Tuesday, January 8, 2008

And Justice for All?

Readers have sent a number of interesting justice-related stories recently. Let's take a look:

Suppression of Prosecution in Wisconsin?
The issue of selective prosecution by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) so far has focused on cases where individuals are prosecuted for apparently political reasons. But the flip side of that--cases where individuals are not prosecuted for political reasons--has received far less attention.

But a possible case of such "suppression of prosecution" is receiving attention in Wisconsin.

The case involves Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler, who presided over cases as a circuit judge where she had a conflict of interest. A three-judge panel recommended that Ziegler, a Republican, received a reprimand for handling at least 11 cases involving a bank at which her husband served on the board of directors. The reprimand is the least severe punishment Ziegler could have received.

The recommendation was criticized by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which had filed a complaint against Ziegler. "When a reprimand--at best--is standard discipline for judges who run afoul of ethics rules, the bar has been set too low," said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Democracy Campaign. "In fact, the bar couldn't get any lower without digging a trench."

News accounts I've seen have not indicated how Ziegler ruled in cases involving West Bend Savings Bank. But it appears that she ruled in the bank's favor. It's possible that, under the facts and the law in each case, she should have ruled in the bank's favor. But news accounts evidently have not explored that side of the story.

Reports do say that the three-judge panel found that Ziegler "didn't personally benefit" from her decisions in the cases. (That language should be of interest to Don Siegelman supporters.)

And here's a key question: Was there any evidence of possible criminal acts--bribery or honest-services mail fraud? Did the Bush DOJ even look into such a possibility when the target was a prominent Republican?

A Democrat Beats the Rap
Carl Marlinga, former prosecutor in Macomb County, Michigan, might have been one of the first Democrats to be targeted by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ). So far, he is one of the few Democrats to clearly beat the rap.

Marlinga faced up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for allegedly swapping prosecutorial favors in two rape cases for contributions to his failed 2002 congressional campaign. He was charged with bribery, honest-services mail fraud, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission, and exceeding campaign-contribution limits.

A popular Democrat who had served as county prosecutor for 20 years, Marlinga was forced to step down after an indictment was issued in April 2004. But in September 2006, a federal jury found him not guilty on all charges.

Here is a fascinating point about the Marlinga case: He testified in his own defense. That did not occur in the Don Siegelman (Alabama) or the Paul Minor (Mississippi) cases.

"We all felt that it was the greatest thing that Carl Marlinga got on the stand," juror Sue Kramer said. "You could get a real sense of who he is and what was in his heart."

Mark Kriger and N.C. Deday LaRene served as Marlinga's defense attorneys.

I'm not a lawyer, and I'm sure there are many good reasons that defense attorneys often instruct defendants not to take the stand. But I suspect many jurors feel like Ms. Kramer: If the defendant does not stand up for himself, he appears at least a little guilty.

Everything I've seen indicates that Siegelman and Minor had excellent attorneys. But you wonder if the defendants could have overcome everything stacked against them, including corrupt judges, if they had spoken directly to the jurors.

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