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By: Mark Glennon*

John F. Grady is a U.S. Federal District Court judge in Chicago, widely regarded as particularly fair. This week he issued an unusual ruling against prosecutors that the press should heed as well.

Grady slapped the Cook County States Attorney with a rare sanction, saying they “acted in bad faith” during a civil rights case filed against Chicago police and the city. The prosecutors, he said, “obstructed” access to files while the lawsuit was argued in court and did not appear to follow its own policies for retaining documents. The Tribune’s full story on it is linked here.

Prosecutors are the good guys, but not always. They make mistakes. Charges get dropped. The innocent are sometimes acquitted and sometimes convicted. Worse, prosecutors sometimes act in bad faith, abusing process and letting witness lie on the stand. We know from even the most meticulously tried cases — capital murder cases — that innocents sometimes get convicted.

Cringe when you see stories or mugshots published about charges brought or claims made — before any conviction. Lives get ruined by those stories. Extrajudicial punishment can be as severe as judicial punishment.  It’s especially unfair for the poor and middle class, who cannot afford the astronomical legal bills needed to fight back. It’s open season on the accused because they must stay silent while prosecutors and the media have at them in public.

British Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf once described the unfairness of the American criminal process as “trial by judicial torture.” I emailed him complimenting the article and he wrote back saying he was pleased an American agreed because he feared America was “loosing its moral compass.”

We have indeed lost our moral compass if we assume that claims by prosecutors are always right.

*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePonts