Friday, December 4, 2009

Stay classy, Governor Huckster. And judicious as well.

First of all, we have the letter in which public prosecutor Robert Herzfield objects, in vain, to Happy Saintly Christian Governor Huckabee's decision to commute the sentence of future police-executioner Maurice Clemmons. I would very much like to have seen the earlier letters -- Herzfield appears to have sent a letter providing a "standing objection" to all clemency proclamations in his district, pending an opportunity in each case for him to investigate the facts of the case, and Huckabee appears to have written a somewhat pissed-off response; but I haven't seen either of those two letters. This particular Herzfield letter, however, is impressive and well-argued:
Dear Governor Huckabee,

I've received your letter of January 5th in which you state that you "judiciously" review each clemency application "on a case by case basis, carefully analyzing the merits of each." After reading your letter, I was surprised to hear that your spokesman stated that you "just do what the Post Prison Transfer Board recommends." These statements seem to be mutually exclusive. Do you analyze the merits of each case or do you rubber stamp Board recommendations? [That seems like a very good question to me -- especially since "I review each application on a case by case basis, carefully analyzing the merits of each" sounds like the sort of vague, insincere boilerplate a politician would feed to an inconveniently pestersome prosecutor accusing him of carelessness, while "I just do what the Post Prison Transfer Board recommends" sounds exactly like a politician speaking to the public and trying to disavow any responsibility for his decisions. Can't blame Herzfield for asking the Huckster to make up his feeble mind. I'm curious to see how Huckabee responds to this excellent question.]

Secondly, it seems clear that you did not finish reading my December 29th letter. As I stated last month, if you have a case which merits clemency, I requested that you contact me with the reasons you believe clemency is appropriate for persons incarcerated and allow me to research the facts and then determine whether I would withdraw my objection. I did not -- as you stated in your letter -- declare that everyone from Saline County "is beyond any consideration for extra-judicial relief, no matter the facts." Perhaps your anger at having your judgment questioned prevented you from reading the entire letter. [Let's see: a prosecutor asks, "Before I agree to go along with granting clemency to some convicted murderer or rapist, I'd like to have a chance to check the facts," and the governor responds, "You don't want anybody to get clemency and you don't care about the facts." That does seem to imply either that Herzfield is lying to Huckabee on a point where Huckabee would certainly know that he's lying, or else that Huckabee has a reading disability. It would be very interesting to see the previous two letters in the series, wouldn't it? Can't wait to see how Huckabee responds to this point, which doesn't seem very easy to respond to in any way other than with an apology.]

Finally, I believe your administration's policy of granting clemency is fatally flawed. You would be wise to take the time to re-evaluate your rocedures. I suggest an approach that is more public, and that you announce specific reasons for granting clemency at the time you announce your intent. [Note: the Governor was obliged at the time to publish and "intent to grant clemency" thirty days before actually granting it, in order to allow for public comment; Herzfield's suggestion is that the government provide his specific reasons for wanting to let this particular murderer or rapist get out of jail sooner, so that the public commentary could be better informed. Can you think of a reason not to do this, other than that you, as Governor, were afraid that if people knew what your reasons were, they'd crucify you as an ass for granting clemency on such weak grounds? Me either.] An open system along these lines would be more respectful to the people of Arkansas, and allow them the opportunity to understand why a convicted murderer (or rapist) should be set free. [Do you see any problem with this, Gentle Reader? I certainly don't, and am very interested to see Huckabee's response to these seemingly well-thought-out suggestions.]

It is inevitable that citizens will question the motives of public officials who take such dramatic action without offering the slightest explanation or justification whatsoever. This type of situation damages the credibility of everyone in public service, and is harmful to our democracy. [Seems a trifle overwrought at first reading...but then he's a prosecutor who's watching murderers and rapists set free, and I imagine the families of the four dead Washington cops don't find it overwrought at all.]

I hope you will consider updating your policy to reflect the suggestions above.

Sincerely, etc.
Well, I certainly can't wait to read Huckabee's response to this letter. How will he clarify his position on the degree to which his decisions are his own doing rather than mere rubber-stamping? Will he apologize for carelessly mis-reading Herzfield's original letter? Will he give careful consideration to Herzfield's seemingly excellent suggestions for improving the clemency process? Let's see, shall we?
Dear Robert,

The governor read you [sic] letter and laughed out loud.

He wanted me to respond to you. I wish you success as you cut down on your caffeine consumption.

Sincerely yours,

Cory Cox,
Deputy Legal Counsel and Adviser on Criminal Justice
Ladies and gentlemen, the front-runner for the Republican Party's Presidential nomination in 2012...and you wonder why, in a country where more people self-identify as conservatives than liberals, the Republican Party has trouble getting its candidates elected.

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