A primary mission of the Judicial Integrity Report is to expose political prosecutions. In the past twenty years, there has been a dramatic increase in political prosecutions in America. The Wall Street Journal has reported a great rise in political prosecutions throughout the United States. In 2007, Congress was so concerned with the rise in politically motivated prosecutions that for the first time in its history, Congress held congressional hearings to investigate this dangerous trend in prosecutorial abuse of our citizens.
A Primer on Politically Motivated Prosecutions
In the United States, the increase in political prosecutions has forced Congress, and other legal authorities, to address this dangerous trend in prosecutorial abuse. Historically, political prosecutions were common in European states, especially in the police states of the former Soviet Union. Political prosecutions go back to the Imperial Era, when “justice” was simply a tool of the ruling class.
In more modern times, political prosecutions in Eastern Europe and other areas of the world have likewise “gone modern” — often using inherently vague charges such as “fraud” or “insider trading” or some other economic activity as pretext. Just this past summer, an Iowa court threw out a criminal “fraud” charge filed by prosecutors against an administrative law judge who had been critical of the state’s governor. The Iowa court dismissed the prosecution because it appeared to be vindictive, retaliatory and politically motivated.
Prosecutors initiate and use political prosecutions for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons include “taking out” or punishing political opponents and their supporters; targeting citizens and critics who speak truth to power; filing prosecutions to generate favorable publicity for ambitious prosecutors, especially prosecutors seeking higher elective offices; and, prosecutors who file selective or vindictive prosecutions to sate the malice of those prosecutors or their friends and political allies. Political prosecutions are widely used to discredit and destroy political opponents and critics.
In America, prosecutors wield more power than any other official in our criminal justice system. Bypassing grand juries and using an “information” instead of an indictment, prosecutors have unlimited discretion to file, or not to file, a criminal prosecution. Unchecked power is always subject to abuse. Given that political prosecutions and prosecutorial misconduct go hand-in-hand, in the United States there has been a dramatic increase in both over the past twenty years.
Prosecutors can find some way to prosecute anybody if they want to do so. The breadth and ambiguity of criminal law gives prosecutors virtually unlimited cover, and pretext, to prosecute just about anybody, for just about anything. Several years ago, prosecutors in New York reportedly played a game, during lunch hour, in which they competed to see who could come up with the most creative legal theories to prosecute the most ostensibly virtuous people in the world, including Mother Theresa. Most Americans agree that few people have led such unblemished lives as to prevent a determined prosecutor from finding some basis for criminal prosecution.
In the past two decades, numerous political prosecutions have been identified, including the prosecutions of Don Siegelman (former governor of Alabama; fifty two (52) former state attorneys general endorsed a letter suggesting that Siegelman was the target of a politically motivated prosecution; Siegelman’s political prosecution was reported on the CBS “60 Minutes” program); Richard Scrushy (businessman/political donor); Cyril H. Wecht (attorney, author and pathologist); Oliver E. Diaz (Mississippi attorney and judge); Paul Minor (attorney and political donor); Katheryn Shields and husband Phil Carderella (Missouri county executive and her husband, a Missouri attorney, charged with fraud and acquitted in what was clearly a political prosecution); Georgia Thompson (Wisconsin official; conviction reversed for lack of evidence with appellate court criticism of the prosecutors); Bradley Burkenfeld (American banker and “whistleblower” who disclosed to the United States government that Swiss bank UBS had been engaged in a longtime systematic scheme to help wealthy U.S. citizens evade billions in U.S. taxes; although UBS escaped criminal prosecution, whistleblower Bradley Burkenfeld ended up being the only person criminally prosecuted, despite the fact that the U.S. government later awarded Burkenfeld $104 million for his whistleblowing of Swiss bank UBS); and U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Many political prosecutions go undetected, especially those involving victims who are not prominent public figures. A leading misconception is that political prosecutions are aimed mostly at prominent politicians and well known public figures. This is inaccurate.
Anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in political prosecutions of a more local nature involving lesser known people who, for some reason or another, have gotten crossways with prosecutors and their political allies.