By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Globe turns up the heat on Carmen Ortiz

Given The Boston Globe’s past favorable coverage of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, I’m heartened to see how aggressively the paper is covering her conduct in the investigation of the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 9.50.45 AMToday the Globe fronts a story by Shelley Murphy about some repulsive tweets posted by Ortiz’s husband, IBM executive Thomas Dolan, in which he defended his wife and lashed out against Swartz’s grieving parents. Dolan’s Twitter feed has since disappeared, but BuzzFeed posted what I can only hope is the worst of them Tuesday.

Murphy’s story follows an angry piece by Globe columnist Kevin Cullen on Tuesday. Cullen wrote:

The argument about whether prosecutors should have been insisting that Swartz, who had written openly and movingly about his struggle with depression, serve at least six months in prison is not an academic question. It is a question about proportionality and humanity, and on both fronts the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and the prosecutors who handled this case, Steve Heymann and Scott Garland, failed miserably.

For too long Ortiz has led a charmed existence, using and abusing the power of her office in order to burnish her law-and-order credentials. In 2011 The Boston Globe Magazine went so far as to name her its “Bostonian of the Year.”

Ortiz is not to blame for the suicide of a young man who had long struggled with depression. Nevertheless, her insistence that he serve prison time was absurd given the nature of his offense. Now we’ve lost a brilliant, creative thinker whose greatest contributions were yet to come.

Correction: Updated to fix Thomas Dolan’s name.

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  1. Nancy Gertner had a no-holds-barred critique of Ortiz on WBUR this morning. The interview with Gertner was done by David Boeri. Gertner is, and has always been, at heart a defense attorney, but the former judge makes a compelling case that Ortiz has gone too far. Said Gertner, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Margie Arons-Barron

  2. Brad Deltan

    “Ortiz is not to blame for the suicide of a young man who had long struggled with depression. ”

    Since when are you a psychologist? We don’t know that for sure one way or the other. Probably never will. In the meantime, in the spirit of Ortiz herself, I say we blame her, arrest her, and throw her in Gitmo. It’s a “proportional response.”

    Having been (falsely) accused of a crime and having my own trip through the criminal justice system that, fortunately, ended long before I was even charged…I can attest that having the cops think you broke the law is arguably the most stressful experience I’ve ever been through, and I’m a cancer survivor. The cloud that hangs over your life, for months on end as the wheels of justice slowly grind and you constantly stress over knowing you have virtually no control over your life…which could be ending as you know it at every step of the way…and having to hire a lawyer that you pray is good enough to let you keep your life, even as your life slowly (or quickly in many cases) bleeds away as legal fees add up…

    It’s hideous. I have a history of mild depression and I was ready to go on a murder-suicide binge more than once during that six month period. And like I said, my trip never even got to the charging point; my accuser failed to show to the initial hearing and everything was dismissed. Even the detective said he thought the whole thing was probably bogus.

    I can’t imagine what Swartz went through, with an overzealous prosecutor clearly gunning for his ass and showing no sign of being even slightly reasonable and no sign of any reasonable way out or ever getting on with his life again. And going on for months and months…or years and years? You could be Matthieu Ricard and still become suicidal.

  3. Tom Keating

    I can’t get over how everyone wants to nail Ortiz for Swartz’s suicide. He was severely depressed, his girlfriend could not get him out of bed. He had depression episodes before but this time, it finally killed him. End of story

  4. Joseph Rice

    I have been hearing a lot about this case (primarily on WBUR), and elsewhere, and don’t understand the Aaron Swartz love-fest from callers and commentators. From what I read and hear, this was deliberate “guerilla action” on his part, which makes a request for more severe punishment completely reasonable (and let’s face it, we all know would have been knocked down by 98% if found guilty). Is academic publishing a rip-off? Sure. But as they say, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

  5. Brad Deltan

    @Tom: if a suicidal man is standing on a subway platform waiting to jump in front of a train, it’s still a crime to push him.

    @Joseph: it’s more than little inappropriate to compare Swartz to the civil rights movement, but if a law is unjust then breaking that law is a part of civil disobedience as an agent for change. That said, I would agree then that Swartz probably screwed up in his execution of that disobedience: you need some people to take the heat with you to start a movement – you can’t do it alone. And yeah, you have to be ready, eager even, to go to prison for your beliefs as that’s what generates sympathy for you.

    @Everyone: Ortiz is getting a lot of flak for this because she’s got a history of going way too far as a prosecutor and showing questionable judgment, to put it mildly. Swartz was just the wake-up call to it. And an unavoidable side effect of such an emotional judgment on Ortiz being “the villain” is that her opposite must become “the hero,” hence the lovefest.

    • Joseph Rice

      I do agree with you that the more I listen to this it seems to be primarily a battle against Ortiz. I only became interested because I was curious as to why people who normally would seem serious are sounding like 14 year old girls posting to Justin Bieber’s Facebook page.
      But after listening to the discussion of “oppressive academic publishing” yesterday, I would hardly put it in the category of “unjust law”, but a system that may seem unfair, but that does have alternatives (and particularly amusing that he was involved with Reddit, which appears to rely a great deal on “unpaid” material from others as part of its business model, as well as sticking a copyright notice at the bottom of its page).

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