I Would Have Fired Sympathetic, Well-Meaning, Grandmotherly Sharon Snyder, Too: The Perils Of Consequentialism

Hear me out.

Why do I suspect that if this had been the clerk in question, we wouldn't be hearing about this story?

Why do I suspect that if this had been the clerk in question, we wouldn’t be hearing about this story?

The news media is indignant over the firing of Sharon Snyder, 70, a court worker who provided a copy of a successful motion for seeking post-conviction DNA testing that gained Robert Nelson a reversal of his wrongful 1984 rape conviction. He had been sentenced to more than 50 years in prison, and the belated DNA testing showed that he was innocent. Nevertheless, court officials in Jackson County, Missouri ruled that Nelson’s “angel” had improperly provided advice about a case, among other violations of court rules.

Snyder  was fired nine months before she was scheduled to retire, and there is little question that without her efforts, Nelson would still be in prison. In August 2009, Nelson filed a motion seeking DNA testing that had not been available at his trial 25 years earlier, but Jackson County Circuit Judge David Byrn denied the request. Two years later, Nelson asked the judge to reconsider, but again Byrn rejected the motion because Nelson’s self-drafted document was insufficient under the statute Nelson had cited.  After the second motion was rejected, Snyder contacted Nelson’s sister and gave her a copy of a successful motion, drafted by a lawyer, that resulted in the same judge granting another DNA testing request.  Nelson then used it as a template for a motion he filed Feb. 22, 2012, again seeking DNA testing.  Byrn sustained the motion, found Nelson to be indigent and appointed Laura O’Sullivan, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, to represent him.  Last month, the Kansas City Police Department’s crime lab concluded that DNA tests proved that Nelson was not the rapist in the crime he had been convicted of committing. He was freed on June 12, 2013

This is all good, and an example of justice finally, if belatedly, prevailing.

Snyder’s role, however, got her suspended without pay, and then fired on June 27. She had apparently discussed aspects of the case with Dunnell and attorneys not involved in the matter, according to the evidence of recorded phone conversations between the then-imprisoned Nelson and his sister.The judge’s dismissal letter to Snyder cites the recorded conversations, and notes,

“The document you chose was, in effect, your recommendation for a Motion for DNA testing that would likely be successful in this Division. But it was clearly improper and a violation of Canon Seven … which warns against the risk of offering an opinion or suggested course of action.”

Virtually every commentator has condemned the decision to fire Snyder. Here’s Joe Patrice at Above the Law:

“Obviously a clerk shouldn’t be offering legal advice, but handing out a public document as a model is not really legal advice. Especially when the inmate has already demonstrated what legal action he means to take. Judge David “Not From the Talking Heads” Byrn probably should have considered the optics of an old woman helping an innocent man, but he didn’t and is now the least popular judge in America. Judge Byrn succeeded in highlighting the perversity of the criminal justice system by creating the most sympathetic fact pattern imaginable. Byrn himself denied multiple requests of an innocent man for stylistic reasons, and when finally forced to acknowledge the substance, he reacted by firing an old woman for having the gall to think that the system is about “guilt” or “innocence” rather than blowing off inmate requests and throwing around the word “Judge” to make dinner reservations.”

All of which misses a very crucial point, and the key point, as far as firing Snyder goes. A court cannot function if clerks and court administrators take it upon themselves to champion the cases of particular parties. It’s not their job, and they can do a lot of damage. The rules that prohibit what Snyder did are not only good rules, but necessary and responsible rules. In the ethical assessment of what Snyder did, most of the facts that the media and critics have focused on are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that she is old, about to retire, or a grandmother. It also doesn’t matter that Nelson turned out to be innocent, either. Snyder didn’t know he was innocent. If he had not been innocent, the recorded phone conversations had revealed Snyder meddling in a legal matter, and she had then been fired, this would not be newsworthy in any way, nor would anyone now argue that court clerks should be allowed to secretly work with prisoners and their family on their cases. That Nelson was proven innocent was pure moral luck, and judging Snyder’s improper actions as proper because of what transpired after she engaged in them is consequentialism at its worst.

