Why should we insist on keeping politics out of prosecution? The Huffington Post recently linked to a story in Denver's Westword magazine that clearly demonstrated some pitfalls to mixing politics with justice. The cover story in the October 18-24 edition of last week's Westword concerned the District Attorney's race in Colorado's 18th Judicial District and how it might be affected by the Aurora theater shooting case. Aurora is the largest city in that District and the winner of the election will be responsible for the prosecution of the case. Alan Prendergast, the author of the story, wrote a blog the next day and explored the question of whether the Republican candidate, George Brauchler, had exploited the case for political gain. (I'm Ethan Feldman, the Democratic candidate). The particular potential exploitation cited was a post on Brauchler's Facebook page.
On Octoberr 18, someone with the screen name "George Brauchler for DA" posted a picture of the alleged theater shooter and shared a link to a Washington Times article with a comment that "Articles about our race have been written from coast to coast...." On that same day, someone posted a comment to that posting that said, "George, we need you in office now!" Who posted that? Someone with the screen name "George Brauchler for DA". Well, Brauchler admitted to the Westword writer, Alan Prendergast, that he himself did the original posting of the picture, link, and first comment. But he denied posting the exhortation that he was needed in office "now!" Brauchler claimed that he didn't know who posted that comment and he didn't know how a supporter could have posted the comment, stating, incredibly, that the comment was "vague" and he had deleted it.
Why do we want to keep politics out of the DA's Office?
First, to avoid the appearance that important decisions are being made for reasons other than seeking justice.
Second, to avoid actually making decisions on the wrong basis.
Third, if politics creeps into cases, the prosecution of the cases will inevitably be harmed. The most obvious way is that the defense in a case can argue that the prosecution is proceeding either as a fulfillment of a campaign promise or to gain a personal political advantage for the prosecutor.
Without avoidance of these hazards, confidence in the Justice System and more particularly in the DA's Office will be eroded. In the case of the DA's office, erosion might as well be an earthquake. Just one political decision in one prosecution will compromise confidence and credibility in all future prosecutions. Why would anyone thereafter believe that all future prosecution decisions are not based on political motives? Thus, if a candidate for the Office of District Attorney is willing to use a specific case for political gain in a campaign, does it not follow that this will be the pattern and effect if that candidate wins the election? In fact, has the candidate already compromised his ability to be trusted in office once he uses a case for political gain in the campaign? Is this not magnified to the nth degree when the candidate not only uses a case for political gain but refuses to accept responsibility?
There is no Republican instruction manual on how to be a DA. There is no Democratic instruction manual on how to be a DA. District Attorneys must follow the evidence and follow the law vigorously yet fairly.
Those of us who have been privileged to serve in the Criminal Justice System have special obligations. We must preserve the sacred trust between the system and the citizenry by conducting ourselves openly and honestly, without fear or favor. We must not undermine the cause of justice in pursuit of our own petty ambitions. We must not sacrifice respect and dignity for victims on the altar of politics. We should each want our legacy to be a respected and vibrant Criminal Justice System.