Fighting back against dubious prosecutions

In my latest for the Guardian, I examine friend of Media Nation Harvey Silverglate‘s new book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.” And I point out that the themes Silverglate explores can be seen in some dubious prosecutions of recent vintage — including that of former Massachusetts House speaker Sal DiMasi, now fighting for the right to be represented by the lawyer of his choice.

12 thoughts on “Fighting back against dubious prosecutions

  1. Dan Farnkoff

    Poor, poor Sal. If this was the 1920’s, he and Diane Wilkerson would have been left alone, just like James Michael Curley was. But wait- Curley was prosecuted, wasn’t he? Silvergate’s book sounds like a how-to manual for getting away with white-collar crime. Just what we need right now.

  2. Aaron Read

    I think Mr. Farnkoff touches on a larger issue that I’m not sure if Silvergate does or not: the problem is not prosecutorial misconduct, per se. The problem is that “the law” (in the royal sense) has gotten increasingly disconnected from reality.

    Shooting from the hip, I would opine the reason for that is that is the incredible inequality of class that exists in America today. I’m not sure it is either physically or morally possible to apply one standard of law to:

    * A poverty-stricken, junior-high-dropout, meth addict.

    * Joe Normanrockwell with a white-collar job, a mortgage in the suburbs, two kids and a dog.

    * Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and all the other uber-billionaires.

    These three groups of class might as well be living on different planets, yet we…almost laughably…suggest that they are all “equal under the law” when it’s quite plain that they are not.

    Of course, having multiple standards of law just invites further inequality. So what’s the solution?

    I hate to sound like a bleeding-heart liberal, but I do wonder if the only real solution here is to force some moderation into the class inequality issue. Drag both extremes back to a more reasonable centerpoint.

    To put another spin on this (and remember that I’m an atheist) let’s not forget that the fundamental underpinnings of most US law are grounded in Christian morality. That same morality includes a subset about giving away material goods to help others as a means of spiritual reward. Ergo, is it any surprise that most of the population views the massive material wealth and/or power of people like high-level politicians or billionaires with the feeling that there simply MUST be something criminal going on? Of course they do – the principles our laws are based on says exactly that. And going one step further, why should be surprised that an incredibly widespread belief like that has been gradually, and increasingly, influenced the actions of prosecutors of the law? And that, in turn, prosecutors have helped adapt the mechanics of the law to reflect the spirit of the law, which – again – is rooted in Christian morality…rightly or wrongly.

  3. MarkB

    You put the word “innocent” in the same paragraph with “Massachusetts House Speaker?” And you didn’t get hit by lightning?

  4. I agree with Dan F.

    Dan K., I know Sal is your anti-casino hero, but how can you defend him or claim his prosecution is dubious? (or is that just Mr. Silverglate’s opinion?)

    DiMasi was quoted saying something like “We’re finally getting some of that business around here.” referring to a bribe from Cognos.

  5. Harrybosch

    “. . . is it any surprise that most of the population views the massive material wealth and/or power of people like high-level politicians or billionaires with the feeling that there simply MUST be something criminal going on?”

    I submit that just the opposite is true. For example, most folks don’t seem to mind this past decades huge tax cuts for the wealthy, because most of us believe (naively) that SOMEDAY it will be us. Recall the impact of Obama’s tax increases on Joe the Plumber’s phantom business, and all of those folks who supported him.

  6. lkcape

    One quick question, Dan, if Mr. Silvergate is so sure of his thesis, why, then is he not heavily engaged in the legal defense of these poor, mistreated innocents?

    Could it be that Mr. Silvergate is more interested in selling his book than anything else?

    I know that you have a love affair with him, but you should, at least, offer something more than “Yes, Oh Worshipful Master” as a comment.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Ikcape: Many if not most of the people Silverglate writes about are former clients who have given him permission to tell their stories. Why don’t you read his book? I recommend it.

  7. lkcape

    If the local library finds it captivating enough to put it on their shelves, I just might.

    I tend not to pay for reading propaganda.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Ikcape: How do you know it’s propaganda? What is your evidence? What examples can you offer, drawn not from my column but from Silverglate?

  8. lkcape

    Mr. Silvergate’s success rate in pressing his case before the courts!

    Dead giveaway.

    Your fawning review was… well…a fawning review.

    BTW, several of your examples have yet to be adjudicated, so the implication that Mr. Silvergate has had his view validated in those cases is erroneous.

  9. Steve Stein

    lkcape – if you’re around the Boston suburbs you’re in luck. In the Minuteman library system Ashland, Cambridge, Needham, Newton and Sudbury libraries all carry Silverglate’s book. You’ll have to reserve it – all copies are out now.

  10. lkcape

    Again, Mr. Silverman’s success rate, or distinct lack thereof, at getting his thesis accepted by the courts puts him well out of the mainstream of things legal.

    After all, it is not whether he can argue effectively from a strained premise, it is whether or not the legal system accepts his contention.

Comments are closed.