She violated important rules and crossed lines that the court cannot allow to be crossed. It has to fire workers who cross them because it cannot trust such employees to be impartial and to uphold the integrity of the justice sysstem, and I can’t think of a better way to make that point than firing Snyder. (And by the by, does anyone think that this is the first time Snyder did something like this? I think that is unlikely.)

Am I glad that Nelson was freed?

Yes.

Am I happy that Snyder broke the rules in this case?

Of course.

Do I agree that the Judge’s conduct was questionable and not in the best interests of justice?

Yes.

Does the case point up some of the weaknesses in the system?

Sure.

Do I admire Snyder for what she did?

I’m not so certain. I think it’s easy to say she was courageous, but I’m not persuaded that she thought she was at any risk—because she was old, close to retirement, and a sympathetic figure. I would not be surprised to find that she was habitual meddler, and this also reflects badly on the courts system in Jackson County.

Yes…it all turned out well. Snyder was forced to leave some months before she planned, but her pension, we are told, is intact. An unjustly imprisoned man is free. A judge of questionable judgment is under special scrutiny. Nonetheless—and a majority of the public has trouble with this key ethical concept—just because conduct was undertaken for admirable reasons and has good results does not make that conduct ethical.

It also has trouble with this one: just because the correct conduct is motivated by unethical instincts (I think the suspicion that Snyder was fired in part because she embarrassed the judge is well founded) doesn’t make it unethical.

Snyder should have been fired.

Still, she should take pride in the fact that what got her justifiably fired freed an innocent man.

(I never said ethics was easy.)

_______________________

Facts: Kansas City Star

Sources: Above the Law, ABA Journal

Graphic: 2013 Trending

132 thoughts on “I Would Have Fired Sympathetic, Well-Meaning, Grandmotherly Sharon Snyder, Too: The Perils Of Consequentialism

  1. How many judges get fired for their own misbehavior? Mary Kellet, a DA in Maine has repeatedly violated court procedures to keep innocent men in jail and the committee (of other lawyers) could not see fit to even smack her on the wrist. Your obsession with petty rules and their arbitrary use, rather than the facts and the justice it should lead to is why most people hold the profession in such contempt.

    • Facile, dangerous and wrong. Who decides “justice” without standards and rules? That theory would have had George Zimmerman lynched. Your theory sound good; in practice it leads to mob rule and chaos.

      • I’ve read through many of your replies. You seem to be a true champion of ethics. Here is an ethical question.

        You believe that this clerk acted unethically and deserved to be terminated from employment. Ethically, what do you think a prosecutor deserves for failing to hand over exculpatory evidence which leads to a wrongful conviction? Do you think the following example is appropriate punishment, ethically?

        In 2011 Michael Morton was released from prison after serving nearly 25 years for the murder of his wife in 1987. He was released after DNA evidence pointed to another man as the killer. The prosecutor, Ken Anderson later plead guilty to withholding evidence that could have helped Morton fight the murder charge. He was sentenced to spend 10 days in jail and was also disbarred.

        There are truly no proper ethics in the law community. Ethics and justice would have seen this prosecutor imprisoned, not just jailed for a week and a half. Prosecutors and judges, because of immunity from prosecution, have free rein to do as they please, with little to fear, after railroading the wrongfully accused into prison.

        This clerk, however, did nothing more than show a wrongfully convicted person the proper format to use in his appeal. Terminate her job for helping to correct an injustice? That is not ethical. Justice should be blind, but it seldom is. The deck is heavily stacked against the accused, because prosecutors, and judges for that matter, can do absolutely anything to secure a wrongful conviction and face nothing more severe than being disbarred. Sanctions by State bars seldom occur in cases of prosecutorial misconduct. But, on the other hand, sanctions are swift against those who do something so minor to help overturn a wrongful conviction. There is little deterrent, for many prosecutors who seek higher offices that often comes with high conviction rates, to act ethically.

        Ethics in the criminal justice system? Hardly.

