Moral rectitude: you’re doing it wrong

So with a good three-quarters of Memeorandum’s feed dedicated to the Senate race in Massachusetts, and the Chargers’ offense being utterly unwilling to pay attention to things like snap counts and play clocks, I find myself learning a lot more than I expected about the contest between the Coke party’s hard statist (Martha Coakley) and the Pepsi party’s medium-firm statist (Scott Brown).  Massachusetts being what it is, you’d expect this to be an entirely lopsided contest, but apparently Brown is making an awful pest of himself and Coakley is spending her time finding new and exciting ways to fuck up her campaign.

For example, the Coakley campaign tells me that Scott Brown wants to deny emergency medical care to rape victims.  Only, uh, not exactly:

The basis is a provision Brown voted for that would allow religious hospital staffers not to inform victims of the availability of the morning-after pill.

If you’re a politician running against a Republican, and you can nevertheless get Andrew Sullivan to call something you did “truly vile”, you have screwed the pooch in spectacular fashion.  I don’t at all like the provision for which Brown voted — it’s unclear whether emergency contraceptives like the ones in the bill permit fertilization and inhibit implantation; if not, arguing that Plan B and the like are abortifacients* is like claiming that a woman who refuses to sleep with you is killing your baby –but it’s nowhere close to what the Coakley mailer claimed.

Update: According to that heinous den of unreconstructed Repugnican thugs at the Washington Post, Brown voted in favour of the contraception bill after his amendment failed, and further voted to override Mitt Romney’s veto thereof.  But let’s not allow something as trivial as the historical record to get in the way of a good hit piece, eh?

I’ve also learned from the hur-hur-it’s-a-pun-geddit? Blue Mass Group that Scott Brown “thought maybe Obama was born out of wedlock”.  Uh, okay; I’m glad we cleared that one up.  A Pepsi-party politician who had Obama Derangement Syndrome in 2008; stop the fucking presses.

So far we’re batting two for two on obsession with conception.  Let’s check in on the other side of the fence, where the Brown campaign reminds us that Martha Coakley prosecuted recovered-memory Satanic-child-abuse cases with particular zest and verve back when it was the “in” thing to do in the Eighties:

Oh, wait: that’s not the Brown campaign, it’s libertarians Radley Balko and Michael Moynihan.  Well, everyone knows that libertarians are practically Pepsi-party hacks, with all their support for ending the drug war and opening the borders and recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry and all that.  But really, all these stories show is that while Brown wants to hinder rape victims, Coakley wants to help them.  She wants to help them so much that she’ll throw their families in jail even if they weren’t raped in the first place:

While the Amirault case has received the most coverage, there’s also the case of Ray and Shirley Souza, who were accused of molesting both their children and grandchildren. As with the Amarault case, no credible physical evidence existed of sexual assault—but that didn’t stand in the way of the hyper-ambitious Coakley. “What we have are 6- and 7-year-old female children testifying credibly about incidents in the recent past.” Those credible incidents included being forced to drink a “green potion” before being inappropriately touched, being molested by a giant robot, and Ray Souza putting his head in his granddaughter’s vagina and “wiggling” it around.

The Amiraults and Souzas were railroaded; there lives were ruined. Coakley, always forthright about her political ambitions (in 2004, she announced that she would seek Sen. John Kerry’s seat if he won the presidency), stands by her overzealous prosecutions and defends the convictions.

And when those not-rapists are shown to be, well, not rapists by higher standards and better evaluation of evidence, Coakley stood by her convictions (heh) and kept them in prison:

Despite a parole board’s 5-0 recommendation to grant Gerald Amirault clemency and mounting doubts about the evidence against him, Coakley publicly and aggressively lobbied then-Gov. Jane Swift to deny Amirault relief. Amirault remained in prison.

Wall Street Journal reporter Dorothy Rabinowitz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of bogus sex abuse cases, recently told The Boston Globe of the Amirault case, “Martha Coakley was a very, very good soldier who showed she would do anything to preserve this horrendous assault on justice.”

In fact, Coakley is so opposed to rapists — even if they never actually, you know, raped anyone — that she’s done everything in her power to prevent convicted inmates from being released:

Last year, Coakley chose to personally argue her state’s case before the Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Despite the recent headlines detailing forensic mishaps, fraudulent testimony and crime lab incompetence, Coakley argued that requiring crime lab technicians to be present at trial for questioning by defense attorneys would place too large a burden on prosecutors. The Supreme Court found otherwise, in a decision that had Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia coming down on Coakley’s left.

The Melendez-Diaz case wasn’t an anomaly. Coakley has made her reputation as a law-and-order prosecutor. More troubling, she’s shown a tendency to aggressively push the limits of the law in high-profile cases and an unwillingness to cop to mistakes — be they her own or those of other prosecutors. Coakley’s most recent high-profile case was the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” hoax, in which she defended Boston authorities’ massive overreaction to harmless light-emitting-diode devices left around the city as a promotional gimmick.


It’s probably not surprising, then, that as DA in Middlesex County, Coakley opposed efforts to create an innocence commission in Massachusetts, calling the idea “backward-looking instead of forward-looking.” Of course, that’s sort of the point — to find people who have been wrongfully convicted. So far, there have been at least 23 exonerations in Massachusetts, including several in Coakley’s home county.

But hey, if it saves just one child from being raped, it’s worth it, right?  Sure, Coakley was perhaps overzealous in her prosecution of… well, damn near everyone.  But isn’t that better than the alternative?  Better a thousand innocents are put in jail than a single guilty man walks free, amirite?


Yep, Radley Balko again:

Moreover, Coakley’s also being criticized for failing to bring charges against a man who sexually assaulted his young niece with a curling iron. Coakley’s successor put him away for two life terms. Why would Coakley—so aware of the political pressure to be tough on crime, so protective of her own ambition for higher office, and who carefully cultivated an image for herself as a defender of children—not throw the book at a man accused of raping a toddler with a curling iron?

