“Winning,” Money, and Justice

In a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision [ Connick vs. Thompson], the Court ruled 5-4, essentially that the office of the District Attorney in the city of New Orleans did not have a responsibility to ensure that its attorneys were properly trained, and therefore, the city was not liable for unprofessional behavior on the part of the four attorneys who withheld and suppressed evidence that would have exonerated a man erroneously sentenced to death… and thus the city had to pay no damages to the man who had spent 18 years in prison.  Less than a month before Thompson’s scheduled execution, a private investigator discovered that prosecutors had hidden evidence that exonerated Thompson. Later investigations discovered that in 25% of the death penalty convictions during the tenure of District Attorney Connick as chief prosecutor, evidence was withheld or suppressed by the DA’s office.

New Orleans is far from the first city in which such abuses have occurred, but it does appear to have been the first in which they’ve been documented so thoroughly, and that documentation and the fragmentary evidence from other cities strongly suggests that all too often district attorneys are more interested in “winning” than in justice.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Thompson case also illustrates, to my way of thinking, how coservatives, from business executives to politicians to jurists, so revere the conservation of money for those who have it in large amounts, that they are willing to twist the law, and the federal budget to almost any extreme.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m equally willing to point out that the far left has for years essentially taken the position that all income effectively belongs to the government, and that government should determine what income levels are “fair” through the taxation system.  In addition, the far left has effectively endorsed, through its support of unbridled tort claims against business, the medical profession, and any defendant with “deep pockets”, that justice can be obtained merely through massive damage claims, despite decades of experience that shows that seldom, if ever, do malpractice claims resulted in expelling poor physicians from practice or in obtaining actual improvement of products and services.  What such tort claims do accomplish, in the majority of cases, particularly class action lawsuits, is to enrich the lawyers.

Both the liberals and the conservatives are wrong in focusing on money and/or winning, rather than on law or justice, because in focusing on winning and money, the justice system reverts to trial by combat, and in that combat, ethics and justice both lose to unbridled ambition and greed.

While the Thompson case certainly was about money, the Court did not, and likely could not, deal with the issue of whether the compensation Thompson had obtained from the lower court case was excessive.  The Court could, and should, have held that the previous case law and precedents required that the city of New Orleans had a duty to train its district attorneys to follow the law themselves, while noting that the compensation awarded to Thompson for their failure to do so was excessive.  Instead, the Court overturned those precedents. That decision was a clear indication that the U.S. Supreme Court, as presently constituted, is far less interested in justice than it is in making a statement about excessive tort claims, twisting the law to do so, and thus, in effect, legalizing the unethical and unprofessional behavior of local prosecutors who had themselves twisted, if not broken, the law.

In the Thompson case, the prosecutors broke the law, convicted an innocent man, and, after the fact, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that more than twenty years of case law did not apply, and therefore the city of New Orleans had absolutely no legal liability for failing to ensure that its attorneys followed the law. And if a local government cannot be held accountable, how can anyone be sure of justice?

Or is the Court decision merely an after-the-fact affirmation that in the United States, the pursuit of money and winning at any cost trumps justice every time?

2 thoughts on ““Winning,” Money, and Justice”

  1. Bob Howard says:

    Essentially, the high court has ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to counsel. Taken literally, the ruling allows governments to hire the most incompetent, and cheapest, attorneys possible and face no consequences. This not only saves money directly on the public defenders offices, but also on the prosecution side, as only minimal effort will be necessary to gain convictions, with the side benefit of boosting the careers of the prosecutors. Different story, of course, for those who can afford the high-powered suits.

    Capital cases are the most troublesome. I am still amazed at the depth of support for the death penalty in this country when so many prisoners on death row are exonerated–hardly a week goes by without a new case coming to light. Former President Bush still claims he is convinced no innocent person was ever executed in Texas–how can that be, with so many now proven innocent?

    Moral issues aside, clear proof that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent aside, justice aside–capital cases cost upwards of $20 million, whereas life imprisonment somewhere around $3 mil. At least the Tea Partier bean-counters ought to be on board with abolishing capital punishment.

  2. Brian Kelman says:

    Former lawyers (the judges) looking after their own. Thick as thieves, literally.

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