I had bats on my mind yesterday. First there was the report Thursday about bats causing pandemonium sending people screaming from an Arkansas courtroom. I’ve been in really old courthouses and know that rodents live there but this was a first concerning bats. Then also last night, I read not about bats but brickbats thrown by the Ninth Circuit over another case of prosecutorial malfeasance. Railing as I have over time, “tiny fists in the air,” about the persistence of prosecutorial misconduct, for instance, here, here, here, here, here and here, all those posts have started to seem “like the [impotent] vaporings of the fellow with a large flock of bats in his belfry.”
Prosecutor punishment rare.
So here I am back in the same belfry. The problem is that state judges rarely punish the misconduct by at the very least, referring the wrongdoing prosecutors to state disciplinary authorities or at best, by sanctioning the transgressors by reversing the convictions. Furthermore, state bars hardly ever bring disciplinary complaints on their own against prosecutors. Consequently, state supreme courts almost never disbar prosecutors for dereliction, lying, or for failing to disclose evidence to the defense that deprives defendants of a fair trial. Baca v Adams. The Los Angeles Times’ always insightful Legal Affairs Reporter reported last night about a January 8, 2015 Ninth Circuit hearing and the stern admonishment from the 3-judge panel about prosecutorial lying and the heedlessness of watchdogs in bringing misconduct to heel. See “U.S. Judges see ‘epidemic’ of prosecutorial misconduct in state.” Citing Napue v. Illinois, 360 US 264 (1959), which held that “the failure of the prosecutor to correct the testimony of the witness which he knew to be false denied petitioner due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment,“ the three judges were not amused in the unheralded case of Johnny Baca v Derral Adams, which was the subject of the hearing. Per Napue, prosecutors cannot suborn perjury — or lie as happened in the Baca case. And questioning why bad things don’t happen to people doing bad Judge Alex Kozinski declared, “You know it’s a little disconcerting when the state puts on evidence, the evidence turns out to be fabricated and nothing happens to the lawyer and nothing happens to the witness. So I have to doubt the sincerity of the State when it says it was a big mistake.” It was hardly a surprise, then, that given the findings of the state appeals court that the prosecutor lied and their own readings of the Baca file, that the judges wanted the State to back off. Judge Kozinski additionally noted that though the state appellate court found the prosecutor lied — since no discipline had been meted, then he opined that prosecutors “got caught this time but they are going to keep doing it because they have state judges who are willing to look the other way.” Watch the videotaped hearing below at about the 28:30 minute mark for equally biting criticisms, including Judge Kozinski questioning the absence of any inquiry or discipline by the state attorney general into the misconduct.
However, given the keen political shrewdness of California State Attorney General Kamala Harris who now aspires to succeed Barbara Boxer in the US Senate, she spared her office further embarrassment by timely accommodating the strong judicial intimations to stand down. Last Thursday when the bats were flying in De Queen, Arkansas, she and the new Riverside County D.A. filed the following motion: As for myself, unlike one optimistic commentator, who opined after the hearing, “Prosecutors who suborn perjury may finally have to pay the piper,” here in my belfry, I’m still skeptical.