Shocking abuses are occurring throughout the nation's legal system, according to authoritative recent national news reports.
To probe deeper, I joined New Orleans radio station personality Garland Robinette, right, and Louisiana civil rights lawyer Sam Dalton Aug. 6 for an hour-long discussion on WWL AM/FM's late-morning Think Tank show. The column below summarizes these news reports and provides my three-step action guide for reform.
Robinette and his station — a high-rated broadcaster and with a reach of five states — have set an outstanding example for aggressive news coverage on law enforcement issues. In that spirit, we addressed the specifics in these recent scandals:
One is a Reuters report that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been covering up a secret surveillance program whereby agents and prosecutors would falsify evidence of secret surveillance, thereby deceiving federal judges and defendants. That is momentous. If anyone lies to a federal law enforcement official, much less to a judge, the result in an honest system could bring a felony charge carrying a five-year penalty for each falsehood. It should be big news if the government itself has a secret plan to lie to judges about the potential scope of illegal surveillance. Aside from being wrong, it prevents an effective defense.
The closest thing I've seen so far to a major follow up is, strangely enough, that President Obama appeared Aug. 6 on NBC's Tonight Show.
Among other comments, the relaxed-looking president contradicted reports from recent years that the National Security Agency undertakes massive surveillance of Americans with few warrants aside from those granted en masse by the secret federal surveillance court using non-public law and evidence.
In a softball interview by NBC comedian-host Jay Leno, the president denied the compelling evidence elsewhere that NSA can monitor the content of Americans' emails, phone calls, and social media communications.
As I describe in my new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, the president and other government spokespeople are playing word games to deny evidence provided by a number of courageous whistleblowers, including former NSA employee Edward Snowden. The evidence also is summarized in my recent column here, Former NSA Execs Warn Americans Against Loss of Political and Privacy Rights.
In a separate scandal we discussed on WWL, USA Today reported that the FBI granted permission for its informants to commit 5,600 crimes in a single year. That is a troublesome practice, especially in view of the murder conspiracy trial unfolding now in Boston's federal court regarding former FBI informant James “Whitey” Bulger, who is accused of 19 murders.
More than two decades ago, I was law clerk to the Boston federal judge, Mark Wolf, right, who later broke open the case by investigating his suspicions of wrongdoing by awarded the FBI and federal prosecutors. The judge's initiative resulted in murder charges against two successive heads of FBI's Boston office for tolerating crimes by Bulger and his gang. In my view, a certain amount of tolerance for “authorized” crimes is reasonable in order to build cases against bigger criminals. The issue is whether overall process is being rigorously overseen to prevent abuses.
Finally, Huffington Post headlined The Untouchables: America's Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them. Columnist Radley Balko showed gross misconduct nationwide. In one case, John Thompson of New Orleans spent 18 years in prison on a murder charge even though prosecutors withheld evidence that could have acquitted him from a robbery charge critical to the conviction.