By: Barbara Grzincic
Greetings from Chicago and the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting through a Maryland-focused lens!
First, just let me say, the public art and architecture is jaw-dropping, the deep-dish pizza is jaw-inspiring, and the water in Lake Michigan — well, I haven’t been in yet, but I hear it’s jaw-chilling, even in the height of summer.
Speaking of jawing, let me just give you a flavor for what’s on offer here.
One panel this morning – Hot Topics and Recent Developments in Public Corruption Investigations & Government Ethics – seemed particularly apt in light of the (re)indictments handed up this week in the Baltimore City Hall corruption cases.
Moderator Patrick M. Collins, who successfully prosecuted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan and was U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s corruption unit supervisor before going into private practice, kicked off the session with a video montage of seemingly endless local news coverage of the prosecution of this state’s notoriously corrupt politicos. It included a clip from The Daily Show in which host Jon Stewart, with statistical backing, claims a person is more likely to go to jail if he is an Illinois governor than if he is a murderer.
The ensuing discussion centered on the botched prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the recent high-profile cases here in Chicago and how prosecutors and judges should handle sticky issues like turning over Brady material and interaction with the media in such cases.
The panel unfortunately did not include any current prosecutors – the DoJ and Fitzgerald’s office were invited but declined – but nothing else about the panelists was wanting: Ed Genson, who represented Rod Blagojevich; Robert Cary, who represented Stevens; U.S. District Judges Paul L. Friedman (D.C.) and Amy St. Eve (Ill.); and Abner J. Mikva, the former five-term Congressman and D.C. Circuit Judge, were all in attendance. (Friedman and Mikva are shown in the photo above.)
Cary laid into the prosecutors from the DoJ’s public integrity unit for withholding exculpatory evidence in the Stevens case, and praised an FBI whistleblower, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the presiding judge, Emmett Sullivan, as heroes. That kicked off a debate on Brady v. Maryland.
“I don’t think prosecutors understand their Brady obligations,” Judge Friedman said. “Judges should not accept representations that, ‘We know our obligations and we’re meeting them.’”
Friedman went on to say that while the appellate standard might be whether the information is material, “it sure as hell shouldn’t be the standard the prosecutor applies.”
“That’s looking at it pretrial through the wrong end of the telescope,” he said, a stance with which Mikva seemed to agree.
Cary and Genson support going one step further: an open-file policy. And Judge St. Eve suggested the safest course of action is to ask the judge.
Mikva would also probably approve of at least one aspect of Maryland State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh’s conduct over the past few years in his pursuit of Baltimore Mayor Sheila A. Dixon, City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton and developers Ronald H. Lipscomb and John Paterakis. “I do not like…the prosecutor trying his case, and particularly tainting the jury pool, with a big press conference,” Mikva said, calling the prosecutor’s duty to inform the public “nonsense” given the presumptive openness of the courts. But, he admitted, “I’m not sure we can do anything about it.”
And as for the jury’s exposure to public information, all agreed that jurors conducting outside research is a big problem, especially in the age of the Internet, and that establishing a rapport with them that makes them feel invested in doing things right is the only way to check that tendency.
“Do you Twitter, Eddie?” Rollins quipped to his longtime rival.
“I don’t even know what that word means,” Genson responded to laughter.
What do you think these lawyers and judges would say about this year’s action in the City Hall cases?
– BRENDAN KEARNEY