It was evident from her initial statement on the case, however, that an ethically clueless prosecutor is what we, and Florida, and George Zimmerman got when Angela Corey was chosen for the job. Prof. Alan Dershowitz made a quick and accurate diagnosis of her problem on cable TV, and it apparently prompted Corey, ethically clueless as she is, to settle the matter by leaving no doubt. Dershowitz reports that Corey was so enraged by his calling her unethical and incompetent affidavit of probable cause to indict Zimmerman for murder as unethical and incompetent as it was that she has threatened to sue him and Harvard University. Dershowitz reports:
“State Attorney Angela Corey, the prosecutor in the George Zimmerman case, recently called the Dean of Harvard Law School to complain about my criticism of some of her actions. She was transferred to the Office of Communications and proceeded to engage in a 40-minute rant, during which she threatened to sue Harvard Law School, to try to get me disciplined by the Bar Association and to file charges against me for libel and slander.
“She said that because I work for Harvard and am identified as a professor she had the right to sue Harvard. When the communications official explained to her that I have a right to express my opinion as “a matter of academic freedom,” and that Harvard has no control over what I say, she did not seem to understand….”
This incident indicates that Corey also does not seem to understand the First Amendment and the Constitution, which is a serious, indeed fatal, handicap for a prosecutor. It turns out that this ridiculous conduct—-a prosecutor trying to intimidate pundits by threatening to sue a legal analyst and law professor for criticizing her handling of a high-profile case—wasn’t even an aberration for Corey. Reporter Ron Littlepage writes:
Last December when I wrote a column critical of how she handled the Cristian Fernandez case, she fired off a two-page, single-spaced letter on official state attorney letterhead hinting at lawsuits for libel.…Then there’s Corey’s spat with Sandy D’Alemberte.
D’Alemberte is a former president of the American Bar Association, a former president of Florida State University and a law professor — not too shabby in the legal credentials department. When Corey was appointed to head up the investigation into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, D’Alemberte had this to say: “I cannot imagine a worse choice for a prosecutor to serve in the Sanford case. There is nothing in Angela Corey’s background that suits her for the task, and she cannot command the respect of people who care about justice.” Earlier, D’Alemberte had criticized Corey in the Fernandez case. The reaction then: A public records request from her office to FSU seeking all emails, text messages and phone messages involving D’Alemberte related to Fernandez….”
This is beyond unprofessional, and reaches a level of shocking incompetence, arrogance, abuse of power and stupidity.
But wait! There’s more! Law professor William Jacobson makes the perceptive legal ethics observation that Corey has created a conflict of interest for herself that raises the question of whether she should be removed from the case. He writes:
“Will she conduct the prosecution in such a way as to achieve justice, or to set herself up for a personal lawsuit against Dershowitz and Harvard?…. By threatening suit against a critic in the middle of the case, Corey has put her own financial interests at stake in the outcome and conduct of the prosecution. Florida has adopted American Bar Association Standards of Criminal Justice Relating to Prosecution Function. ABA Standard 3-1.3 Conflicts of Interest provides in pertinent part:
(f) A prosecutor should not permit his or her professional judgment or obligations to be affected by his or her own political, financial, business, property, or personal interests.
I don’t think the question of Angela Corey having to step down as prosecutor in the case should even get to Prof. Jacobson’s issue, however. Her conduct in threatening critics, as well as her unethical probable cause affidavit and her blatant alliance with Trayvon Martin’s parents, trumpeted in her unethical press conference, makes it screamingly obvious that she shouldn’t be a prosecutor in this or any other case.
I’ll leave the final word to Prof. Dershowitz:
“…Her beef was that I criticized her for filing a misleading affidavit that willfully omitted all information about the injuries Zimmerman had sustained during the “struggle” it described. She denied that she had any obligation to include in the affidavit truthful material that was favorable to the defense. She insisted that she is entitled to submit what, in effect, were half truths in an affidavit of probable cause, so long as she subsequently provides the defense with exculpatory evidence.
“She should go back to law school, where she will learn that it is never appropriate to submit an affidavit that contains a half truth, because a half truth is regarded by the law as a lie, and anyone who submits an affidavit swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth….The judge deciding whether there is probable cause to charge the defendant with second degree murder should not have been kept in the dark about physical evidence that is so critical to determining whether a homicide occurred, and if so, a homicide of what degree. By omitting this crucial evidence, Corey deliberately misled the court.
“…That’s not the way the system is supposed to work and that’s not the way prosecutors are supposed to act. That a prosecutor would hide behind the claim that she did not have an obligation to tell the whole truth until after the judge ruled on probable cause displays a kind of gamesmanship in which prosecutors should not engage…
“Even if Angela Corey’s actions were debatable, which I believe they were not, I certainly have the right, as a professor who has taught and practiced criminal law nearly 50 years, to express a contrary view. The idea that a prosecutor would threaten to sue someone who disagrees with her for libel and slander, to sue the university for which he works, and to try to get him disbarred, is the epitome of unprofessionalism.
“If Angela Corey doesn’t like the way freedom of expression operates in the United States, there are plenty of countries where truthful criticism of prosecutors and other government officials result in disbarment, defamation suits and even criminal charges.
“We do not want to become such a country.”
Indeed we don’t. But we seem to already be a country where a local incident is blown up into a racially-polarizing national event, with the assistance of race-hucksters, an inept and biased press, and irresponsible elected officials, including the President of the United States, who annoints the victim as his hypothetical offspring. Then, when the justice system is supposed to take over and sort out the facts and the law objectively, fairly and dispassionately, the case is placed in the hands of biased hack like Angela Corey.
That’s the kind of county we are, and that’s bad enough.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.