Precinct 333

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Smart Lawyers, Dumb Columnist

You know that you will automatically get bias when you read a Rick Casey column. The man’s job is, of course, to offer opinion without a smidgin of objectivity or honesty. Since coming to the Chronicle, he has become the “designated hitter,” writing on issues that the Chronicle news pages won’t touch at all for fear of being seen as too partisan. That comes through in the opening paragraphs of this column.
District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal's response to my offer to pay the way for up to 12 felony prosecutors to see The Exonerated at the Alley Theatre was a single sentence: "I'll go if you sit through a capital murder trial." I told him I was asking for two hours. He was asking for at least two weeks.

Well why SHOULDN’T he ask for two weeks? That’s how long a real trial takes, not the two hours of cherry-picked material that Jessica Blank put in her play. Casey’s goal was to get an emotional response to a play as a means of changing policy. Rosenthal was trying to get Casey to change his opinion based upon exposure to the real work of prosecutors and judges. Those are two very different things. But when three prosecutors did take him up on the offer, that wasn’t sufficient. They actually watched the play with a critical eye, knowing it to be a piece of propaganda. Even if they accepted at face value every bit of evidence about the innocence of the play’s subjects that the playwright includes, that should not lead to the automatic conclusion that the system is broken, capital punishment should be abolished, and the prosecutors who handled the cases did something wrong. And as professionals, these prosecutors know that. Casey is most displeased by their failure to adopt his (and Blank’s) position on the criminal justice system.
I think most audiences understand that. And most in the audiences for this play were open to the emotional impact of the personal injustice of being wrongfully convicted. The prosecutors weren't. The lesson I learned, with apologies to Hamlet, is that the play's not the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of a prosecutor.

Yeah, Rick, that’s right. Trained in logic and law, experts in the workings of the criminal justice system, a prosecutor is not going to suspend his or her disbelief ESPECIALLY when the playwright admits her piece is a work with an agenda. They are smarter than that. Too bad you are not.


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