I haven’t described everything that took place over seven years in the Sephora Davis resignation saga, not by a long shot. I think most of the essentials are there. I hope what I have put here on the blog is comprehensible to the people who bother to come here and read.
Seven years. People are wrongfully convicted and sometimes those convictions are undone after 25 years, as in Pottawattamie. Or after 15 years on death row, as in Connick v. Thompson. But most of the time they are never undone. The system doesn’t like to do that, and the vast majority of victims don’t even try. Or, no one tries for them.
In the most recent example, Troy Davis, people fought the fight for 22 years. In the end the state executed him anyway. I think one of the most troublesome things about that case is that even assuming factual guilt as alleged by the state, the death penalty was out of line. Its imposition had more to do with the status of the victim – a police officer – and the status of the convicted – a black man. And Georgia, if not the US as a whole, may yet have to come to terms with that in potentially very unpleasant ways, if only because factual guilt was highly doubtful to begin with.
The most striking thing about the wrongful conviction of Sephora Davis, which admittedly does not include the drama of the death penalty or a lengthy prison term (although 3+ years ain’t nothing and a life term was threatened), is that the system conceded it was wrongful beforehand and just went ahead and did it anyway. It was done on an Alford plea. The powerful and even conclusive evidence that the charges were the product of fabrication and perjury had been presented to a court with jurisdiction to determine the outcome, and in any case was uncontested, but that wound up not mattering.
Kafka-esque doesn’t begin to describe this. The system is apparently at the point of unselfconscious self mockery. It has completely seized up and become an unobstructed conduit for the government’s every whim. Apparently the only way to perhaps stop it is through the cunning staging of a giant spectacle, as Jose Baez managed with the Casey Anthony trial. And the price of doing that is so high to everyone involved that people rightly question whether it should be done at all; whether the alternative, terrible as it might be, is the only real option.
The whole system is supposed to be a corrective mechanism. That’s what it is for: to stand at something of a remove from primitive impulses like the use of force and apply reason to reach the truth – or at least something approximating it – and a just resolution of a dispute.
In practice it does the opposite, becoming not a corrective mechanism but a deception mechanism: pretending to employ reason, it merely consecrates force. Its processes have become an increasingly mysterious ritual to make a sacrament of arbitrary power. Its pretenses to reason have become transparent and increasingly untenable.
Mark Bennett had a post the other day about how some people react to this: unable to accept the system’s incoherence, they experience cognitive dissonance, their imaginations run wild and they develop an elaborate theory of hidden meanings that they then proceed to decipher and sometimes, distressingly, act upon. Of course they are impervious to evidence or rational argument, but we in the system have taught them precisely to be impervious to evidence and rational argument. It seems unfair for us to then blame them for it. This is our fault, not theirs.
So what to do? If the system cannot self correct – and it can’t – you must seek help elsewhere, if you care about the rule of law. And everyone should care about the rule of law, but lawyers especially.
One of the other things I did in ’09 was to try the legislature and the governor. I sent copies of my request to resign to all sorts of public officials, with a letter, reproduced here sans addresses:
I never received an answer from anyone. I would have thought that such a communication about an important matter from a lawyer, who after all is a public official of sorts, should merit at least an acknowledgement of some kind.
Perhaps this is all just too much for people, facing up to what we are doing and what we have become. Rapists. Maybe murderers. Nobody likes to think of themselves that way. Dale Carnegie in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” noted that Al Capone didn’t think of himself as a criminal. At least not relatively speaking.
It’s much easier to shoot the messenger and go back to the feast.
A likely scenario is that some underlings were assigned to “look into” the matter after they received my many communications over the years, and look into it they did. A phone call or two to some local official or other, who no doubt repeated the rumor based community consensus, probably fostered by the guilty parties themselves, that they had a “troubled” lawyer on their hands.
No need for busy higher up officials to bother with anything like that, then. Case closed.
You might think that they would try talking to me before reaching their conclusions, since I was the one who wrote to them in the first place. But labeling someone “troubled” or vaguely alluding to mental “issues” is a remarkably effective smear: every assertion and argument the person makes thereafter is seen first through that lens, and any analysis then becomes kind of circular. You never escape the loop because you can only try to do that by making more assertions and arguments – but all assertions and arguments just wind up on the same curved line to nowhere. There is, in other words, no point in talking to them. They’re “nuts”.
Smearing lawyers should be a risky strategy for police, prosecutors and judges but it isn’t, to some extent because whereas police, for example, close ranks around their brethren who are attacked, lawyers behave like the hungry sharks to which they are often compared: they smell a little blood in the water from a cut finger and in their feeding frenzy don’t even bother to look to see if it is one of their own who is injured. To put it in context, the police-prosecutor-judge apparatus smears a lawyer who is perhaps doing too good a job and causing them trouble for a change, and many of the lawyer’s colleagues simply adopt the smear uncritically and even repeat it, with no further inquiry or investigation. Not even a phone call or email to the lawyer.
Backing your colleague to the hilt no matter what is wrong. That’s what the police do. But turning on a colleague with no information other than a rumor is also wrong. And it takes on a life of its own. And it not only hurts the lawyer, it hurts all of the lawyer’s clients. And it hurts the system.
My relationship with the legal establishment in the United States is completely ruptured at this point, but for all the right reasons. If there is one thing I hope to have demonstrated to them in the last seven years it is that I will not budge on this; they are the ones who must start bending. If I have to stand by myself I will: it scarcely matters in the grand scheme of things what happens to me now. Most of what terrifies people – including me, I am not claiming any decorated mantle here – has already happened.
A few months ago I received a form communication from Dan Drake at the Grievance Committee about my registration fees. Here was my response:
As usual there was no reply. I believe that could be construed as an admission, but then I tend to like traditional evidence rules.
So this is pretty much where things sit at the moment. My refugee hearing is next week. There’s a motion to be filed in the SCOTUS as well. Perhaps more on that later.