Deliberate Prosecutions of the Innocent?

Scott Horton asks a chilling question: Has U.S. Attorney Alice Martin knowingly prosecuted innocent people? Horton points to:

a string of aggressive prosecutions brought by Birmingham U.S. Attorney Alice Martin. Those prosecutions are marked by convictions overturned and innocent men wronged. Two judges have openly questioned whether she knowingly prosecuted innocent people. The American Lawyer has learned that the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility has opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct that were made by Axion against Martin.

Martin is "best known for her crusade against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat." [more ...]

The Siegelman prosecution has been widely criticized as a frame-up by Martin, and the prosecution is now the subject of a probe by the House Judiciary Committee, which is trying to determine if it was brought for political reasons.

The Siegelman story is well known. Horton focuses on a less celebrated story, "the failed prosecution of Axion, a company started by Alexander Nooredin Latifi, an intense and amiable entrepreneur who emigrated from Iran as a young man in the 1970s." The government prosecuted Axion for violating the Arms Export Control Act by giving technical drawings of a Blackhawk helicopter part to a manufacturer in China.

After the trial started in October, the government's case collapsed quickly. What Axion had attempted to have made in China was nothing more than a tungsten blank, from which Axion intended to mill the actual part. The government was forced to acknowledge that the drawings furnished to Axion by its contractor had not been labeled "restricted," but instead were given a legend of "noncritical" and "uncontrolled," meaning that Axion had no way of knowing that their use was restricted. Moreover, the drawings had long been accessible on the Internet.

As the case progressed, the government's own witnesses were forced to concede that Blackhawk helicopters, equipped with the part in question, had actually been sold to China with U.S. government approval, demolishing the government's claim of a breach of secrecy. Not only that, but the prosecution was aware of these sales before the case was ever brought.

Judge Inge Johnson didn't think much of the government's case. She dismissed it. As to what she thought of the government's lawyers, Judge Johnson wrote:

"Evidence was received ... that at least raises the possibility in the eyes of the district court that the government continued to investigate and prosecute the defendants even after uncovering evidence demonstrating that the defendants were not guilty."

Horton asks why Martin would continue a flawed prosecution:

She declined to comment for this article. But for a prosecutor, the appeal of a national security case involving arms sales to China is obvious. Or it could be, as Henry Frohsin believes, that "the fact that Alex Latifi was Iranian American was more than tempting for the Department of Justice to try to create a poster child for their arms export control activism."

Ouch. In addition to prosecuting Axiom without good reason, the government froze Axiom's assets, causing the business to fail. The only good news in this is a rare decision to sanction the government monetarily:

Having won the case, Baker Donelson then put the government on the defensive. The firm filed a motion, arguing that the case was not brought in good faith and that the government should compensate Axion and Latifi for legal costs. Judge Johnson agreed. She wrote that the AECA "framework allows the government to effectively shut down an accused business regardless of whether the business is later acquitted at criminal trial. This result is unfair to potential defendants and, in this case as a practical matter, ruined Axion's business." She awarded $363,000 in costs, attorney fees and interest to Axion.

So Axion got reimbursed for legal fees, but that doesn't put Axion back in business, and it doesn't come out of Martin's pocket. It comes out of ours.

Do you suppose the president will nominate Alice Martin for a federal judgeship before his term ends? Or will he just give her a medal?

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  • Display: Sort:
    Supposing she is found to have (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by MarkL on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 10:51:01 PM EST
    knowingly prosecuted innocent people. Would that have an impact on the Siegelman case?

    probably both, (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by cpinva on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 11:02:04 PM EST
    Do you suppose the president will nominate Alice Martin for a federal judgeship before his term ends? Or will he just give her a medal?

    along with a nifty new nickname.

    this is truly mind boggling. she should be looking at criminal charges, as well as a civil rights suit. if her actions in this case don't constitute officially sanctioned criminal acts, nothing does.

    disbarrment also comes to mind.

