-mail-carriers-holiday-package-thieves/

  26. #26 |  FIO | 

    Actually Smith v. Alvarez, challenging the constitutionality of Illinois’ DAFPA, was not ultimately dismissed and remains active in federal district court.

  27. #27 |  bacchys | 

    What a tough list to choose from. I’m leaning towards Hood, but I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger and vote for him in the poll.

    As for the question of their scumminess: they’re scum. They’re unamerican scum who shouldn’t be allowed to hold any office of trust or profit in this Republic.

  28. #28 |  croaker | 

    @22 This poll, your poll, and the poll at Popehat all suffer from one problem:

    So many assholes, only one vote.

  29. #29 |  c andrew | 

    @Homeboy,

    Exactly right. My bookkeeper’s niece is a prosecutor and displays the same evil behavior. These guys aren’t doing this reluctantly because ‘forced to’ by the system. They are reveling in it.

  30. #30 |  Packratt | 

    @26

    Actually, we give everyone 3 votes at the Police Misconduct Video poll… even though they’re all bad.

  31. #31 |  jcalton | 

    NPR is doing a long story on false confessions, I think it is part of a weeklong series of some sort.
    Of course this one is mostly about the cops and not the prosecutors, but it’s all the same system:

    http://www.npr.org/2012/01/02/144489360/how-a-teens-coerced-confession-set-her-free

  32. #32 |  Best-of-2011 lists and awards | 

    [...] Listicles and award contests from around the blawgosphere: Popehat on censorious clowns, Legal Ethics Forum, Trask on class action cases and articles, White Collar Crime Law Prof, Heritage on worst federal regs, Greenfield on best criminal law blawg post (and winner), Faces of Lawsuit Abuse (Chamber) on most ridiculous lawsuits, Balko on worst prosecutor (and finalists). [...]

  33. #33 |  Bill Poser | 

    With regard to Ebert, who “knowingly allowed false testimony to be presented”: isn’t that “subornation of perjury”, and isn’t it a felony in his state? It sounds to me like he should be serving prison time.

  34. #34 |  Bill Poser | 

    I found the answer to my own question. Here is the Virginia statute on subornation of perjury. It appears to me that Ebert is guilty of a Class 5 felony and that in addition to other penalties, on conviction he will be forever barred from holding any public office in the state. http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+18.2-436

  35. #35 |  Bill Roberts | 

    I voted for Ebert, though it was a tough call. And I’m a little disappointed that Spokane prosecutor Steve Tucker didn’t even make the list. Can we give some sort of honorary award to Eric Holder?

  36. #36 |  Kristen | 

    Lack of representation of Maricopa on the list is shocking.

  37. #37 |  Whoever Wins, We Lose | Popehat | 

    [...] Wins, We Lose Jan 2, 2012 By Ken. Law Radley Balko has posted the candidates for his 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year award. There’s one silver lining in this dark, fetid cloud — it helps showcase the [...]

  38. #38 |  Henry | 

    @Kristen, the biggest problem with Maricopa is the sheriff, not the DA, unless the DA there is even more of a malignant narcissist than Arpaio. I ultimately voted for John Bradley for his part in the murder of Cameron Todd Willingham. That said, I vote for all of them to spend the rest of their natural lives in the prison of their victims’ choice.

  39. #39 |  CyniCAl | 

    Homeboy ftw. I’m glad you took the time to write that essay, it is exactly what I would have written and you saved me the time and effort.

  40. #40 |  Some Extra Afternoon Links | The Agitator | 

    [...] Just a reminder that you still have a little over a day to vote for the 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year award. [...]

  41. #41 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    There should be a trophy awarded to the winner. I’m thinking Lady Justice with a blindfold and her fingers in her ears.

    I was thinking a statue depicting Frederic Bastiat at a Lemon Party…but NOT enjoying it.

  42. #42 |  EBL | 

    Tracy seems to be running away with it. I have to go with her because it is clear that North Carolina really really wants to surpass Mississippi and Alabama in screwing over defendants. Still, so much malfeasance and only one vote.

  43. #43 |  EBL | 

    I should lay off Mississippi and Alabama. None of their persecutors are in the running this year.

  44. #44 |  EBL | 

    There should be a trophy awarded to the winner. I’m thinking Lady Justice with a blindfold and her fingers in her ears.

