Saturday, March 31, 2018

#MeToo For Executioners

Thank goodness for the crusading New York Times. Unfortunately, though, the Gray Lady sometimes gets her priorities mixed up, and buries the lede. 

Hypocrite that I am, I'll be burying the lede myself, but only to show you how the Paper of Record buries the lede. But here's a hint: it's a class thing, and an identity politics thing. The Times places the interests of the professional class above the rights of the downtrodden. Please bear with me for a minute and read on....

 As a result of inquiries related to the newspaper's #MeToo investigations, the lawyer in charge of the Justice Department's death penalty unit has been removed from his post and transferred on grounds of sexual harassment. This comes after he spent eight years making life and death decisions, despite never having personally prosecuted, or even sat through, a death penalty case in open court. That's the lede, and it gives only the slightest hint of the real blockbuster yet to come. Pretty compelling so far, though.

In its article titillatingly headlined "At Justice Dept, Claims of Gender Bias and Groping," the paper also reports that D.O.J. lawyers immediately complained when the Obama administration appointed Kevin Carwile to the job in 2010, because as tradition dictates, only a prosecutor who has actually looked a convicted criminal right in the eye and then eloquently begged for his death in front of a jury can be qualified to later push a lot of papers around as the leader of the Capital Case Division.

This is despite D.O.J.'s own official policy statement, in which the division's lawyers merely "refer" cases to the Attorney General and don't ever prosecute them personally. That's the job of the president-appointed U.,S attorneys, who rely on the career D.O.J. lawyers to do most or all of the vetting. From the Department's website:
The Capital Case Section is primarily responsible for assisting the Attorney General's Review Committee on Capital Cases (AGRCCC) in its evaluation of capital cases submitted by United States Attorneys to the Department of Justice for review and recommendation to the Attorney General concerning the appropriateness of seeking the death penalty.  The CCS conducts a preliminary analysis of all cases in which the United States Attorney charges a defendant with a crime punishable by death and advises the AGRCCC of the factual and legal issues that are relevant to the Committee's recommendation to the Attorney General whether to seek the death penalty.
In addition to providing the expertise and analysis necessary to complete the preliminary capital review process, CCS attorneys provide legal, procedural, and technical assistance to United States Attorneys in capital investigations and prosecutions; develop policies and procedures for Federal capital prosecutions; provide training for Federal capital litigators; draft legal memoranda and pleadings; maintain a resource library on capital issues; and provide assistance in capital trials, appeals, and post-conviction litigation.
  So despite all the office kvetching back in 2010, Carwile's ultimate (transferable) offense was not that somebody higher up in the D.O.J. food chain finally got wind of his lack of prior direct death advocacy experience. His offense was that he "promoted gender bias and a sexualized environment" in the workplace. He was transferred out of the division when the Times started asking questions about the complaints against him.

Katie Benner writes in the Times:
 He fostered a culture of favoritism and sexism, according to court records, internal documents and interviews with more than a half-dozen current and former employees. In one episode, his deputy groped an administrative assistant at a bar in view of their colleagues, according to some who were present. Mr. Carwile asked the witnesses to keep it secret, one said.

 Employees of the unit, the capital case section, complained about the issues to Justice Department officials, the inspector general and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at least 12 times. Some allegations went unaddressed for years. In cases that were investigated, the accusers were never told what investigators found. Both Mr. Carwile and his deputy, Gwynn Kinsey, remained Justice Department employees despite the inquiries.

 Six employees, including the administrative assistant, said they eventually left the section or quit government altogether in part because of the toxic climate. A defendant in Indiana has asked in court for the government to drop the death penalty recommendation in his case because of the unit’s emerging conduct issues.
It must be so hard discussing which arcane mixture of toxic chemicals can be used to kill convicts, when the decision-making environment itself is so toxic.  I am sure that 61 federal death row inmates are breathing a sigh of relief today as they learn that at least one Chief Proxy Executioner is gone, and that a more "woke" bureaucrat might soon be taking his place. Chances are that many, if not most, of them will die in prison of natural causes before their sentences are carried out anyway.

The mention of the "Indiana defendant" is, to be fair, something of a teaser for the buried lede. More about that later.

The relief must be especially poignant because, as the Times uncritically writes, President Trump now wants to make drug dealers (hear the dog-whistle: Mexicans and other foreigners) subject to the death penalty. So the capital punishment unit is therefore expected to balloon in funding, staffing, power, and stature. Whether this new improved unit will adhere to all the legal niceties decreed by Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno after the federal death penalty was revived in 1988 remains to be seen, however. She was very keen on avoiding any appearance of racial discrimination by lawyers recommending an execution. Trump isn't really all that into appearances.

Ironically, reports the Times, Carwile's promotion eight years ago to the Capital Case Division was done as a direct result of his carelessly misleading the government over the "Fast and Furious" gun-running scandal that got Attorney General Eric Holder hauled before Congress and wrist-slapped. At the time, it was actually considered more of a demotion for Carwile (who'd previously headed the high-profile Gangs Division) than a promotion. After all, federal capital punishment cases are relatively rare, and are usually recommended for only the most egregious crimes, such as the Timothy McVeigh Oklahoma City bombing case and more recently, for the Boston Marathon bombing case and the Dylann Roof church massacre.