        • 1. You are preaching to the choir regarding locking up prosecutors who behave like Anderson, and if you bothered to search for his name on the site, you would know that. The failure of the system to properly punish, in discipline or by law, corrupt prosecutors, is a terrible problem and a failing of the system of long standing, but one that is being addressed, though slowly. Here: https://ethicsalarms.com/2013/11/10/a-prosecutor-is-sent-to-jail-for-unethical-conduct-and-its-about-time/.

          2. But Anderson has nothing to do with the clerk, and there was no allegation of prosecutorial misconduct in the case she meddled in.Was what Anderson did worse? Absolutely; so was what Jeffery Daumer did—eat people–worse than what Anderson did. So what? This is a classic rationalization. I explained why the clerk needed to be fired, and nothing you have argued rebuts that in any way.

          3. Your sarcasm in your opening statement, your first here, is not appreciated, or called for. Knock it off.

          • Sir, the opening statement was not sarcasm. I apologize, if it offended you. This may be a poor assessment on my part, but you appear to be more passionate about ethics than you are about justice. (That is not meant to be disparaging) For you, ethics and justice are completely separate and never the twain shall meet. There is much to be said for the promotion of ethics through dispassionate litmus tests. Unfortunately, when you remove a person’s ability to use common sense, and allow your positions, decisions and actions to be determined by the constraints of rules, you often end up with injustice.

            For example, a very young child was removed from school for violating the “no guns” policy by eating a sandwich’s edges and leaving the remainder to vaguely resemble a gun. Did the child violate the policy and have something in his possession which “looked” like a gun? I suppose. I would have to see the sandwich. Has anybody ever, in the history of the history of sandwiches, ever felt threatened by a half eaten gun shaped sandwich? I would safely say “no”. Another dispassionate application of a set of rules resulted in injustice.

            I firmly believe in conducting one’s self ethically in all aspects of personal and business life. While I conduct myself ethically, I also use common sense, fairness, and justice to determine how I conduct myself. It’s probably why I personally have such a hard time seeing injustices frequently taking place in both the Judicial and Executive branches of government.

            I’m not evenly remotely as educated as you. Perhaps my lack of higher education leaves me shorthanded, in terms of conveying thoughts and ideas in a manner which may be construed beyond their intent. I have a high school diploma and a technician certification. However, I do possess a rather high IQ. I chose not to lose who I am by allowing a series of professors to alter the way I perceive things. In this world, education like yours trumps my uneducated perceptions and beliefs. But, I am not so uneducated or ignorant as to not be able to recognize injustice when I see it.

            To conclude, sir, I do respect you and I respect your position. I have no doubt that you are a decent man. I just really wish that people would consider justice when applying ethics.

            • 1. I’m sorry that I took your opening line to be sarcasm. I have received similar comments that were intended as sarcasm. My mistake, not yours.
              2. Justice, fairness, and equity are all ethical values, but justice in every individual case does not automatically take priority over the greater good. Your “no-tolerance” example (it was a pizza, not a sandwich, and I wrote about it here) is not comparable. The rule itself was unjust, unreasonable, and unethical, as was its enforcement.
              3. The rule against non-lawyers practicing law, and court staff taking sides, are both good rules, important ones, and ones that need to be enforced in the interests of justice. That this instance happened to work out well can’t be used as a universal approach, as I explained: break the rule with impunity if you think good things will result? You can only do that ethically if you are willing to take the consequences.

              • Thank you, for your replies. Point number 3 helps me to better understand your position, from a standpoint on ethics. It is hard to deny the points you’ve made. I fear that I would make for a very poor lawyer. I ineffectually rail against inequality and injustice in the legal system. It might be that actions I would consider to be ethical in the interests of justice in exonerating the innocent are not too far different than the unethical practices of some judges in keeping the wrongfully convicted incarcerated or some prosecutors in obtaining wrongful convictions. Opposite sides of the same ethics coin.

                It appears lawyers may have a harder row to hoe than I perceived.

                Thank you again, for the rational discourse.

                • Legal ethics is very hard, and you are no more perplexed by such conflicts than those of us in the field. It’s important to ask these questions, and you should never hesitate to ask.

                  • This does beg a very important question. Why is Ken Anderson still alive? Does not Michael Morton have a family willing to avenge the dishonor Anderson brought upon him and his family?

