Monday, January 3, 2011

The irony of it all

Closing out 2010, my colleague, Murray Newman, wrote about what he called the double standard that defense attorneys have toward prosecutors or police charged with criminal acts.
But for some reason, some of my brethren in the Defense Bar regard prosecutors and police officers as power-mad authoritarians who do their jobs solely for the reason of suppressing the rights of citizens who were simply minding their own business. 
Those same defense attorneys, who will gladly stand by any accused murderer, rapist, or pedophile, will vocally celebrate if a police officer or (fingers crossed!) a prosecutor gets arrested for anything.  Die-Hard civil libertarians who will (rightfully) proclaim any citizen's Presumption of Innocence, suddenly forget that standard if the person accused is a public servant enforcing the law.
It is a double standard beyond comprehension to me.
He is writing of the news that Lester Blizzard, a prosecutor in the Galveston County District Attorney's Office was charged with driving while intoxicated on December 30.

Now I don't know anything more than the cursory facts in the case so I'm not about to speculate on what did or didn't happen that night or what might or might not happen with Mr. Blizzard's case. I'm much more interested in Mr. Newman's thesis.

I've never worked as a prosecutor. Taking away a person's liberty has never been part of my job description. I know a number of prosecutors in Harris, Galveston and Montgomery counties. I don't necessarily believe that they wake up every morning gnashing their teeth in anticipation of sending people to jail or putting them on paper. Well, at least not all of them.

Based on their position, prosecutors have an ethical duty to see that justice is done. That duty does, at times, come into contradiction with the goals of the elected district attorney. No one is elected district attorney on a platform of seeing that justice is done and that the rights of the accused are protected; the citizenry elects the person who claims to be toughest on crime.

When former Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal got caught deleting e-mails subject to a subpoena (among other sins) he said the medications he was taking had impaired his judgment. He never accepted responsibility for anything that happened. And that was that. End of the story.

Our clients have lapses in judgment. Our clients choose the wrong course of action in the heat of the moment. Our clients do stupid things.

But our clients go to jail when they break the law while prosecutors shake their heads and say they need to accept responsibility for their actions.

Mr. Newman writes further that:
The irony of the situation is stunning, because as members of the Defense Bar celebrate and rebroadcast the arrest of a prosecutor or police officer, they are abandoning the most sacred principles of the Constitution. 
First, they are presuming them guilty.
And second, they are relishing in the idea that they should be treated more harshly under the law because they are different.
Thus there is a tasty little irony involved whenever a law enforcement officer or a prosecutor finds himself in need of a criminal defense attorney. I don't relish in their misfortune - but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, either. Mr. Blizzard took an oath to execute the law. Whenever a public servant breaks the law, he is violating the trust of the populace. If you're going to hold yourself out to be holier-than-thou, then you have to accept the consequences of your actions.

As Mark Bennett points out, Mr. Blizzard found himself in front of State District Judge John Ellisor arguing for multiple life sentences for a man convicted of three counts of intoxication manslaughter -- his first DWI. Mr. Blizzard implored the judge to send a message to the community. I wonder what message he thinks ought to be sent now.

That's not a double standard, Mr. Newman.

Lester Blizzard is innocent unless proven guilty -- even though he worked for an office where the core belief was a defendant is guilty unless proven innocent. Even Alanis Morisette could understand the irony.

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