The Times doesn't explicitly state that it was Eric Holder who ignored the sexual abuse complaints, at least some of which were made during his tenure. But it does report that despite his appointee's alleged bad behavior, Holder had awarded him a "management excellence" prize, ostensibly for a record increase in the division's death penalty referrals. Carwile apparently took his job very seriously.

But of course, that creepy enthusiasm for executing more and more people is not why he lost his job. 

One female attorney complained that he'd sent her all the way to California to work a death penalty case, even though she lives in Connecticut. Her male colleagues, she said, were not similarly assigned to cases far from their own homes and families.

Another employee, a male, complained that Carwile took him to a restaurant staffed by "scantily clad waitresses," which made him very uncomfortable while discussing death penalty cases.

Buried Lede Alert!

It's only after 23 paragraphs and details about the numerous sexual harassment claims that the Times finally, but only partially, relinquishes its #MeToo narrative and arrives at what should be the gist of the story. 

Admittedly, these are far less salacious incidents of legal malfeasance than the alcohol-fueled groping of women described at division happy hours in local watering holes. They include lost or destroyed boxes of evidence, lawyers who quit for greener pastures right in the middle of arguing a death penalty case, and defendants who were interviewed without the presence of "law enforcement officers" and other witnesses whose job it is to take notes and to later act as trial witnesses. But far from voicing concern for the rights of suspects and prisoners, they complain in their court papers and other documents  that the government's cases are jeopardized by all the ineptitude and sniping from people other than themselves. This carelessness, complainants say, has had the awful result of tainting death penalty prosecutions and ultimately, messing with the Division's improved capital punishment statistics down the road.

A state-sponsored death, apparently, is a terrible thing to waste. This is the lede that the New York Times buried in order to advance the #MeToo agenda and narrative.
Rather than accentuating the rampant legal malpractice by federal prosecutors that harms the defendants facing the death penalty, (or any draconian sentence, for that matter) the Times also seems more concerned about the harmful sexist treatment of career death penalty attorneys. One female lawyer in the division actually filed papers claiming that Carwile took more seriously a male colleague's "gluten intolerance" than he did her recent surgery, and required her to travel. It is "insensitive," she said, to force ailing female legal execution advocates to make long trips, while male death penalty advocates are allowed to malinger behind their desks. 

The Times concludes:
Current and former employees said the public understandably expects death penalty cases to be handled with integrity. As Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump push for more capital punishments, the section’s history, they say, could work against the Justice Department.
In other words, the bureaucracy is more important than the justice it claims to mete out, especially the justice meted out in the death chamber. No mention is made of the due process rights of the accused or convicted people moldering in their prison cells or on death row as they await their trials and appeals. The implication about the aforementioned Indiana defendant is that his lawyer is taking advantage of an unfortunate personnel situation, and nothing more. The implication is that Capital Punishment is spread way too thin, that it's being spoiled by sexism, that the solution is simply a change in qualified personnel, and that the damage done to high-powered careers always trumps the physical deaths of defendants who may or may not be guilty of what the government accuses them of doing. And naturally, more money will be needed to help root out the overwork and the toxicity, and attract more qualified legal personnel who will not be inconvenienced or exhausted by long-distance travel.

Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are terrible things, to be sure. But that a newspaper gives these wrongs more import than the scandal of federal prosecutors manufacturing, and often bungling, an ever-increasing number of death penalty referrals is downright grotesque. This enthusiasm for ever more capital punishment is only mentioned in the Times article as it pertains to the sexual harassment cases, and then almost as a side issue.

Just as more people are refusing to tolerate misogyny, more people are refusing to tolerate the cruel and unusual punishment that is the death penalty, whether lawyers advocate for it with "integrity" or not. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans now oppose capital punishment, and this opposition is at its highest among young people.

Most of it stems from the publicity on several recent botched lethal injections, as well as more death row inmates being exonerated as a result of DNA testing. And despite the Department of Justice actually rewarding its recently demoted death penalty expert for referring more such cases for prosecution, the actual total number of executions in this country has gone down, as have convicts sentenced to death.

Capital punishment in the United States might finally be reaching its own #Time's Up moment. Somebody ought to alert the editors at the Times, not to mention the legislators being prodded to inflate the Capital Cases Division with more proxy executioners, support personnel and of course, scads more money.

Should our congressional appropriators divert from type and experience a smidgen of doubt over the funding of America's myriad death squads, they will no doubt turn to conservative role model Joseph de Maistre and a book that might as well be re-titled "Executions For Dummies." 
"Just as it is possible that we are in error when we accuse human justice of sparing a guilty man, because the one we regard as such is not really guilty, on the other side it is equally possible that a man tortured for a crime he did not commit really merited punishment for an absolutely unknown crime."
This is exactly how the pathocrats sleep at night.

No comments: