In a recent Huffington Post piece, titled The Trump Administration’s Treatment Of Law Enforcement Professionals and The Criminal Justice System Is Alarming, alum and PCJI Board Member John Bandler critiques the administration’s treatment of the law enforcement community.
The adversarial system may be the best way for a society to adjudicate criminal charges to a result that will warrant public trust. But sometimes it feels like the US culture of adversarialness is just that – a pervasive method of dealing with everything that comes our way, and not simply in the courtroom. Our current political scene is certainly a reflection of that, as is the political gridlock.
A recent op-ed in the New York Times, titled President Obama’s Department of Injustice by Alec Karakatsanis, raises the question of whether our historical reliance on adversarialness – its intentional use for a good societal purpose – may have become reflexive, or unthinking, or may have simply gone too far.
On a similar topic, another example of cultural over-reaction, take a moment to view the July 26th episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, in which Mr. Oliver addresses the phenomenon of mandatory minimum sentencing and President Obama’s recent grants (and denials) of clemency to some low level offenders serving mandatory minimums. In doing so, he “explains why we treat some turkeys better than most low-level offenders.”
POST WRITTEN BY: John A. Vitagliano (’17), J.D. Pace Law School
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara has criticized New York’s political culture, where
deal-making has long been done in Albany by ‘three men in a room’ (the governor, the State Assembly speaker and the State Senate majority leader), who work in secret and without accountability to decide [the states] most vital issues.
On May 12, 2015 New York Senate Majority Leader, Republican Dean Skelos vacated his post amidst a criminal complaint filed for federal charges involving fraud, extortion, and solicitation of gratuities and bribes.
On January 21, 2015, the Former Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver, Assemblyman since 1976 and continuously re-elected speaker since 1994, was indicted on several criminal corruption charges using his political power and influence that netted him $4 million in payoffs.
Mr. Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was accussed of steering real estate developers to a law firm that paid him kickbacks. He was also accused of funneling state grants to a doctor who referred claims to a second law firm that employed Mr. Silver and paid him fees for referring clients.
Mr. Silver has resigned from his position as Speaker and is currently awaiting trial to defend himself against the federal charges. The exposure of Mr. Silver’s conduct brings Governor Andrew Cuomo’s termination of the Moreland Commission back into the spotlight. The anti-corruption panel was set up to investigate public corruption in New York State and was disbanded after it began looking at the behaviors of certain law firms tied to the governor and Mr. Silver.
Over the past few years, the New York Legislature has been infested with corruption and political misconduct. On February 5, 2015, Mr. Silver and former New York State Assemblyman, Vito Lopez, settled a sexual harassment lawsuit for $580,000 using state funds to pay over 90% of the settlement. William Scarborough resigned from his position and plead guilty to corruption charges in April 2015. Bronx politician Nelson Castro was sentenced to two years probation and 250 community service hours after pleading guilty for lying to investigators. Due to Castro’s cooperation, Eric Stevenson was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for accepting bribes from businessmen in May 2014. In October 2014 Gabriela Rosa was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty for making false statements in a bankruptcy petition and lying to authorities regarding her marital relationship. William Boyland was convicted in March 2014 on federal charges including bribery, extortion and mail fraud. In February 2014, Malcolm Smith was found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery, and extortion when he attempted to scheme his way onto the ballot. In July 2014 Thomas Libous was indicted for lying to federal agents in regards to abusing his political influence in order to obtain a job for his son. In 2013 Pedro Espada Jr. was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a health care network he ran. In 2012 Nick Spano, after pleading guilty to a felony for filing fraudulent tax returns, served one year in prison.
Amidst all the public corruption and political misconduct in New York State, the question becomes – can we trust our elected officials? Regardless of political party, can the citizens of New York rely on politicians to uphold their offices with honesty and integrity? Do we really know if our representatives have the public’s interest at heart when they are conducting “business” behind closed doors? Given the recent developments the answer appears to be NO.
The apparent corruption in New York may engender a strong grass-roots movement for a State Constitutional Convention to assist in revamping our political system. Every 20 years, the New York Constitution mandates voters to decide whether to hold a statewide convention to change or amend the constitution and the government. The 2017 ballot will ask the voters if a State Constitutional Convention should be held. Most politicians oppose a constitutional convention because
it is feared that a convention might take steps to diminish the legislature’s institutional power or incumbents’ chances of re-election.
