MILWAUKEE (Legal Newsline) – After missing a scoop on Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm’s long-running investigation into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writers, along with the district attorney’s staff, hunted down the key source who had asked for anonymity, fearing retaliation. That story, produced by the American Media Institute and published by Legal Newsline last week, said that the district attorney’s wife was a teachers union shop steward, had taken part in demonstrations against the Republican governor’s proposal to curb public employee unions and was repeatedly moved to tears by governor’s legislative crusade. Chisholm, a Democrat, said privately […]
Have you heard that Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed tough federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to take over a months-old investigation into whether defense lawyers associated with the American Civil Liberties Union illegally compromised CIA interrogators’ identities?
The Fitzgerald appointment, mentioned in passing by The Washington Times on March 15 and more fully reported by Newsweek on March 19, has at this writing been virtually ignored by almost all other news organizations. But it raises interesting questions.
The lawyers reportedly had private investigators surreptitiously take photos of men thought to be CIA interrogators, and then showed them to at least one of the four men accused along with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed of conspiring to launch the 9/11 attacks. In at least one instance, photos were said to have been found in a detainee’s Guantanamo Bay cell.
The tapping of Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, may suggest that the Justice Department is taking very seriously an inquiry into the photo situation that was first reported last August by The Washington Post. Fitzgerald is an exceptionally aggressive prosecutor who is known for his investigation of Bush administration leaks of then-CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity and his corruption indictment of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The use of CIA operatives’ photos by ACLU-funded defense lawyers reinforces my concern that conventional rules of criminal justice and legal ethics — which tend to support what the lawyers reportedly did — may not be the best way to deal with mass-murder terrorists who wage war against the United States.
Every day that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is allowed to remain in office is corrosive to constitutional governance and an invitation to further politicization of the Justice Department.
That is the main lesson of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s astonishing revelations on May 15 about Gonzales’s sinister involvement in a March 2004 effort to continue a then-secret warrantless eavesdropping program after it had been declared unlawful by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and his subordinates.
Meanwhile, the May 14 resignation of Paul McNulty, Comey’s successor as deputy attorney general, further depleted the ranks of principled professionals in the demoralized department, which Gonzales has been filling with inexperienced political hacks. In the words of Arlen Specter, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican, as long as Gonzales is in charge, "it’s embarrassing for a professional to work for the Department of Justice."
Comey, testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee, described an extraordinary scene the night of March 10, 2004, in George Washington University Hospital’s intensive care unit. Ashcroft, so sick with pancreatitis that he had designated Comey as acting attorney general, was drugged with painkillers after the removal of his gallbladder the day before.
This headline might seem to load the dice, in favor of creating a special privilege for us journalists to defy grand jury subpoenas demanding the names of our sources. But it really is that simple: Judith Miller, of The New York Times, and Matthew Cooper, of Time, will go to jail for contempt of court for as long as 18 months for refusing to betray their sources unless they win what look like uphill battles on appeal. Neither has done anything wrong or done anyone harm. Indeed, Miller wrote nothing at all about the matter in contention. Yet both face incarceration for honoring what any decent journalist would consider a cardinal professional and moral obligation. So do other reporters around the country who face a rising tide of prosecutorial demands for sources’ names.
As tort reformers and trial lawyers resume their arcane battles, the costs of and damage done by our burgeoning lawsuit industry are mounting up, all around us. The total dollar amount awarded in the 100 largest jury verdicts in 2002 was more than three times the 2001 total, reports The National Law Journal. The direct costs to society from the tort liability system jumped by an inflation-adjusted 11 percent from 2000 to 2001, to $205 billion-"the equivalent of a 5 percent tax on wages"-according to a study released on February 11 by the actuarial firm Tillinghast-Towers Perrin (whose clients include most large insurers).
Two recent developments dramatize how lawyer-plutocrats continue to obscenely enrich themselves by using massive asbestos lawsuits and a disgracefully dysfunctional litigation system to extort billions of dollars from American consumers every year. The lawyers blackmail mostly blameless companies, while cheating the real victims of asbestos.
Two decades ago, when Big Tobacco still seemed invincible, a top Brown & Williamson attorney named Ernest Pepples laid out in stark terms what might be called the honesty option: "If we admit that smoking is harmful to heavy smokers, do we not admit that [the company] has killed a lot of people each year for a very long time? Moreover, if the evidence we have today is not significantly different from the evidence we had five years ago, might it not be argued that we have been `willfully’ killing our customers for this long period? Aside from the catastrophic civil damage and governmental regulation which would flow from such an admission, I foresee serious criminal liability problems."
Imagine the nation’s five biggest tobacco companies secretly arranging to milk consumers for billions in new profits by raising and fixing prices, colluding to maintain their respective market shares, and using carrots and sticks to get discounters and other small producers to raise their own prices enough to hold their combined market shares around 1 percent.
After slamming big tobacco with an unprecedented $145 billion in punitive damages in a class action brought on behalf of sick smokers in Florida, jurors said their goal had been to punish the industry for its sins and "send a strong message for all companies in America that they can’t fraudulently represent anything to the public," in the words of the foreman, Leighton Finegan. He added: "For the past 50 years these companies have lied, hidden information, and burned documents, and that makes me angry."
MARGARET WARNER: In a unanimous decision the court upheld laws in New York and Washington State that make it a crime for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for terminally ill patients who no longer want to live. For more details on today’s ruling we’re joined by NewsHour regular Stuart Taylor, correspondent for the "American Lawyer" and "Legal Times." Stuart, first brief background. What exactly did these laws say and who challenged them? STUART TAYLOR, The American Lawyer: These were laws in Washington State and New York State. Both of them are general laws that–with deepest, darker roots that say it’s a crime to assist someone else in committing suicide. It would apply to anyone, not just a doctor–would apply to you or me helping each other. Two sets of doctors and patients–all of the patients are now dead–in New York and Washington respectively–challenged these laws on various constitutional grounds. They found their way to the Supreme Court with the two lower courts each having struck down the laws as applied to mentally competent, terminally ill people who are suffering and want a doctor to give them say a lethal medication. But the two lower courts used different constitutional rationales in striking the laws down.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. So broadly on what grounds now did the Supreme Court say these laws were constitutional, uphold these laws?