Government agencies love acronyms and important names for themselves. They especially like names that have the words organized crime, racketeering or the ever present catch all, law enforcement, in them. Thus we have in NY the JOCTF or the Joint Organized Crime Task Force, The Organized Crime and Racketeering Intelligence Unit (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers). For those of you that watch NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service), the character named McGee will almost every week utter the words “I’ll send a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) to the local LEO’s (local cops).
Given recent events in Marocopa County, AZ, I have decided a new acronym for LEO’s is warranted. You know, something that is more descriptive or accurate to the true state of affairs in what we euphemistically call the criminal justice system. As a preliminary matter I have come up with SLEO’s where the S” stands for Selective. That way we can have our own little acroym to describe LEO’s that enforce the laws they like and ignore those that they consider inconvenient. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Back to Maricopa County.
Apparently, during a sentence in open court, a court officer decided it would be a good idea to go into the defense lawyer’s brief bag and took a paper belonging to her. The defense lawyer had her back to this activity but was notified by her client of the court officer’s behavior. This supposedly took place in front of some prosecutors as well. When the defense lawyer brought the theft to the attention of the judge, the judge in response told the defense counsel to calm down, which she apparently did. There is a video of this event available:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hpn1yX40OE]The defense lawyer, seeking to take this further, asked for a hearing on the entire matter but was told by yet another judge that she (the defense lawyer) would have to tell the court and court officers, what was written on the piece of paper. In other words, she would have to violate the attorney-client privilege so that the court officer could properly defend himself. As far as I know, the defense lawyer has declined to do this.
Let’s take a look at the actions of some of the people in this most bizarre occurrence. The court officer would seem to be guilty of a petty larceny not to mention an interference with the attorney-client privilege. The court officer, paying no attention to the law of larceny, did what he felt like.
This is nothing new for LEO’s. They routinely violate the law when they knowingly elicit false confessions, when they knowingly plant evidence on a suspect and when they knowingly lie on the witness stand because in their minds it is for the greater good and, after all, who would know better than them? The fact that they are violating a person’s constitutional rights or otherwise lying and engaging in unlawful behavior is of no moment to them. SLEOs select the laws they will pay attention to and ignore the others.
As long as we are on the subject let’s talk about the prosecutors and the judges as well.
The prosecutors perhaps thought it was okay to witness a crime and do nothing about it. In their defense, maybe they did not see the criminal act although I’m told they were standing very close to where the offending behavior took place. The prosecutors are the only lawyers in the courtroom who are actually charged with the duty of doing justice. If the prosecutors in any case are not that interested in justice maybe they could just tell us ahead of time and spare us the legal fiction.
As for the judges, I have long been under the impression that judging means making decisions. Not all decisions are easy decisions. Nevertheless, judges still have to make them. The last time I looked judges don’t just get to make the easy decisions. Parenthetically, I have always marvelled at people who wish to become judges but then don’t want to make any decisions.
The judge who made the decision that the defense lawyer would have to violate the attorney-client privilege in order to proceed to a hearing in this matter was clearly trying to avoid having a hearing with decisions, and perhaps troubling ones, that would have to be made. If that is not the case then the judge needs to go back to judge school and bone up on his constitutional law. When one unlawfully removes a piece of paper that is privileged, it is a theft. It has nothing to do with the attorney-client privilege.
There has been quite of bit of controversy about the state of justice in Maricopa County of late. It seems clear that there are people within the criminal justice system who may not exactly be doing their jobs. In discussing this problem I do not wish to leave out criminal defense lawyers. The criminal bar in Maricopa County no doubt has some wonderful lawyers. It is not easy being a criminal defense lawyer but we are the people that stand between the government and our clients. The police and prosecutors don’t love us and if you think the judges do you are probably in the wrong profession. It is up to us when under attack to come together and protect ourselves and our clients. Nobody else is going to do it. Whining about a situation rarely solves the underlying problem. The criminal defense bar in Maricopa County needs to figure out how to best perform their duties as well.
The Bill of Rights was not enacted to protect the citizenry from overzealous defense lawyers. Use it. Don’t let the SLEOs abuse it.