Citizens of the state with honest motives, ethics and morals would have the opportunity to run for delegates for the Convention to redesign the New York State government. While many obstacles would be met if a Constitutional Convention were to take place, it is a legitimate opportunity to rid the state of corrupt politicians.
Action should be taken in order to change the New York political system and restore the integrity of the State. If nothing changes, nothing changes; public corruption and political misconduct will continue to run rampant within our state and voters will only have themselves to blame.
POST WRITTEN BY: Prof. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School.
On September 2, 2014, the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, issued a public statement in which she rejected as “baseless” criticisms in “[r]ecent media reports and commentaries,” which she said “have erroneously suggested that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has persistently avoided opening an investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza due to political pressure.”
The Prosecutor stated that these criticisms were without merit because of the Rome Statute’s jurisdictional requirements. The Prosecutor did not (and could not, without investigation) argue that any alleged crimes committed by any participant in the conflict failed to meet the Statute’s subject matter requirements for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. The problem, rather, was the Statute’s other jurisdictional requirements that authorize the ICC to open an investigation only with respect to crimes alleged to have occurred on the territory of a State or by nationals of a State that has ratified the Rome Statute or has accepted ICC jurisdiction by an ad hoc declaration pursuant to Article 12(3) of the Statute. At this time, neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority is a State Party to the Rome Statute, nor has either as yet filed an Article 12(3) declaration. (Palestine did file such a declaration in 2009, but it was found invalid for lack of standing.)
The Prosecutor noted that her Office after examination has concluded that because of UN General Assembly Res. 67/19 issued on November 29, 2012 upgrading Palestine’s status to a “non-member observer State,” Palestine could now accede to the Rome Statute or lodge an Article 12(3) declaration conferring jurisdiction to the ICC over the situation in Gaza. But it has not yet done so.
The Prosecutor in her statement referred to an additional mechanism through which the ICC could obtain authorization to investigate the situation in Gaza. Pursuant to Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute, the UN Security Council can act under its Chapter VII powers to authorize an ICC investigation, even if the alleged crimes were not committed on the territory of a State Party or by a national of a State Party. The Security Council has not taken such action as yet with respect to Gaza (nor has it done so with respect to the violence in Syria).
Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to protect human rights internationally, has called for the UN Security Council, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel to provide the ICC with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute any persons responsible for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the current and past Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.
The Prosecutor concluded her September 2 statement by saying,
It is my firm belief that recourse to justice should never be compromised by political expediency. The failure to uphold this sacrosanct requirement will not only pervert the cause of justice and weaken public confidence in it, but also exacerbate the immense suffering of the victims of mass atrocities. This, we will never allow.
The ICC has been the target of many political criticisms and challenges, starting from its foundational conferences in the 1990s, and these challenges will, no doubt, continue for years to come. The ICC Prosecutor is to be commended for being proactive in addressing these challenges in an effort to support the credibility of the Court.
Margaret Colgate Love specializes in tracking the use and abuse of the executive power to pardon. In her 2010 article The Twilight of the Pardon Power she points out how, since 1980, the presidential pardon power has fallen into disuse.
[I]ts benign purposes frustrated by politicians’ fear of making a mistake, and subverted by unfairness in the way pardons are granted. The diminished role of clemency is unfortunate, since federal law makes almost no provision for shortening a prison term and none at all for mitigating the collateral consequences of conviction.
Ms. Love urged President Obama to revive the pardon power and to use it wisely, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Professor Bennett Gershman writes about the case of Donald Seligman, ex-governor of Alabama, who was convicted of bribery under troubling circumstances after an earlier indictment had been dismissed by a judge who characterized it as “completely without legal merit” and “the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided in my entire judicial career.” Over 100 attorneys general from both political parties have condemned the legality of Seligman’s criminal prosecution. The politics behind this prosecution continue to have a major impact on the case because of the political nature of the pardon power. For more on this case click here.
You can also read more about the pardon power, as well as sentencing and the collateral consequences of sentences at Ms. Love’s website.