I often have to suppress a laugh when I read about the case of Alabama legislator Sue Schmitz.
The charges against Schmitz are so preposterous as to induce guffaws. But then I remember this is serious business, and Schmitz' freedom actually is at stake for a crime that Scott Horton, of Harper's, calls "teacher underperforms lesson plan."
And the state of Alabama has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars--perhaps into the seven figures--to prosecute Schmitz not once, but twice. Her first trial resulted in a hung jury.
The retrial is going on now, and a report in The Birmingham News was titled "Schmitz' job called a joke." Perhaps that headline should be adjusted to read "Case against Schmitz is a joke."
Schmitz, a Democrat from Toney, is being tried as part of the Republican Party's plan to take over the Alabama Legislature in 2010. Hey, if you can't win at the ballot box, use the remainders of the Bush Justice Department to put Democrats in prison! Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman can tell you all about that strategy.
How do prosecutors describe the case against Schmitz? It goes something like this: She received $177,251 in pay (over three years; they usually leave that out), but did little or no work in her community-relations job.
Here's a question the mainstream press in Alabama never seems to ask: Under what federal statute is that a crime? Answer: There isn't one.
Does case law exist, saying that Schmitz' alleged inactions constitute a crime? I haven't conducted exhaustive research on this, but my guess is that no such case law exists. And that means that, even if prosecutors get a conviction on the second go-around, it almost certainly cannot hold up on appeal.
Here are some key components of the prosecution's case:
* She "pulled strings" to land her job--That's a crime? Heck, career counseling centers at college campuses all over the country teach students how to pull strings to land jobs. Are they engaged in criminal activity?
* She didn't turn out work product--If that's a crime, about 90 percent of the managers in the country need to start checking out how they look in orange jumpsuits.
And the retrial on Friday took things to new levels of absurdity. Larry Palmer, interim director of the CITY program for which Schmitz worked, testified that, at some point, Schmitz gave him progress reports in one lump. But he could not testify that the reports presented to him Friday by the prosecution were the same ones.
Oops. This is the Alice Martin team playing keystone cops again, folks.
And get this: Palmer apparently testified that Schmitz prepared and gave him reports. That's work, isn't it? That's work product, isn't it? I thought she was being tried for the crime of not doing any work.
Was Schmitz an exemplary employee in her work with CITY? Maybe not.
Is she a criminal? Not even close.
How do you handle a case where someone is underperforming on her job? You usually discipline her or, if necessary, get rid of her. Schmitz' contract was not renewed after almost four years, but she sued the college that administered the program and won her wrongful termination case. Prosecutors have desperately tried to keep that inconvient truth out of the criminal case.
You've heard of the crime "driving while black?" In Alabama, Schmitz' real "crime" was "working while Democrat."