                    In other countries, we have families willing to avenge any dishonor done upon their members. See for example honor killings. Why are families here willing to tolerate dishonor?

              • Oh, and I was unfamiliar with the pizza slice incident. I was referring to the incident involving 7 year old Josh Welch in Maryland. I still had a crucial fact mixed up. It was a Pop Tart gun and not a sandwich gun.

  2. Pingback: Fired and Freed Over DNA | Minds & Spines

  3. No, pretending that the system is magical, moral, or ethical is facile, dangerous, and wrong. There are several website which allow for the submission and updating of government records. They perform basic validation checking. It’s interactive assistance. It alerts you to the fields which must be filled out at a minimum level. It checks to make sure you entered the appropriate characters. Most often even provide spell check. If you put a person in that same position, and bar them with draconian rules to preclude them from offering that same basic minimum level of error validation, you’re only handicapping the system.

    • 1. I don’t know what you think basic validation checking has to do with legal document research, but they are completely different things.
      2. Writing a persuasive motion is not just a matter of box-checking. The issue is making the proper arguments in the correct form.
      3. Magic and morals has nothing to do with this. Avoiding chaos, making sure people do the jobs they are credentialed and authorized to do and keeping bias out of the system are the issues at hand.
      4. There’s nothing draconian with declaring that clerks don’t get to play lawyer, judge or advocate.

      • 1. You must have access to better reporting than the rest of us. The Atlantic, the AP, etc. have all reported that the refusals were based upon technical errors in filling out paperwork.
        2. Requesting that evidence be tested should not require a clutch legal team and persuasive arguments. The admissabilty of DNA evidence can be and has been argued with passionate verve and flowery prose. Restricting justice to the eloquent or those that afford to pay for eloquence upon demand is a paradox, because such cannot in fact be justice.
        3. a.A system which arbitrarily incarcerates individuals without regard to the crimes they committed IS chaos.
        3.b.”Writing a persuasive motion” does not preclude subjective bias. It INDUCES it. I’m not saying that it’s bad. I think there is a place for sympathy in justice, but the discrepancy in your points 2 & 3 is illustrative of a certain cognitive dissonance.
        4. The clerk did not act as lawyer, judge, or advocate. They acted as a clerk. The clerk provided a template of a form. Clerks have done that since there have been clerks. It’s what differentiates them from bins. In comparison, I’ve seen a police officer hold a courthouse door for a woman as a courtesy. I’m pretty sure holding doors for people is not explicitly in their job description. I haven’t seen stories of police officers losing their jobs for such acts. I certainly didn’t demand he be punished because I had to open the door myself to gain access to “justice”.

        • A successful motion by another litigant is not a template, as I’m sure you know. If the state provided an official template for such motions and the prisoner was unaware of it, you would be correct, but that’s not the case. Snyder searched for and located a specific motion that had been approved by THIS JUDGE, based on her own, personal interest in the fate of this prisoner. That’s advocacy, not “being a clerk.” If she could show that she routinely did similar searches without a request on behalf of every individual who had a motion rejected, she, and you, would have a leg to stand on, and maybe two. She can’t, or at least hasn’t.

          • Actually successful motions are used as templates as a matter of course. What you described is exactly what happened. A lawyer asks which recent similar motions the judge has granted, and then asks for those motions. All of that is PUBLIC information. This has been repeatedly reiterated in the reporting for those not familiar with the legal procedure. The prisoner and his family were merely unaware that they could ask for such. The transgression was not that the clerk proferred the document, but that she did so without passively awaiting a request for it.

            As for your second argument, that people can only do what they think is right if they can demonstrate that they have only ever done what they think is right, it is tragic and absurd. I think that even if in 50 years of civil service a person has not a single time rendered actual service, as opposed to a programmed physical function, they should still do so should the opportunity arise in the future, and should be encouraged to do so rather than be punished for it.

            • Exactly: “A lawyer asks which recent similar motions the judge has granted, and then asks for those motions.” A clerk doesn’t take the initiative and go looking for litigants whose fate she has taken a special interest in.