    Tar and feathers, (none / 0) (#7)
    by magisterludi on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 04:42:06 AM EST
    followed by a long stint in the Stony Lonesome, comes to my mind.

    Sounding stupid (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by DaleA on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 11:03:10 PM EST
    but is prosecuting those known to be innocent a federal crime? Have prosecutors been convicted of this in the past. It just seems so horrifying, but I don't know if it is illegal.

    If Siegelman's was a malicious prosecution (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Cream City on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 12:57:53 AM EST
    I hope that she suffers.  I'm not nice, I know.  But even if she is imprisoned as long as he was, she cannot suffer as much as he did, humiliated and ruined the way that he was.  As was his family, too.

    Because that's the edge that evil people have over good people.  The evil ones capable of such sociopathic behavior as malicious prosecutions just don't care what other people think of them.  

    Deep betrayal (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by nellre on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 08:48:36 AM EST
    Police officers, prison guards and other government officials who improperly abuse the rights of individual Americans have long been recognized in federal law as a threat to society as a whole. That's why, immediately after the Civil War, Congress approved Title 18 USC 242 -- a statute making it a crime to deprive any person of their rights "under color of law."

    She should be tried, hopefully convicted, and if so permanently disbarred and barred from any government job.

    So TChris.... (none / 0) (#4)
    by jerry on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 11:30:05 PM EST
    You have some of the more interesting posts that I read on these nets.  So thanks.

    She probably figured (none / 0) (#6)
    by TomStewart on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 02:16:58 AM EST
    she would turn up something during discovery that would stick, but that's not how you're supposed to go about it. Was there no one to tell her she had no case?

    Hamilton Burger had better cases than what Mrs Martin had, and he lost too, but at least he didn't trump it up.

    Burger (none / 0) (#13)
    by gaf on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 10:47:04 AM EST
    Hamilton Burger had better cases than what Mrs Martin had, and he lost too, but at least he didn't trump it up.

    Hamilton Burget always looked like having an airtight case when the prosecution started. It was his opponent who usually went into the case hoping either discovery would turn up something interesting. If not, he would go on fishing expeditions during the cross-examnination.


    What about Mike Nifong? (none / 0) (#8)
    by wasabi on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 07:47:42 AM EST
    Wasn't he disbarred for misconduct?  The NC State Bar Disciplinary Committee voted unanimously to strip him of his liscense.  Folllowing that, the defendants in the case sued him and he filed for bancrupcy protection who's claim was rejected by a judge.  

    Is it dependent upon the Alabama State Bar to take action?

    According to the press release from (none / 0) (#9)
    by Anne on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 07:58:52 AM EST
    the WH, at the time Bush presented her name for consideration:

    The President intends to nominate Alice H. Martin to be United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.  She is presently an attorney and mediator in private practice in Florence, Alabama, and from 1997 to 1999, she was a Circuit Court Judge for the State of Alabama's 11th Judicial Circuit.  From 1993 to 1996, Martin was a Municipal Judge for the City of Florence, Alabama.  Martin practiced law in Huntsville, Tuscumbia and Florence, Alabama, from 1989 to 1994. From 1983 to 1990, she served in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Tennessee.  Martin is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of Mississippi School of Law.

    I mean, with Bush nominees, there's never anywhere to go but up, right?  Can't have the humiliation of going back to being a state court judge, so, yeah - the federal bench would be perfect.

    And the more egregious and outrageous the actions of one of these Bush nominees/appointees are, the greater the likelihood of a medal, although in this case, I'm thinking she can't get one until Gonzales does, and the clock may be running out on her for that.  Maybe a pre-emptive pardon - I have a feeling there will be a long, long list of those in January.

    Wasn't there a quote? (none / 0) (#10)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 08:05:46 AM EST
    I read on this trial (Axiom) that someone in the prosecution was quoted as saying they didn't care if they won the case - they just wanted him out of business?