I dunno, was the case against him based on dubious and discredited forensic methodology?  Was he a pariah in his town, railroaded by public opinion run amuck?  Did he fall down a few too many flights of stairs en route to the courthouse?

I’m just guessing here, but it may have something to do with the fact that Keith Winfield was also a police officer. That suggests a blind allegiance to law enforcement that we should find troubling in a U.S. Senator who will be making and voting on criminal justice policy.

…oh.  Nice.

But the top step on the podium in the “doing it wrong” Olympics goes to M. LeBlanc:

A controversial bronze medal goes to commenter Alice, who looks at Coakley’s prosecutorial record and wonders (among other things; I’m running long and editing aggressively; RTWT for proper context):

But I’m a math person, and my only familiarity with how the law is “supposed” to work is from my instincts and, well, stuff I read on blogs. Is it the DA’s job to always push on the side of the state (i.e. keep people in prison), even when the trial is over and new evidence says they were wrong? That’s kind of fucked up, but I guess I’m more okay with Coakley’s actions if they’re the norm. Kinda.

Oh, grotesque abuse of authority is “kinda” okay if it’s the norm? How can I reply to that without Godwinning myself?

Aha! Female circumcision.  That must be okay in societies where “it’s the norm”, right?  I mean, who are we to tell people that pouring carbolic acid on little girls’ clitorises is wrong, like we have some sort of monopoly on moral judgement?

(Disclaimer: I’m almost certainly voting for Coakley anyway. I just want to feel better about my vote.)

Disclaimer: I’m also a math person, and I don’t have any problem recognizing that keeping innocent people in prison is more than “kind of fucked up”.  Die in a fire.

The silver medal goes to Coakley herself, in a nail-biting decision that came down to the possibility that Coakley knew she was doing the wrong thing, but did it anyway for political gain.  The possibility that Coakley might one day feel remorse leaves open the possibility that her (still mostly hypothetical) morals might prevent her from doing something heinous as a Senator.  Maybe.

This leaves LeBlanc with the gold medal for s/h/its servile and Quislingesque defence of Coakley’s record.  We begin four paragraphs into the blog post proper, with this fascinating assertion:

So, what’s the moral status of advocating that someone who is likely innocent remain in prison? It’s a tough question.

No.  No, it isn’t.  Advocating that someone who is likely innocent remain in prison is morally wrong.  How could one possibly think otherwise?

As far as I known, it’s something that’s routinely done by prosecutors everywhere. In Illinois, the only place I’ve practiced, the prosecutors oppose all parole petitions, as far as I know.

Oh, I see.  “Everyone else is doing it!”  Or at least, everyone in Illinois is doing it.  Yeah, the state where cops fight to remain unaccountable for their actions and State’s Attorneys hassle journalism students for exposing wrongful capital convictions.  What a wonderful standard you set for prosecutorial conduct!

But let’s continue.

I don’t have a major problem with prosecutors who lobby for people to serve more time in prison, whether it’s at the indictment, sentencing, or parole stage. My main concern is with systems that are overly deferential to prosecutors, that disadvantage defendants, and that make it extremely difficult for convicts to make the case for their own parole.

Would this include systems where Attorneys General lobby Governors to specifically overturn unanimous parole board decisions that might maybe make them look bad?  ‘Cause that’s what you’re defending, LeBlanc.

Nevertheless, being a prosecutor who is stalwart when presented with evidence of innocence or prosecutorial misconduct is so common as to be banal.

Banal?  You did that on purpose.  (And again, “everyone else is doing it” is no excuse.)

Which is why I think her lobbying for Amirault’s continued incarceration isn’t, in itself, enough to make her a morally suspect choice for senator.

Sure it is.

So, at the end of a day of political hysteria and mediocre football (dear Cowboys defence: what the fuck were you thinking?), I find myself in the unlikely position of cheering on a Pepsi-party statist candidate who actually appears to have a chance at a Senate seat in Massachusetts.


* Which only makes sense under the assumption that life begins at conception… but the ethics of abortion are a whole ‘nother post

7 Responses to “Moral rectitude: you’re doing it wrong”

  1. 1 Alice
    January 18, 2010 at 17:13

    Yay, I won something!

    In my defense, I’m a chronic understater. And as for M. Leblanc, I never really read that post as a “defense of Coakley’s record” so much as a this-thing-doesn’t-appall-me-as-much-as-this-other-thing, namely Coakley’s opposition to the creation of an innocence project. You seem rather nonpartisan, so I’m not sure why you left that part out.

    Anyway, I do think you should read her second post on the subject, which I think is considerably clearer in what it’s trying to say.

    Gtg, house is burning down.


    • January 18, 2010 at 18:29

      That’s a reasonable defence of both your position and Leblanc’s; as to why I left out the innocence project point, I came in from Radley Balko’s article and worked up a big head of steam before I got to the end. Between Andrew Sullivan’s articles on torture and murder at Guantanamo Bay and this administration’s apparent unwillingness to do anything about it, I’m primed to be pissed off at any hint of an argument that prosecutorial injustice is okay (or, if not okay, than bad but tolerable) because there’s a long precedent for it. I’ll give Leblanc’s second post a read, but (for now at least) I stand by my irritation.

      In any case, I’m ashamed that the top search term for this article has nothing to do with Coakley, Brown, or Leblanc, but turned out to be your full name. I’ve removed that from the post.

      • 3 Alice
        January 18, 2010 at 21:40

        Heh, sorry about the name searching thing; the natural first step of breaking in a pseudonym (“Also known as,” you see) is to Google it.

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