              • There is ZERO legal requirement that a lawyer make the request. You have desperately confused the issue. In geometry there is a very important concept. All squares are always rectangles. All rectangles are not always squares. All lawyers are expected to demonstrate legal competence. Legal competence does not require that one be a lawyer.

                The clerk did not go looking for litigants or advise that the motion be filed. The clerk merely clarified and facilitated processing. That is the job of a clerk.

                In fact, more damning is that the motion likely had nothing to do with the judge’s decision. The judge had been notified while “considering” the 3rd request that the prosecutors office had already proceeded despite him with reopening the investigation and was in the process of testing the DNA evidence on the basis of finding the second assailant in the original crime. What a coincidence! http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Robert_Nelson.php

                • I really hate it when people put words in my mouth. I didn’t say that a lawyer has to make the request. But whoever does IS acting as an advocate, and that a clerk of the court may not do.

                  This—“The clerk did not go looking for litigants or advise that the motion be filed. The clerk merely clarified and facilitated processing. That is the job of a clerk.”-–is a dishonest and misleading characterization of what she did. It is not her job, after a decision by her boss, to seek out a failed litigant and give him the benefit of what she thinks he did wrong and needs to do in order to prevail. Unless that is her practice every time a motion fails, and accepted as one of her responsibilities, it is exceeding her authority.

                  You’re spinning, that’s all. And the judge’s conduct is 100% irrelevant. It is not the clerk’s job to overrule the judge whether he is a jerk or not. She’s not qualified or authorized.

                  • Your response consisted of bolding “lawyer”. How do you interpret that? Words had to be “put into your mouth”, because apparently you were not able to find your own.

                    Again, I don’t know what you’re reading, but every account of what happened involved the applicant repeatedly resubmitting at the courthouse. The clerk did not seek out the litigant. Your assertion is either dishonest, or you have access to an alternative source. Care to share?

                    The clerk did not overrule the judge. The suggestion is ridiculous. Resubmitting the motion is not a violation. She didn’t tell the applicant what argument to make. The notion that we pay people to stand around and watch people improperly fill out forms is absurd. The judge dismissed the motion on technicalities. The notion that anyone should interpret that as an explicit instruction to idly watch the same or similar technical error be made is tacitly absurd. The clerk was demonstrably qualified to hand out the document. She achieved it. She was legally authorized to do so. The notion that she can only do so in response to some arcane sequence of written and verbal instructions is absurdist.

                    • Warning: If you call a successful motion submitted by another prisoner a “template” one more time, I’m spamming the post. Got it? A clerk may give out official templates and forms, not choose which successful motions should be used as a basis for another litigant. That is advocacy. that is taking sides, which a clerk, who works for the judiciary, must not do. She must be completely neutral. Your argument, which is getting shrill, is predicated on calling an apple an orange.

                      1. I interpret THAT as a hired individual loyal to the prisoner and working on his behalf. The act of seeking an example of a successful motion is the task of an advocate, or at least someone working on the prisoner’s behalf. I didn’t say it had to be a lawyer, and the word was repeated from YOUR post.

                      2. The applicant re-submitted to the courthouse. He did not say, “Tell me how to win this motion,” and if he did, the proper answer was, “You’ll have to get a lawyer to answer that for you, sir.”

                      3. The clerk is not allowed to say, “Hey, I can help you win this case.” She is not allowed to give advice to the lawyer. She is not allowed to consult with relatives of the prisoner on appeal strategy. she is not allowed to say, “Gee, I think that guy is innocent, and the judge is wrong. I’m going to help him.” This is not a matter of debate.

                      4. A motion to order forensic DNA testing is not like filling out a driver’s license form, or DNA testing in a paternity case. It is substantive. It will typically require detailed information, such as explaining why the identity of the defendant was a significant issue in the case; explaining in light of all the evidence, how if the results of the requested DNA testing are favorable to the defendant, a motion for a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence would be granted; explaining whether DNA testing was done at any prior time, whether the defendant objected to providing a biological sample for DNA testing, and whether the defendant objected to the admissibility of DNA testing evidence at trial; making every reasonable attempt to identify both the evidence that should be tested and the specific type of DNA testing sought; and including consent to provide a biological sample for DNA testing. The prisoner in this case almost certainly knew the requirements, which is all the clerk was authorized to provide. Showing how another prisoner answered the requirements above is advocacy, plain and simple.