    Alabama takes a lot of heat for a lot of (none / 0) (#11)
    by inclusiveheart on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 08:07:49 AM EST
    stuff that isn't always totally deserved, but the political corruption in that state seems to me to be at something of an all time high - and that's saying something because it has always been one of those states that has had somewhat questionable political traditions.

    The numerous colorful stories I've grown up hearing about this judge or that state senator or whatever all pale in comparison to what we are finding out about Martin and the others involved in the Siegelman case.  These people are bad people - apparently really very malicious.  It is very, very disconcerting.

    Meanwhile, when I talk to people down there about this stuff, a lot of folks shrug their sholders and say, "All politicians around here are corrupt."  I can't help but think that the low expectations people in the state have allow people like Martin to do their thing unobstructed.

    what's the deal with prosecutors (none / 0) (#14)
    by DandyTIger on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 12:20:45 PM EST
    like this guy and like all those that don't want to let go of people that are later proved not guilty by DNA. It's as if they are religious zealots and believe a case not based on rational sound judgement, but by some emotional based religious like approach. I'm sure there are lots of good ones, and maybe it's just me, but some prosecutors sure seem a little off.

    In this case she may well be a zealot (none / 0) (#17)
    by splashy on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 03:24:27 PM EST
    Many of those that have been appointed during the Repub rule are religious zealots, that feel that anyone that doesn't believe as they do are Satanic.

    It's very scary. She needs to be disbarred, along with any other others that persecute innocent people for partisan reasons.


    Justice Dept. subject to state bar discipline? (none / 0) (#15)
    by txpublicdefender on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 12:28:14 PM EST
    Back when I was in law school (the late 90s), I remember there being a big kerfuffle about whether DOJ lawyers were subject to the state bar disciplinary rules from the state in which they were licensed.  People were trying to go after some federal prosecutors for violating state bar rules regulating contact with represented parties (specifically as to officers and employees of corporations that were represented and the DOJ was trying to prosecute).  DOJ was arguing that DOJ lawyers acting within the scope of their employment could NOT be subject to state bar rules--some sort of constitutional federalism/supremacy type argument.  

    I never heard how that was resolved?  Anyone know?

    If they are subject to bar discipline, I would hope that the federal judge in the case would refer all the prosecutors involved for further investigation.

    The other thing I would hope is that the members of the current and future sitting federal grand juries in this jurisdiction would wake up and see that they simply cannot take on faith what these prosecutors are telling them, and that they need to apply some serious scrutiny and be asking their own questions and subpoenaing their own witnesses and documents to the grand jury instead of just relying on the prosecutors to make sure they hear everything of value (as opposed to just everything the prosecutor wants them to hear).  It would be nice, too, if they started refusing to indict some people in cases that had the stench of being a politicization of the criminal justice system.

    The grand jury was supposed to be a bulwark against overzealous prosecutions--a wall of the people between the overwhelming power of government and the individual sought to be accused.  When all they do is rubber stamp what prosecutors put in front of them, they turn this critical constitutional protection into a nullity.

    One more thing . . . (none / 0) (#16)
    by txpublicdefender on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 12:37:12 PM EST
    This last little tidbit from the linked article is precious:

    Martin is also fighting the award of attorney fees on procedural grounds, claiming that the freeze orders against Axion and the decertification of the company as a government contractor had in no way harmed the business. Her crusade continues.

    If that is what she is truly argument, that sounds like that is sanctionable, too, as a frivolous argument not based in any even arguable reality.  Yeah, why would freezing a corporations assets and decertifying a government contracting business as a government contractor cause any harm to the business?

    What a disgrace.

    I have to say that as much as I disliked Henry Hyde for a whole bunch of things, I thank him very much for the Hyde Amendment (which provides for attorney fees and costs for those who are determined to have been the subject of a frivolous, bad faith, or vexatious litigation).