Radley Balko, one of the very few journalists who actually pay attention to things like prosecutorial misconduct, reports on a South Carolina judge who recently criticized prosecutors who don’t follow the law and told them that he would be sanctioning them if it happens in his court.
Late last year, South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty joined Kozinski. At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”
You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.
Beatty singled out South Carolina’s 9th Judicial District in particular. There’s a good reason for that: He noted in his talk that two prosecutors from that district, overseen by Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, had already been suspended for misconduct and at the time of his talk, another complaint was pending. A recent complaint by the state’s association of criminal defense lawyers recently laid out a list of other complaints (PDF) against Wilson’s office. (You can read Wilson’s response here.)
But Wilson took personal offense at Beatty’s comments. She accused him of bias and sent a letter asking him to recuse himself from criminal cases that come out of her district.
Prosecutors are always telling us that those who refuse to follow the law must be dealt with harshly in order to deter others from doing the same thing. And that applies to everyone, apparently, other than prosecutors.