Political Prosecutions Appear to be More Prevalent than Ever Before in America. Look No Further than our Local State Attorney.
By Jacob Engels
Last Friday, America was stunned to know that Rick Perry, Governor of America’s second largest state and a presumed frontrunner for the 2016 Presidential Election, was indicted by a Travis County (TX) grand jury.
The grand jury believed that Mr. Perry committed two felonies that could sentence him to jail for 5-99 years because he threatened to veto money for an anti-corruption unit until the disgraced DA would resign. She had caused quite a ruckus by getting a DUI, and then she made a scene by, among other things, threatening the arresting officers, demanding to speak to the sheriff, forcing herself to be restrained and generally being an ass.
See some video here.
Perry didn’t think it was great that a wild woman like this was in charge of prosecuting normal folks, so he threatened to withhold money. This, the grand jury in Texas believed, should prompt Rick Perry to spend the rest of his life in jail.
I have written before on about the terrifying activities coming out of Orange/Osceola County State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s office, but recent news tells us this is actually part of a much bigger story.
This weekend, I floated my thesis about the advent of political prosecution coming from primarily Democratic prosecutors against Republican politicians. The trend is pretty clear.
Republican Presidential Contenders Scott Walker, Chris Christe and now Scott Walker have all faced politically motivated investigations and in some case indictments in their respective states. Scott Walker actually filed suit in federal court to stop his harassment by prosecutors. Chris Christie faced down the Obama Administration Justice Department.
Perry faces this indictment from his efforts towards highly liberal District Attorney.
I was unable to find a single example of the reverse: of a conservative or even just a Republican prosecutor taking a liberal or democratic politician to indictment or investigation, but that is not to say it isn’t happening. If you are aware of one, I would like to hear from you and hear about it so I can present all sides fairly.
Locally, we have seen the openly liberal democrat Jeff Ashton, who defeated incumbent Lawson Lamar by running to his left in an “open” primary in 2012, lay in to numerous politicians. All those politicians have one thing in common: a Republican party registration.
Lawson was big on political prosecution, too, but he was more diverse. He indicted Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on multiple felony counts, which not surprisingly, were later dismissed.
Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Commissioners Scott Boyd, Fred Brummer, John Martinez and Jennifer Thompson all agreed to pay a $500 fine to avoid further prosecution for their destruction of public records. All are registered Republicans. Ashton, in fact, has never investigated, much less prosecuted or convicted, a fellow Democrat of anything involving the “public trust.”
Ashton got some decent press for his “tough on… ahem, corruption?” stance and ramped up his game, this time charging a Rick Scott appointee with bribery (even though no money was allegedly offered or accepted, and it is still not clear exactly what was allegedly the subject of the bribe) and Sunshine Law Violations.
He threatened to charge Rick Scott appointee Marco Pena with felony destruction of public records (in the investigative report they claim to have probable cause that Pena committed a felony), which not surprisingly led to Pena pleading guilty to misdemeanor Sunshine Law charges even though there is no example of him actually breaking the Sunshine Law.
He charged FDOT staffer Rebekah Hammond with Sunshine Law violations, but even your most biased observer would tell you that she was charged because the state attorney did not like her boyfriend, former conservative Republican state Representative Chris Dorworth. The state dismissed that case without explanation, stating only that Ms. Hammond would now be free to testify against Mr. Dorworth and Mr. Batterson, only to have her attorney, Mark O’Meara (of George Zimmerman fame) come out and say no deal had been cut and no conversation had taken place before the charges being dropped.
And that leaves Mr. Dorworth. If convicted, Chris Dorworth would be the first private citizen in the 37 year history of the Sunshine Law to be convicted as a private citizen. Every single person I have spoken to expresses reservation about Dorworth’s indictment, with even his most ardent opponent lamenting things like “it really sounds like he was indicted for lobbying, which is about as fundamental a right as we have in America.”
Dorworth and Batterson have both refused to waive speedy trial, a fairly commonplace procedure that many believe indicates the strength of their respective cases. This means Ashton will either put up or be humiliated by whiffing repeatedly on flagrantly political prosecutions. Batterson faces trial on bribery charges Monday, August 25th.
“This stinks, but they started It”
Democrats, for their part, seem largely non-plussed by all the political prosecution taking place nationally and over Florida.
