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Newark Ploy Will Backfire on Federal Prosecutor

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Message Stephen Fournier
The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey gives the public every reason to believe that he is manipulating the prosecution of former Newark mayor Sharpe James for political advantage, and the defendant's lawyers are likely to remind him of that regularly while the case is pending.  The federal prosecution of this popular African-American politician, a Democrat, could be a case study in the destruction of the federal prosecutorial function by politics.  

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie staged a perp walk for James, who was led away in shackles by federal marshals.  Nobody but Christie is saying it's a coincidence that James was arrested one day before the anniversary of the civil disorder that started in Newark 40 years ago.  Christie and his bosses in the White House--he serves at the president's pleasure, remember--are not pleased to be reminded that state and city police murdered several Newark residents in July of 1967 and that nobody's ever been brought to account for those crimes.  If James'  arrest were timed to console New Jersey's right wing (including the remnants of La Cosa Nostra, which controlled Newark in 1967), it couldn't have come at a better time than July 12.  

The credibility of court judgments depends on the integrity of the prosecutor, and civil order depends on the credibility of court judgments.  When several Los Angeles police officers, caught on camera beating a motorist,  were acquitted of assault by a suburban jury, the streets of the city erupted in violence.  Even when it doesn't cause riots, the loss of public confidence in the institutions of justice suppresses responsible citizenship.  

Suppose James is convicted.  Knowing what we know about federal prosecutors--the blatantly political process by which the current class was selected, the pressure applied by Republican politicians to target Democrats, the Justice Department's notorious insensitivity to issues of racial inequity, and especially the acknowledged fact that at least nine U.S. Attorneys were fired for exercising professional independence--who will believe that the defendant received a fair shake in court?  I know I won't.  Most people will respond by not showing up for jury duty, not talking to police when they ought to, not reporting their true income at tax time, not obeying traffic laws, not voting, and not doing any of the other things that people need to do to keep civil society going.  

Christopher Christie's defenders in the media claim he was on the list to be fired, and he's positioned himself as a critic of the firings.  Big deal.  He's tainted, as are all 92 of his colleagues and their staff lawyers across the country.  No defense attorney will fail to invoke the politics defense in any federal prosecution from now on.  I have some clients who distributed donated items in Cuba and who have been threatened with federal prosecution for violating the U.S. embargo, and I'm already plotting a new legal strategy in light of the disclosures about my opponents in the prosecutor's office.  I'll be bold about it, too, because I'll be able to say with assurance that my clients are decent, while the prosecutor is corrupt and his motives, venal.    

Congress could put the nation back on a course to restore credibility in the prosecutorial function, but they would have to begin by removing the attorney general and his bosses, who conspired to politicize the system.  The evidence is there, and we can only conclude that the members are afraid to prosecute.  We can force them into it. 
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Hartford, Connecticut, lawyer, grandfather, Air Force veteran. Author/publisher, Current Invective www.currentinvective.com
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