    That finger may not be in her ear.

  45. #45 |  kyl | 

    Is it any wonder the whole world hates lawyers? Prosecutors obviously couldn’t care less if the accused is innocent. They will cheerfully withhold exculpatory evidence to secure a conviction. The sad part is they get away with it, when it should be a major felony.

    Defense attorneys don’t care about guilt. If a victory means putting a dirtbag back on the street, so what?

    Ambulance chasers would happily run you out of business when somebody who’s too fat and clumsy to safely negotiate a flight of steps falls and injures themselves. So long as they get their 35% – more if it goes to trial.

    The least harmless lawyers are probably corporate types who dot the i’s and cross the t’s when companies buy and sell one another.

    The most harmful would have to be ones who get a law degree with the intention of never actually practicing law. Their the most ambitious, which usually means they wish to be career politicians. We’d all be better off if these types were forbidden from a career in politics!

    Shakespeare was right.

  46. #46 |  KRM | 

    To offend and judge are distinct offices,
    And of opposed natures.
    The Merchant Of Venice Act 2, scene ix, 61-2

    Yes, kyl, Shakespeare was right.
    You, on the other hand, ain’t him.

  47. #47 |  Sean L. | 

    Bill Poser –

    “…It appears to me that Ebert is guilty of a Class 5 felony and that in addition to other penalties…”

    Yeah? And whose going to prosecute THAT case? The Feds? They’re busy busting in on cancer victims for two ounces of pot.

  48. #48 |  bacchys | 

    I’ve settled on Ebert. The comment that he didn’t turn over exculpatory evidence because he didn’t want the defense to be able to use it to build a defense put him over the top in my book.

    This guy should only be allowed to panhandle in the middle of Death Valley.

  49. #49 |  John | 

    You missed one…Tony Rackauckas. OC DA doing the Kelly Thomas investigation.

  50. #50 |  Duncan20903 | 

    If Mr Ebert doesn’t win can we at least give him a lifetime achievement award?

  51. #51 |  Kaerius | 

    After much dithering between candidates(they should all hang), I finally settled on alvarez, for the double whammy of trying to keep wrongly convicted people in jail(teens who’s had their lives ruined), and harassing citizens who report police misconduct. Very hard call though.

  52. #52 |  Neither | 

    No all of the above? I voted Anita Alvarez, since I grew up in Cook County. Of course, I live in Philadelphia now, so I could have picked Seth Williams. It’s exciting to have lived in places where the prosecutors are universally terrible.

  53. #53 |  Meet Your Winner | The Agitator | 

    [...] County, Texas, District Attorney John Bradley is the winner of our 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year award. It was a tight four-way race for the first day. North Carolina DA Tracey Cline then broke open a [...]

  54. #54 |  Militant Libertarian » 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year Award Winner | 

    [...] County, Texas, District Attorney John Bradley is the winner of our 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year award. It was a tight four-way race for the first day. North Carolina DA Tracey Cline then broke open a [...]

  55. #55 |  I Bet At Least 25% of These Guys are Wife Beaters or Would-Be Rapists | ICED BORSCHT | 

    [...] The 2011 Worst Prosecutor of the Year Award (theagitator.com) [...]

  56. #56 |  Durham Loses Another Prosecutor | The Agitator | 

    [...] a state judge, defense attorneys, and the News & Observer newspaper; and (most importantly!) took runner-up in the 2011 Agitator.com Worst Prosecutor of the Year Award . . . has been removed from office. She [...]

  57. #57 |  Nigel Stevens | 

    The abuse shown by prosecutors in capital cases is disgusting, especially considering the willingness of prosecutors to seek someone’s execution when they know they can’t prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. My response would be that if any executions of innocent people occurred as a result of deliberate withholding of court documents by prosecutors, they should be tried for felony murder, since their victims died as a result of their commission of a crime. For less serious offences, prosecutors should face the cumulative maximum sentences of all offenders convicted as a result of their illegal actions. That would teach prosecutors not to play fast and loose with other people’s Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

  58. #58 |  Saturday Links | The Agitator | 

    [...] is only still in prison because of Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert, a three-time nominee for TheAgitator.com’s Worst Prosecutor of the Year [...]

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