One prominent Democrat said “The last thing we need going in to 2016 is Rick Perry being martyred. Texas is a successful state, and it isn’t hard for people to run for president touting their successes there. We could have had a field day exposing his bizarre decision to VETO ANTI-CORRUPTION MONEY to punish a drunk district attorney, versus, say applying pressure on her to resign and using the bully pulpit to talk about the need for prosecutorial standards, but instead he will clearly beat those charges and ride into the presidential cycle with a ton of momentum. This is not helpful, or smart, or sane, or defensible.”
David Axelrod and a litany of other democrats agree with him. He said, via twitter, that this was a bad indictment and offered an implied caution to democrats to steer clear of it.
Alan Dershowitz, the famed liberal Harvard Law professor, called it outrageous.
All the Democrats I spoke to mentioned that the first great political prosecution of our lifetime was the Ken Starr prosecution of Bill Clinton. Clinton, they remember, was being investigated for the Whitewater land deal but wound up impeached because an intern performed oral sex on him a few times.
Clinton, you may remember, was asked while under oath if he had a relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He said no. The prosecutor indicted him, and tape of him positing a pretty reasonable question: “does is mean right now or does is mean at any point in history? It depends on what your definition of is is.” Clinton was ridiculed for that distinction, but you have to admit it is a valid question.
This is where things get interesting. Prosecutors enjoy such widespread immunity that it is really impossible to punish them, and it is unlikely that anybody, Republican or Democrat, would change that to any noticeable degree. The solution, therefore, should be legislation setting stricter standards on the prosecutors as they set out to indict on political grounds.
A local Republican political operative offered some disturbing hypotheticals:
“…the trend is disturbing, but there is no really credible evidence that there is some liberal democrat conspiracy to do this. It just isn’t practical. But imagine the alarms that will sound if a rogue US attorney or state prosecutor indicted Barack Obama for vetoing something.
That said, this is clearly a tool in the toolbox for the more politically oriented state attorneys these days, and if nothing is done it will continue. It will absolutely NOT remain a one-sided affair.
Andy Gardiner, the incoming senate president, is an avowed social conservative. Is it really hard for anyone to imagine Amendment 2 getting passed and Senator Gardiner forcing the senate to pass the most restrictive language possible in the implementation of widespread medical marijuana? What stops Jeff Ashton from indicting the senate president for failing to comply with the will of the voters because it hurts senior citizens with arthritis or cancer? There is no chance in hell that he gets convicted, but does he deserve a mugshot, and 100 terrible headlines, for doing something he believed was right?
Steve Crisafulli, the incoming house speaker, will have an inordinate amount of control over budgeting procedures. What if the senate budget offer on education is higher, but the house refuses to move, and the state attorney in a county where teachers unions are VERY powerful… say Broward or Palm Beach or Miami-Dade counties, indicts him for improperly funding education, which is also in the constitution?
The possibilities of this happening to Rick Scott are endless, but imagine what could happen if Charlie wins? He has already said he will elevate the minimum wage by executive order. What stops Attorney General Pam Bondi from convening a statewide grand jury and indicting him for superseding his authority as governor?
Of course, the state attorneys and attorneys general would lament that it wasn’t actually them doing the indicting, but a grand jury. Serious question… is that any more difficult to envision that what happened to Rick Perry or the county commissioners in Orange County or the Scott political appointees or private citizens by Jeff Ashton?
What about that Republican train wreck up in Jacksonville, Angela Corey, makes you think she wouldn’t participate in this? The WORST thing that can happen to America, and to Florida and to all the citizens of both, is to have a tit for tat game of prosecutors indicting elected officials they disagree with about politically.
So what to do?
Perhaps the legislature should spell out added standards for politically oriented prosecutions like unanimous recommendations by the grand jury, or purely civil remedies for actions taken while in office. I am not a lawmaker so I don’t know, but I do know that if they do nothing, the egg will be on them.
Perhaps they should create a punishment mechanism for failed prosecutions. Perhaps they should keep them sealed and prohibit the disbursement of any mugshots, a necessity for any good scandal, until a conviction takes place.
Perhaps a public or private official accused of criminal wrongdoing in a political context should be able to request and receive a transfer of charges to another, presumably more impartial, prosecutor’s office. Seriously… how long until “a ham sandwich” is replaced with “a politician of the opposite political persuasion” in the American idiomatic landscape?
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org