                      5. Failing to include the required elements might be technical. Not doing theme thoroughly or persuasively is not technical. In any event, it is not the clerk’s job to advise the appellant about how to best convince her boss. Again, that is taking sides.

                      6. The law requires many “arcane” sequences–they are called “process,’ and are essential to the integrity and orderly functioning of the justice system.

                    • Emphasis is mine:

                      Do what you like. For the record, from the dictionary, template: something that serves as a model for others to copy, synonyms: model, example, guide, mold, blueprint, pattern

                      From the original AP story. “Nelson used that motion – a public document Dunnell could have gotten if she had known its significance and where to find it – as a guide for a motion he filed Feb. 22, 2012, again seeking DNA testing.”

                      Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/07/28/4373583/jackson-county-circuit-judge-fires.html#storylink=cpy

                      By all accounts I’ve seen, Sea Dunnell was having trouble and asked Sharon Snyder for help.

                      It is a travesty of our justice system that DNA is not automatically assessed retroactively. Can you provide evidence of your thesis that making legal proceedings inaccessible to the indigent improves the justice system?

                    • 1. In law, template is a term of art. You can’t just call anything that is a guide a template in formal terms.
                      2. All legal research is based on “public documents”…that doesn’t make it appropriate for neutral parties to do on behalf of adversary parties.
                      3. I told you what she should have said if she was asked for help: “Talk to your lawyer.”
                      4. Re: “Can you provide evidence of your thesis that making legal proceedings inaccessible to the indigent improves the justice system?” You are an ass. I have never presented such a thesis, nor to I subscribe to one, and that is not what the post was about. As I stated earlier, you persist in word games and distortion. That’s not discourse—that’s dishonesty squared by ignorance.

            • That’s NOT my second argument. My point is that she gave special treatment to this one prisoner, and that she may not do according to whim. If she routinely did this, and her supervisors knew about it and approved it, that would be something else. She does not and should not have the power to pick winners and losers in the justice system. Simple as that. If she wants to do a unique good deed in violation of the limitations on her duties, fine, good for her—she should also be willing to lose her job as a result.

              • Finally, you have a perverse sense of government. Government exists to serve the people. Civil servants absolutely should help people to succeed. It is the duty of every single clerk to provide service to the people by facilitating processing such that judges do not dismiss cases or motions on the basis of technical inconsistencies. Technical inconsistencies are perfectly capable of occurring without the time and expense of civil servants. Doing her job is not special treatment. If she routinely fails to help people, then they should fire her for routinely failing, not sporadically succeeding. However, in any case, it has not been suggested that she had failed to render assistance before.

                • No organization, especially government, can serve anyone or anything if subordinates have the brief to veto their superiors and operate as lone rangers, seeking justice as they see it.

                  You are adept in deceitful language, and thus waste my time. The issue is not her routinely “failing to help” people. The issue is her offering special assistance to one individual because she decided to work on his behalf, against the position of her employers.

                  • Veto!? Lone Rangers!? You make it sound like she drove a truck through the prison wall and broke him out. She gave someone a template without waiting for the applicant to figure out the “correct” way to formally submit the request.

                    Perhaps you should consider that the language is not the problem. Your argument, weak as I believe it to be, hinges upon the assistance being in some way special, and yet you haven’t adequately supported even that.

  4. She was fired because she embarrassed the judge. End of story.

    “You are adept in deceitful language, and thus waste my time.” – Seems like an apt description of your own article and the comments beneath. One second you describe her as a “habitual meddler,” and the next you describe her as providing special treatment because she had an “interest” in the case. What possible personal interest could she have had in this case? Other than oh I don’t know… being able to sleep at night?

