Politicizing Justice: States Pick Up Where Gonzo Left Off

Evidence of political persecution of Democrats by the Gonzales Justice Dept continues to mount up. Besides the 6 fired USA’s, there’s the unexplained retirement in Minnesota, the Siegelman affair in Alabama, the attack on John McKay in Seattle, and now testimony from Reagan’s AG that a Pittsburgh coroner was the target of a Republican USA named Mary Beth Buchanan. And that he wasn’t the only one.

Richard L. Thornburgh, who served as attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, accused the Justice Department yesterday of prosecuting a prominent Pennsylvania Democrat for political reasons, one of a series of cases singled out by House Democrats as examples of alleged GOP meddling at the Justice Department.

Thornburgh, who served as attorney general from 1988 to 1991 and whose law firm represents Cyril Wecht, a nationally known coroner from Pittsburgh, testified yesterday that Wecht had been indicted for mail fraud and a “hodgepodge” of other charges by overzealous prosecutors keen on pleasing political appointees in Washington.

“He has always been a contentious, outspoken, highly critical and highly visible Democratic figure in western Pennsylvania,” Thornburgh told the House Judiciary Committee. “In other words, he would qualify as an ideal target for a Republican U.S. attorney trying to curry favor with a department which demonstrated that if you play by its rules, you will advance.”

Thornburgh also said that Wecht “was not the only apparent political prosecution in western Pennsylvania,” pointing to three high-profile cases of other local Democrats brought by U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh.

Such cases have become commonplace and were the basis for Gonzo’s resignation. What’s less well-known is that Republican state officials are busily prosecuting the same kind of persecutions against Democrats that got the DOJ in trouble at the national level.

For instance, in Georgia the Speaker of the House is demanding an investigation of a Democratic judge who has allowed the defense team of an alleged murderer to fight the prosecution’s aggressive pursuance of the death penalty.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson is setting up a special committee to look into whether the judge in the Brian Nichols murder case has abused his office and can be impeached.

Richardson has tapped House Majority Whip Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), a lawyer, to head the panel looking into the actions of Senior Judge Hilton Fuller in the Nichols case.

Both the speaker and top senators, such as Senate President Pro-tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Preston Smith (R-Rome) have been strongly critical of Fuller’s handling of the trial.

Prosecutors are pushing for the death penalty in the trial of Nichols, who is accused of killing a judge, court reporter, deputy and federal agent in a shooting rampage that began at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 11, 2005.

Fuller’s “crime” lies in his insistence on ordering state funds be paid for Nichols’ defense. Nichols is indigent and being represented by the Public Defenders’ Office, so the tab for his defense is being paid by the state. The problem here is two-fold.

First, the Republican-run state govt has pauperized the PDO by stripping its funding to the bone over the length of Pub Gov Sonny Perdue’s reign. A year before Nichols snapped and killed 4 people in front of a crowded courtroom, the PDO and the Georgia Bar Association had been publicly complaining that there wasn’t anything like enough money being provided by the state for the defense of indigents accused of crimes, even at the ridiculously low levels of compensation being offered (as little as $10/hr, barely above minimum wage), and that the Republicans’ goal was to destroy the PDO altogether. The lege’s response? They cut the PDO’s budget again.

The second problem is the way prosecutors chose to demand the death penalty and then to fight vigorously any attempt by the defense team to reach an agreement that would take death off the table. The result has been a series of expensive hearings on motions brought by prosecutors, apparently in the belief that the defense would have to surrender when they ran out of money.

Fuller got in the way of that strategy by ordering the state to pay up – an obligation every state has to supply poor defendants with legal counsel. The bill for legal services for Nichols has now topped a $$Million$$. The Republicans in the lege are furious, claiming that “Fuller and the defense lawyers are essentially draining public defender funds, trying to make it too expensive for prosecutors to seek the death penalty against anyone in the future.”

Ironic, considering it’s the prosecution that made assigning all that money necessary in the first place.

While Richardson’s investigation comes out of Fuller’s refusal to allow the prosecutors to break the defense over money, it is nevertheless clear that this is a political move. No Republican judge would have bothered to follow the law and defense funds would have been cut off long ago leaving Nichols on his own. The Pub answer to a democrat’s intransigence in the face of Republican railroading? Impeach the SOB.

Karl Rove’s politicization of the DOJ not only didn’t stop when both he and Gonzo resigned, it actually spread to Republicans in charge of state govts and, no doubt, Republican officials like prosecutors and state AG’s. The Pubs have hold of a weapon and they’re going to use it at the state level where there’s less opposition to politicized investigations.

This is going to take years, maybe decades, to unravel, and as long as conservative Republicans keep getting elected locally, it may never go away completely. It may be that justice in America will soon depend on having Democrats at every level of govt.

2 Responses to “Politicizing Justice: States Pick Up Where Gonzo Left Off”

  1. Shawn says:

    Oh, to see Mary Beth Buchanan get hers. It won’t be likely and even if it happens it won’t be soon. Still, one can dream.

  2. mick says:

    Not one of your favorite people, I take it?

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