The Associated Press reports that U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder, as a follow up to his disclosure of misconduct in the trial of former Alaska U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, provided the following message to federal prosecutors:
“Your job as assistant U. S. attorneys is not to convict people. Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to do justice. Your job is in every case, every decision that you make, to do the right thing.”
We believe the witch hunt concerning former county commissioners Dick Shellenberger, Molly Henderson and Pete Shaub was an example of then district attorney Donald Totaro (now a judge) struggling for almost a year to obtain a grand jury indictment against innocent commissioners while President Judge Louis Farina allowed the investigation, each time it stalled, to jump to new and baseless accusations in an attempt to find some plausible charge.
Ultimately, the commissioners reluctantly pled guilty to a minor violation of the Sunshine Act in order to put the year long battle behind them. Then the Lancaster Newspapers politically assassinated its convention center adversaries by reporting the matter as though the commissioners had committed the crime of the century.
As Holder implies, a district attorney should equally eager to protect the innocent as to prosecute the guilty. A judge’s obligation is to assure that the grand jury will only be utilized under proper conditions—not to let the grand jury hang as a sword over the heads of honorable elected officials for over a year.
Misconduct from prosecutors and judges against our elected officials is not only an offense against the officials themselves but against the public who elected them.