Friday, November 13, 2009

Walking Away Unscathed in California

In Santa Clara County, California, home of the Silicon Valley, prosecutorial misconduct has cost the county a whopping $5 million in settlements since 2005, according to a guest opinion column in the San Jose Mercury News this past Wednesday.

The cost has been enormous and the Mercury News column noted some examples:
Last month, the county authorized paying $750,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Donna Auguste, whose Colorado home was illegally searched by police six years ago. Earlier this year, the county forked over $1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging, in part, prosecutorial misconduct brought by Jeffrey Rodriguez, who was wrongfully convicted and released after five years in prison. Two years ago, the county settled a similar suit brought by Rick Walker, who served 12 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Santa Clara County paid $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars on top of $1.45 million paid by the county's insurance carrier.
But what is more disturbing is the following:
Remarkably, not a single prosecutor [in Santa Clara County] faced discipline in these prosecutions, with the exception of Santa Clara County prosecutor Ben Field. Field, who orchestrated the illegal search in the Auguste case and whose multiple prosecutorial misdeeds have been exposed by the Mercury News, has been ordered to surrender his law license for four years.
The authors go on to note that the problem is not limited to just Santa Clara County, but throughout the Golden State:
Perhaps most significant is the immeasurable cost and risk to society of having the real perpetrators still out there. Prosecutors rarely suffer personal consequences for engaging in misconduct. They have absolute immunity for their official conduct as advocates, and when acting as investigators, they can be held liable for their misconduct only if it violates the law. A recent study by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice examined California appellate court rulings and found that during the ten year period ending in 2007, prosecutors committed misconduct in 444 cases, yet only two were disciplined. Thirty of them committed misconduct more than once. Two of them did it three times. Virtually all of these prosecutors walked away unscathed.
Across the nation, the Rove Republican Racket engaged in prosecutorial misconduct through the 93 U.S. Attorney offices to target political enemies or prominent Democrats. The cost has been enormous and the toll on these innocent political victims cannot be measured. What is angering to us is these prosecutors have "absolute immunity," know it, and most likely will get away with it.