Corrupt Prosecutors Given Anonymity

Radley Balko continues his excellent reporting on our appalling criminal justice system with an article pointing out that, in addition to having total immunity from civil suits, corrupt prosecutors are also often given anonymity by the courts so the public doesn’t know that they’re corrupt.

Last month, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a prosecutor in San Mateo County, Calif., committed “textbook” misconduct when she “knowingly elicited and then failed to correct false testimony” during an armed robbery trial. A judge from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also found misconduct in the case, but ruled it was a “harmless error” and upheld the conviction of the defendant, La Carl Martez Dow. The appeals court panel overturned that ruling, and Dow’s conviction.

But an important detail was missing from both those rulings — the prosecutor’s name, Jennifer Ow. At the time of Martez Dow’s conviction, she was an assistant district attorney for San Mateo county. She currently holds the same title in Nevada County, Calif.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal alleging misconduct by a federal prosecutor who made racially offensive remarks during a drug trial in Texas. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a separate opinion that excoriated the prosecutor, who, she wrote, “tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation.”

“It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century,” she wrote. “Such conduct diminishes the dignity of our criminal justice system and undermines respect for the rule of law. We expect the Government to seek justice, not to fan the flames of fear and prejudice.”

But Sotomayor didn’t name the prosecutor, either. And while her opinion attracted a fair amount of media attention, those initial accounts also failed to give the prosecutor’s name.

Ken White, a former federal prosecutor who now blogs at Popehat.com, checked the legal document service PACER and tracked down the name: Sam L. Ponder. He is still an assistant U.S. attorney in Texas.

There’s no rule requiring this, but it seems to be mostly a matter of professional courtesy, which is reprehensible. One of the primary reasons our criminal justice remains astonishingly corrupt and abusive is that at nearly every level, those who engage in such conduct are protected from consequences. Which is ironic, since it’s police officers and prosecutors who are always pushing for harsher laws to deter wrongdoing. But their reasoning never seems to apply to themselves.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • zero6ix

    They are the great iron damn holding back the corrupting wave of evil criminality. And if they get a little rusty, it’s no big deal, right? Just a little weak spot. We don’t even need to patch it up. The dam will hold forever. So just stop thinking about how we do our jobs, and get back to thinking about your place in the world, and don’t notice how we can completely annihilate you and get away with it.

  • D. C. Sessions

    That anonymity is necessary to prevent reprisals against prosecutors at election time.