October 9, 2013

TITLES OF NOBILITY: Appeals Courts Give Misbehaving Prosecutors The Privilege Of Anonymity.

Last month, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a prosecutor in San Mateo County, Calif., committed “textbook” misconduct when she “knowingly elicited and then failed to correct false testimony” during an armed robbery trial. A judge from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also found misconduct in the case, but ruled it was a “harmless error” and upheld the conviction of the defendant, La Carl Martez Dow. The appeals court panel overturned that ruling, and Dow’s conviction.

But an important detail was missing from both those rulings — the prosecutor’s name, Jennifer Ow. At the time of Martez Dow’s conviction, she was an assistant district attorney for San Mateo county. She currently holds the same title in Nevada County, Calif.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal alleging misconduct by a federal prosecutor who made racially offensive remarks during a drug trial in Texas. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a separate opinion that excoriated the prosecutor, who, she wrote, “tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation.”

“It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century,” she wrote. “Such conduct diminishes the dignity of our criminal justice system and undermines respect for the rule of law. We expect the Government to seek justice, not to fan the flames of fear and prejudice.”

But Sotomayor didn’t name the prosecutor, either. And while her opinion attracted a fair amount of media attention, those initial accounts also failed to give the prosecutor’s name.

You can’t have anonymity and accountability. So, apparently, the courts don’t want accountability here.