Monday, September 17, 2007

The Power of the Prosecutor

The role of prosecutor is one of immense power in our justice system. It also is a role that is ripe for potential abuse.

Scott Horton, of Harper's, provides considerable insight into how the role can, and has been, abused over the years.

Concern about abuse of prosecutorial power dates to the days of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Horton brings us to the modern day, where the state attorney general has played a prominent role in federal prosecutions in Alabama.

Both William Pryor (now a federal judge) and current AG Troy King have shown a pattern of finding a target and then searching the law books to come up with a crime to fit the person. Interestingly, Pryor and King often don't prosecute the cases themselves. Rather, they turn them over to federal prosecutors.

The Montgomery Advertiser recently reported that King had not filed criminal charges in a single case brought to him by the Alabama Ethics Commission since King took over as AG in 2004. I guess King has been too busy with political witch hunts to bother with ethics cases.

Horton cites a two-part series by Mobile Lagniappe, which provides details into King's politically motivated prosecution of Bessemer judge Dan King (a Republican), who got on the AG's bad side by ruling in favor of gaming interests in a high-profile case. Dan King is charged with a 56-count indictment on a variety of corruption charges and is scheduled to go to trial in December.

Wonder if Troy King would be interested in going after some legitimately corrupt Republican judges in Shelby County. Nah.

Speaking of Shelby County, King recently took a case away from District Attorney Robby Owens over Owens' handling of a death-penalty case. I must say that I'm conflicted about this one. Anyone who rips a public official in Shelby County usually has my support, and I've been extremely unimpressed with Owens and his office (much more on that coming later).

But King seems to come off as a bit of a hothead here. It's hard to make Shelby County officials look good, but King actually manages to pull it off.

Horton reports that King sees himself as the natural successor to Bob Riley as Alabama's next Republican governor. Should be interesting to see how that goes.

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