Opinion: There's No Justice In U.S. Attorney's Press Releases

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Norm Pattis

I don't know about you, but I'm plenty sick, and plenty tired, or reading rehashed public relations press releases circulated by the U.S. Attorney's Office and then reprinted in one form or another in the mainstream press. My tax dollars are hard at work paying the office shill to chest-thump about the doings at Justice.

Does a defendant plead guilty? Within moments, a release is generated, together with self-congratulatory gibberish from whomsoever happens to occupy the top slot in the office. Just this week, Acting U.S. Attorney Deidre Daly was reported, in a release, to have said this of two men who pleaded guilty to providing Internet support to terrorists: "They acknowledged that they solicited funds, recruited personnel and provided additional support for acts of terror, including efforts based out of the United States and solicitations for support that were specifically targeted at U.S. residents." Odds are, the words were written for her.

Most offensive are the press conferences the office holds when a new arrest takes place. Several years ago, I stood in a courtroom in New Haven, awaiting a chance to read the sealed indictment that landed my client in custody. At the same moment, the U.S. Attorney was doing justice in front of television cameras in the office next door, discussing the allegations against my client as though he were already convicted.

Connecticut's United States Attorney's office maintains a full-time public relations man whose job it is to promote favorable coverage of the state's federal prosecutors. His name is Tom Carson. You will find him lurking from time to time in the gallery of a courtroom during an ongoing trial, chatting up reporters to make sure the next day's news has just the right spin. And if you can't catch him in court, you'll find him on the office's webpage.

Imagine the furor that would ensue if the federal Public Defender's Office had a similar shill working the courtroom and the press.

"Federal dragnet over-reaches in bid to stop drug gang," the release might read. "As has happened on so many other occasions, federal agents with guns drawn raided dozens of homes in the pre-dawn hours today to take into custody as many people as they could associate with what the feds call the 'Bad, Bad Boys Club.' The indiscriminate arrest of hapless addict and hardened criminal is further proof, if such proof were needed, that the war on drugs is out of control."

Or imagine this release: "Seventy federal agents in bullet-proof jackets and full-raid gear executed a search warrant this week on the ABC company. Were the agents really worried that the documents would shoot back?"

Or how about this one: "Federal prosecutors once again tampered with defense witnesses, corralling subpoenaed witnesses in the courthouse hallway to warn them that if they testified consistently with the secret grand jury testimony they previously gave they might be charged with perjury. The federal defender's office demands an investigation of obstruction of justice."

The federal defenders won't resort to this sort of publicity campaign. Why, if they started responding to the prosecution's press releases with releases all their own, there's little doubt the prosecution would be calling for sanctions. We're not supposed to try our cases in the press, right? That might influence jurors, right? Justice isn't served by this sort of showmanship, right?

A press flunky for the U.S. Attorney's Office is offensive. The office reports the conviction of a defendant without even acknowledging what the defense had to say. Reading the releases is like looking at bad propaganda; that the state's news media sucks this garbage up and reprints it as news is a sad commentary on the times.

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