Appeal Of Appointed Prosecutors

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 15, 2009
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U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens

A federal judge dismissed the ethics conviction of Alaska’s former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens after he named a special prosecutor to investigate whether the government lawyers who managed the case should themselves be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing. The judge in the case, Emmet G. Sullivan, named to the Federal District Court by then-President Bill Clinton, said that in 25 years on the bench he had “never seen mishandling and misconduct like what I have seen” by the Justice Department prosecutors who tried the Stevens case. Consequences of their prosecutorial misconduct can probably never be reversed.

I’m not insinuating that any of our local prosecutors are guilty of any kind of misconduct, but you can’t help but wonder how it was allowed to happen. Joseph E. diGenova, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under President Reagan, went on record saying that the Stevens case was “not an isolated incident.”

He was speaking about the bribery prosecution of former Democratic Gov.


Don Siegelman of Alabama. He said, “They don’t do justice anymore, they get people.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has stepped forward, saying the Justice Department was “fully capable” of investigating itself. Everyone should certainly hope so. Prosecutors on the federal level are appointed so they can aggressively pursue convictions of corruption.

A nagging question is that of elected judges and prosecutors: In the process of running for an elected office, is it possible for politics to get involved in the judicial process? Promises have to be made and campaign funds have to be raised, so anything is possible.

It’s interesting to note that, in the state of Hawaii, Maui County is the only one with an appointed prosecutor, all others must run for office. It’s also interesting that many county prosecutors become judges.

Equally interesting is that judges are appointed by elected officials. Many elected officials have gone on to become judges, and it’s not hard to imagine that just putting on a black robe changes a person’s political belief system.

After all, we have a former judge running for governor and very likely a prosecutor running for mayor of Honolulu.

Perhaps it is time to consider having appointed prosecutors as they do on Maui to keep politics and justice from stepping on each others’ delicate toes.

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