    Your idea of ethical behavior is interesting. Very Hitler-esque. I think practicing ethics is a lot less passive than you seem to assume. Your idea of ethics seems to be to just follow orders and tell the man who’s been jailed for 30+ years and can’t afford an attorney to somehow magically find one. Real ethical…

    You keep acting as if she just volunteered the motion, as if this poor sister who keeps showing up to this courthouse on behalf of her brother even after he’s been incarcerated for 30 years is invisible because she doesn’t have a law degree. Maybe the sister didn’t ask the right question. (Though for all we know, the sister did specifically ask for a sample motion.) Maybe she didn’t know exactly what she was looking for. Maybe she just said, “Please, I don’t understand why all his prior motions have been rejected. It’s a reasonable request. What do we need to say in the motion for it to be granted?” Whatever this woman said to her, it was enough for the clerk to know what it was the woman was actually asking for, even if the woman couldn’t articulate it in the “proper” manner. How could it be anything but unethical to fail to hand over the motion at that point? Face it. This clerk wasn’t fired for breaking some rule or playing the advocate when she’s supposed to be neutral. She was fired for a technicality, because she did her job and answered a request that wasn’t made in the exact form required under the apparently stringent code of conduct for clerk-taxpayer relations. Just like the judge (whom even you described as questionable) rejected the prior motions for technicalities, you’re slandering this woman, citing her for unethical behavior, over a mere technicality. I don’t know where you learned about ethics, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. It’s not some formula. I don’t see how serving the woman’s need (a need that she would’ve served unquestioningly if it had been a lawyer in front of her, mind you) was in any way unethical, even if it did undermine the (wrongful) intent of the judge to prevent this man from obtaining the DNA testing to which he was entitled.

    Your whole argument is also based on two false premises. First, you assume that this woman worked for the judge and undermined his authority. Therefore, she’s unethical. But the judge isn’t the one paying her salary. It’s the taxpayer that pays her salary and she’s paid to serve the public good. Yes, that means conforming to rules, regulations, and processes that are designed to facilitate the justice system. But here’s where your second premise comes in: The system works. It’s accessible to all. It’s not racially discriminatory. There’s no barrier to the poor. Well I hate to burst your bubble but unfortunately, we’re talking about a broken system rife with people in authority who have little to no accountability for their corrupt actions, hidden as it is from the general public. Now I don’t fault you for thinking that reform should come from the outside. But we both know that’s a long way coming, if it ever comes at all what with all the people who are invested in the status quo. This essentially means that, as sad as it is, any hope of keeping the system honest depends on people like this clerk who are willing to push back. I’m glad that Sharon Snyder pushed back. And I’m sorry that instead of encouraging such behavior, the county has allowed her to be fired and sent such an unethical message about what happens to people who do the right thing. It just shows how deep the corruption runs. You can say she’s 70, she got to keep her pension, but that’s pretty consequentialist, don’t you think?

    Think of it this way: If the justice system was a company, the members of the general public were the stockholders, and the judge was a CEO wasting corporate assets, then this clerk would be the employee who was retaliated against for practicing her duty of loyalty to the company (not the CEO) by privately fighting a corrupt money wasting practice in good faith, without any monetary or personal incentive. In the corporate world, the bad publicity that would result from such an action would probably spark reform, maybe even a non-retaliation policy to encourage ethical behavior within the company and send out the message that no one is above the law. The question we should ask ourselves is why the justice system, funded by our own tax dollars, is in a place where they can just brazenly shove something like this under the rug.

    • I was going to answer this thoroughly until I reviewed the thread. I waste far too much time on the gang attack from some website as it was—I ended up banning a couple, and none of them were interested in the blog. The arguments are all along these same lines, and to read them, you would think the original post was some kind of hard-ass manifesto. It wasn’t. Everyone, especially the media, was representing this as a black-and-white issue of bad judge heroic clerk, and it involved much more than that. The clerk crossed into unauthorized practice territory, played favorites, and undermined her superior. She may have done the right thing, but she is untrustworthy.

