Occasionally, you will read where a poor fellow is prosecuted for lying to the feds. I say “poor fellow” because if he were better connected, “the power of discretion” could have intervened on his behalf, and he would have walked.
Here is a recent example of how “the power of discretion” can come into play, allowing one politician to get away with lying and one former politician to get a felony conviction.
Once I spoke with one of our local U.S. prosecutors about a Jackson County legislator who had lied to the FBI, and the prosecutor said, “yeah, he lied to us. Do you know how many people lie to us?”
It didn’t matter. This legislator’s fib was the start of an investigation that went on for months and resulted in the conviction of Bill Waris, a former county executive ... for ... you guessed it ... lying to the feds.
Newspaper reports confirmed that the legislator admitted making misleading and inaccurate statements to an FBI special agent, and that he later changed his story.
So why did the legislator get a pass? Is it possible that his attorney and personal friend was at one time employed as a U.S. prosecutor?
It is important to understand, that some feds become career public servants, but others leave for greener pastures. And when a prosecutor goes private, working relationships remain intact, and old friends are merely a phone call away.
For example, former statewide politician Catherine Hanaway, who has served as U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri since 2005, just announced she will be creating a private practice based in Kansas City.
Also, a former U.S. attorney from the Kansas City, western Missouri office, was recently appointed as a judge on the bench of the Jackson County 16th Circuit Court. Did it make a difference that he had been around during the prosecution of Katheryn Shields?
If you follow the politics, then you know that Shields’ political enemies are currently wielding their power. And it is not too far of a leap to conjecture that they might be very willing to be “helpful” in the selection of panelists to fill judicial vacancies.
(You see, while I concede that the Non-Partisan Court Plan may have stopped the corrupt process of electing a judge, I am not naïve enough to believe that the plan has removed politics entirely from the process.)
Clearly, I am inferring that “the power of discretion” serves as the root of corruption within our system of justice. And it makes no difference whether it’s the officer who cuts some slack for the offspring of an elected official, or the prosecutor, who does a favor for an attorney he went to school with and worked along-side.
Here in Jackson County, it appears the power of discretion has made the decision to prosecute a political one based upon considering cloudy relationships.
Perhaps President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, can be our hope. He recently put his foot down and stopped the prosecution of a U.S. senator because of corrupt procedures within the U.S. Department of Justice.
It would be good for our community if Holder were to give a thorough review of the status quo at our local Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of course, that decision will be subject to Holder’s “power of discretion.”