By Atty. G. Monty Manibog, Esq.
(Editor’s note: Former Monterey Park mayor, Monty Manibog, is a regular columnist offering legal tips and commentaries on high profile legal cases and events.)
“The Lady of Justice,” blindfolded and sword in hand, swings that sword evenly in all directions because justice is supposed to be blind as to race, gender, social or economic standing. Such fairness in the administration of justice is also symbolized by the scales of justice, evenly balanced, in the “Lady’s” other hand.
And while defense lawyers are often accused of employing various questionable tactics to “get their clients off”, there is ample evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in charging, pursuing and prosecuting celebrities and high profile personalities for the career boosting effect of gaining convictions of such prominent people. While this is not the norm, going after the “big fish” by some ambitious prosecutors is a tempting proposition since it adds a huge notch to one’s prosecutorial belt.
Consider the following examples: MARTHA STEWART, diva of gracious living, whose most serious criminal charge, manipulating stock market shares of her company (Martha Stewart Living) simply by saying she was innocent (her constitutional right to presumption of innocence), was summarily dismissed by an angry federal judge as wholly without basis or merit, though Stewart was later convicted on lesser charges.
Conservative radio talk show host, RUSH LIMBAUGH, subject of an FBI investigation for allegedly “doctor shopping” for prescriptive drugs (oxycontin) for his chronic back problems, protested on his national radio program that he was “cherry picked” for investigation and prosecution because of who he is and, eventually, the investigation was stopped and charges never filed against him. It was shown that lesser known persons, including a local judge, were never prosecuted for the same offenses.
THE DUKE UNIVERSITY LACROSS ATHLETES, whose charges of rape of a private party strip dancer were dismissed by the North Carolina Attorney General after disclosures of prosecutorial improprieties by District Attorney Mike Nifong. He was subsequently disbarred and criminally charged for his politically motivated prosecution of the well known athletes during his re-election bid.
The latest example, of course, involves 85 year old SENATOR TED STEVENS of Alaska, the longest continuously serving Republican United States Senator who was indicted and convicted on seven counts of failing to report gifts received from VECO Corporation which was known to have business before the U.S. Senate. The conviction led to Stevens’ reelection defeat a week later, on November 8, 2008. Shortly after his conviction and before the election date, there were calls for Stevens’ resignation from his senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle and by both presidential candidates, Barrack Obama and John McCain.
In a poetic twist examplifying often ambitious and reckless prosecution of high profile people, however, Federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan threw out Stevens’ convictions due to what he characterized as the “WORST CASE OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT “ he has ever seen and began a criminal contempt investigation of the prosecution team, whose conduct in withholding critical “exculpatory” evidence (which would have favored Stevens’ defense) from defense attorneys was a clear violation of the law. Attorney General Eric Holder then decided to dismiss all charges against Stevens. In such outrageous cases, prosecutors need a taste of their own medicine and be prosecuted themselves.
Tragically, however, Stevens had already lost his reelection bid because of the conviction.
The RULE OF LAW, indeed, cuts both ways as prosecutors are held to the same high ethical standards as defense attorneys in the administration of justice. Justice, however, should not be blind as to such prosecutorial misadventure.