      Carissa, like her comrades, can’t read the intros to the blog (one of the combatants claimed that he couldn’t find the mission of the blog because I had it hidden under “ABOUT”): she entered this as “Anonymous” which is specifically banned. I wrote her, courteously, and gave her 48 hours to send me a screen name, making a casual, facetious Nazi reference because of the “Hitler-esque” crack. She then sent me a long insulting e-mail about how my reading comprehension skills are poor since I conflate calling some one “Hitler-esque” to calling him a Nazi. Oh. She was really comparing me to short house painters. What nightmare of a bleeding heart website produces all these pompous, obnoxious people? I’ve wasted too much time with them on this post already.

      • Carissa sent an indignant, obnoxious and offensive reply, and as I promised her based on her similarly unacceptable e-mails to me, I spammed it. I could teach her many things, if she gave any evidence whatsoever of having an open mind, but her mind’s made up and slammed tight. Mine is not: note that my ultimate conclusion whether Snyder I admired her, and whether she necessarily did the right thing. Carissa and the others on this post—if any of them worked in the justice system, they hid it well—don’t want to hear about the absolutely crucial principle that non-legal personnel cannot practice law, which means engaging in legal activities in a legal system. That’s what she did. Very few lawyers, if any, dispute that. She provided exactly the same service that a lawyer assisting a pro se litigant would provide. Well, a lawyer should have provided it, and this is for the protection of defendants. What if she chose the wrong document, for example? If a lawyer did that, it would be malpractice, and non-lawyers are more likely to practice law badly than lawyers. If you encourage this behavior, as Carissa endorses with the immortal confidence of the vigilante, people will be hurt whom the rules are in place to protect. Oh, never mind, she argues—if it turns out bad, then fire them. The ends justify the means. Well, you can’t run a justice system this way. “What do we need to say in the motion for it to be granted?” is a request for LEGAL ADVICE. Answer: “the local bar association has a pro bono program. Here’s the number. They can help.”

        Not “leave it to me; I know just what you need.”

        Prompted by Carissa’s hysterical characterization of what I wrote, I re-read the post. I stand by every word, and moreover, the point it was making is important: Here…I’l write it again, and it is not even slightly “Hitleresque”:

        She violated important rules and crossed lines that the court cannot allow to be crossed. It has to fire workers who cross them because it cannot trust such employees to be impartial and to uphold the integrity of the justice sysstem, and I can’t think of a better way to make that point than firing Snyder. (And by the by, does anyone think that this is the first time Snyder did something like this? I think that is unlikely.)

        Am I glad that Nelson was freed?

        Yes.

        Am I happy that Snyder broke the rules in this case?

        Of course.

        Do I agree that the Judge’s conduct was questionable and not in the best interests of justice?

        Yes.

        Does the case point up some of the weaknesses in the system?

        Sure.

        Do I admire Snyder for what she did?

        I’m not so certain. I think it’s easy to say she was courageous, but I’m not persuaded that she thought she was at any risk—because she was old, close to retirement, and a sympathetic figure. I would not be surprised to find that she was habitual meddler, and this also reflects badly on the courts system in Jackson County.

        Yes…it all turned out well. Snyder was forced to leave some months before she planned, but her pension, we are told, is intact. An unjustly imprisoned man is free. A judge of questionable judgment is under special scrutiny. Nonetheless—and a majority of the public has trouble with this key ethical concept—just because conduct was undertaken for admirable reasons and has good results does not make that conduct ethical.

        It also has trouble with this one: just because the correct conduct is motivated by unethical instincts (I think the suspicion that Snyder was fired in part because she embarrassed the judge is well founded) doesn’t make it unethical.

        Snyder should have been fired.

        Still, she should take pride in the fact that what got her justifiably fired freed an innocent man.

        (I never said ethics was easy.)

        Carissa doesn’t want to listen. Like an earlier commenter who refused to stop referring to the successful motions as “template” to cover for Snyder, she wants to frame the story so it fits neatly into a good guy-bad guy, standing up to a corrupt system construct. It doesn’t. That’s what I was trying to point out. Even when they don’t work, rules are important, and should be broken with full knowledge that consequences will follow even if the reason for breaking the rule was compelling.

  5. Wow. A commenter really thinks that when I require a valid e-mail address to publish a comment, I’m going to accept “noneofyourbitness,com. from him.
    And this guy thinks I’M a joke.

    Moron.

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