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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Alice Martin provides a Touch of Humor

Normally it's hard to find anything amusing about Republican use of the Justice Department as a political tool.

But U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, a Bush appointee, provided a comical moment with her indictment released this week of Alabama Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney).

I haven't seen the full indictment, and I look forward to checking it out so I can better understand what could make a 63-year-old retired social-studies teacher a federal criminal. But according to a quote from Martin in one news report, the indictment is based partly on the fact that Schmitz allegedly "generated virtually no work product."

Don't know about you, but I know all kinds of people who generate virtually no work product. They are called managers. If we are going to indict all of them, we'd better start a serious program to build more courthouses and prisons.

As Scott Horton of Harper's.org has noted, Martin seems to have a problem with the truth. She also evidently has a problem with the language.

According to every definition I've seen, "work product" has a very definite meaning. It refers to work that an attorney does in preparing to represent a client, and as such, is not discoverable. I've also heard it used in reference to other legal professionals, such as court reporters.

But I'm not sure how Sue Schmitz, a teacher, is supposed to generate work product. Perhaps I'm nitpicking at Martin's use of the language. But when you bring criminal charges against someone, is it too much to expect that you speak of them with some clarity?

By the way, this is not the first time I've found something comical in this serious business of following a corrupt justice department. For example, in researching the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, I was stunned to see the jury instructions regarding bribery from U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, another Republican appointee. Here's how Wingate's instructions read, in part:

"You may find specific criminal intent even though you may find that the rulings were legal and correct, that the official conduct would have been done anyway, that the official conduct sought to be influenced was lawful and required by law, and that the official conduct was desirable or beneficial to the public welfare."

You don't need a Harvard law degree to understand the absurdity in these instructions. Essentially, Wingate told the jurors: "You may find the defendants engaged in criminal activity even if you determine that their actions were legal--in fact, even if you find their actions were required by law." Gee, no wonder the defendants were found guilty.

That's like saying, "You may find Herman Blokes guilty of theft even though the $100 he picked up off the desk belonged to him, and therefore, it was legal for him to pick up the $100 and walk away with it."

I understand that jurors tend to be obedient creatures and probably are a little bit in awe of a judge and the trappings of legal authority. But you would think someone on the Minor jury would have said, "You know, this part about being able to find someone guilty even though their actions were legal . . . somehow that doesn't sound right to me."

But so far, Henry Wingate has gotten away with it. And perhaps Alice Martin will get away with claiming Sue Schmitz failed to generate "work product" when Ms. Schmitz had no legal duty to produce "work product."

Ah, justice in the Age of Rove. Isn't it grand?

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