The Kansas City Star reports that federal prosecutors handling a case against a former local Democratic official have filed a motion seeking a court order which would preclude the defense from talking to the jury about the massive scandal over politicization of the prosecutorial function which has one of its most sordid centers in the Kansas City U.S. attorney’s office. Indeed, former U.S. Attorney Tom Graves has already provided a catalogue of abuses perpetrated by Justice Department officials into which the Shields case appears to fit perfectly.
“There is no proper reason to place such matters before the jury and the only reason the defendants would seek to do so is to impugn the integrity and motives of the career prosecutors who will present this case to the jury,” the government’s motion maintains.Defense attorneys have asserted in a prior court filing that the Department of Justice is in the “midst of the worst corruption scandal in its history.”
This raises a very difficult point which is likely to recur all around the country right now. Normally the discretion of a prosecutor is shielded from inquiry. That indeed is a fairly fundamental rule of our criminal justice process. But what does one do when a prosecutor’s judgment can quite fairly be suspected of being politically corrupted? That is certainly the case with Bradley Schlozman, the former U.S. Attorney in Kansas City who brought this case, and who is now busily evading demands for his testimony before a Senate committee. The paper trail around Schlozman and the accounts derived from investigators make clear that he is, to mince no words, a political hatchet man. So when he seeks to indict a local Democratic party official, is it fair for the defense to point to the smoke of political corruption about the prosecutor?
The traditional rule would support the prosecutor’s request for a gag. But fundamental considerations of justice would not. To be clear: the defense’s claims are true. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas City is embroiled in one of the most spectacular scandals in the history of the Republic, and it focuses on accusations—which at this point appear almost sure to be sustained – that the U.S. attorney abused his office for political purposes. Shouldn’t a jury consider these facts in arriving at a judgment? Would a conviction smell right if the defense were gagged so that the jury failed to learn of these facts? No.
But the simpler solution would be for an independent prosecutor to come in and reassess all of the questionable cases before they are allowed to proceed. In sum: this case has no business going to trial in the first place – not as things now stand in the case of Bradley Schlozman.