Ever heard the saying that "perception is reality"? I think most of us have, and right now it's a phrase being repeated over and over again around the CJC. Most prosecutors right now would probably like to take the author of that statement out back and shoot him.
What kind of inspired me to write this particular post this fine Saturday morning was after reading Leviathan's post about the D.A. candidates and their baggage on Mark Bennett's blog. Leviathan is one of the more witty and rational posters on both this blog and Mark's, and he or she makes a very witty post with this one. His conclusion is an endorsement of Jim Leitner as his or her selection for who should be the D.A.
You aren't ever going to catch me saying anything bad about Jim Leitner, because I think he is one of the most honorable, humble, skilled, and decent attorneys I've ever met in my life. You aren't going to catch any of the ADAs saying anything bad about him either, because they feel the same way. But, I do have an issue with all this ranting about Kelly's "baggage", and how this so-called "baggage" should prohibit her from Office.
The Defense Bar battles against "perception" every day of a client's case. There is a a perception of guilt from the time of arrest that we have to vocally defend against. There is a perception of guilt when our client is sitting at a counsel table when the jury files in, and that's where our battle really become a full-fledged war, isn't it? And fighting against the perception of guilt is the credo of our jobs, isn't it? Because the reality is that all persons accused are innocent until proven guilty.
Sometimes to get to reality, you have to prove that the perception is bullshit, don't you? Even when the fundamental principle of the criminal justice system is the exact opposite of that.
So, let's examine some perceptions and realities that have been thrown around lately.
Perception # 1 - The D.A.'s Office harbors a racist attitude and this is clearly proven by the fact that Chuck had two racially offensive e-mails on his computer, and that Mike Trent sent the "Canadians" e-mail.
Reality - Three e-mails are linked to two prosecutors (three prosecutors, if you listen to Trent's eager "I heard it from Freyer!" mantra. Something tells me Trent won't be on Freyer's Christmas card list this year). Yes, Chuck's e-mails (especially the "overdose" one) were grossly inappropriate and have no place on anybody's computer, especially not an elected official's. But how does that translate to the other 200+ prosecutors at the Office?
Jolanda Jones keeps talking about racist A.D.A.'s who offer African -American defendants higher plea bargain recommendations than white defendants.
Really? That's terrible.
And surely, Ms. Jones, you have been calling a press conference every time this has happened this happened to you. Surely, as a competent attorney diligently representing your client, you brought this to the Court's attention every time this type of injustice happened. Surely, Ms. Jones, you have successfully Batson challenged every prosecutor for a racially motivated strike, and have hundreds or thousands of incidents that you can cite where the trial court, or a Court of Criminal Appeals backed you up on this.
Surely, Ms. Jones, you aren't just jumping on the "ADAs are racist" bandwagon because it's fashionable right now. A newly-elected city councilwoman such as yourself wouldn't ever do something like that for political purposes, would she?
Perception # 2 - Kelly Siegler was part of Chuck Rosenthal's inner-circle who complacently allowed all of his bad acts to continue without saying a word. Thus, she is not a good candidate for District Attorney.
Reality - It is true that Kelly has been a prosecutor for the District Attorney's Office for over 20 years now. She served under Johnny Holmes, and subsequently Chuck Rosenthal. When Holmes left office at the end of 2000, she was a felony Chief. Under Rosenthal's administration, she's been promoted to Bureau Chief of Special Crimes, which specializes in the investigation and trying of "Cold Cases". She isn't his First Assistant. She isn't his General Counsel. More importantly, she's not his Chief Investigator.
If you want to know who is really in Rosenthal's "inner-circle", ask around the courthouse. It's an extremely small circle.
The lumping in of Kelly with Chuck is nothing more than a political smear on her. As a former/current/retired prosecutor, or whoever the hell I am these days, let me state one thing clearly about being a prosecutor:
A prosecutor's loyalty is to your job description, not your elected official. Not a damn one of those prosecutors gets up every morning and goes to the courthouse to please Chuck Rosenthal. They get up to do a job that they love.
Punishing Kelly Siegler because she's been a prosecutor for so long, and because of the fact that she's risen to the level of Bureau Chief is insane. That makes her more qualified to be the D.A., not less. Those who would want you to believe otherwise would probably like to have the D.A.'s Office abolished in general.
Perception # 3 - Bringing in an outsider like Pat Lykos will restore integrity to the D.A.'s Office, and that will be for the best.
Reality - You know who else could have restored integrity to the D.A.'s Office if he were still alive? Late children's TV host Mr. Rodgers. He was such a sweet, dignified man.
Too bad he didn't know anything about the functioning of the D.A.'s Office, either. Has anyone else noticed that Republican "It" Girl, Pat Lykos has yet to challenge either Kelly or Jim Leitner to a debate on any of the real issues facing the Criminal Justice System? Why do you think that is? Could it be because that to do so would be to clearly illustrate her lack of understanding of what we do every day down there? Hit all three candidates (I'm no longer acknowledging Doug Perry as a candidate) with substantive questions and watch her crumble.
Here's my challenge to my readers: Write in your comments substantive questions that you believe ought to be posed to the D.A. candidates. I mean real ones. Not political ones. Not ones like "Kelly, how do you remove the stench of Chuck Rosenthal from the Office?"
I mean ones like this: "Should 12.44(b) be more utilized in crack pipe residue cases where the Defendant is a first offender, and an otherwise poor candidate for probation?" or "Should the Office's use of pre-trial diversion become more common-place for non-violent first offenders?"
I would humbly suggest to my readers that if you start asking substantive questions, you will cut through more of the bullshit perceptions about the CJC and get down to the Reality, which should be true Justice.
Just a thought.