While many of us were watching the clock Friday afternoon waiting for the weekend to begin, Toby Sells at the Memphis Flyer was dropping another bombshell about the state of justice in Shelby County.
Trouble at the Top
Weirich, who was reprimanded earlier this year for her actions in the Noura Jackson case, is having a bad week. Thursday, the Commercial Appeal reported Weirich ranked highest in Tennessee for prosecutorial misconduct. The report, from the Fair Punishment Project notes that in addition to the Jackson complaint, the SCDAG’s office has been hit with more complaints than any other (relative to population) in the states they studied.
Weirich, for her part, called the study “grossly inaccurate”, without actually tearing into the report’s findings. She then pivoted to her normal line about seeking justice for crime victims. While that’s all well and good, seeking justice for victims, at the expense of following the rules of jurisprudence, flies in the face of the overarching cause of justice.
…these are not isolated incidents or occasional instances of human error. This is a pattern of misconduct, ethical violations, and inappropriate behavior on the part of the top law enforcement official in Tennessee’s largest county. DAG Weirich’s long-standing and obvious record of misconduct is now becoming national news. This should embarrass and outrage our entire community, particularly the people for whom she is charged with seeking justice and the taxpayers who fund her office.
Just City is right in noting this is part of a pattern of conduct. A 2015 Cover Story in the Memphis Flyer goes into great detail into the ways the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office has engaged in various levels of misconduct going back before Weirich’s tenure as the DAG.
Based on these events, its reasonable to believe this conduct is baked in to the office’s culture.
Weirich took office in 2011.
The Shelby County District Attorney General’s office has not released a single report to the public detailing the activities of her office, the challenges it faces, and the achievements/failures since Weirich took office. In 2012 Weirich said she didn’t have time to publish such a report because she’s “too busy prosecuting criminals”.
In the face of persistent questions about county prosecutors, an accounting of the DAG’s activities is absolutely in order.
The masthead of the Washington Post says, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”, and it seems to me that as a duly elected officer of the State of Tennessee, DAG Weirich should produce such an annual accounting of her office’s activities.
It doesn’t matter that this document will most likely be propaganda. This DAG must go on the record, showing what her office has been doing over the past 12 months.
Here are a couple of things we might learn rom such a report:
• How many cases does the SCDAG office deal with in a year?
• What’s the conviction percentage?
• How many cases are plea deals?
• How many cases actually go to trial?
• How many acquittals?
• How many backlogged cases are there?
• How many cases are overturned?
• What is Shelby County’s arrest to conviction ratio? (by investigating jurisdiction and class of crime)
These, and many other items, are critical to both defend the work of the DAG, and put the results that are trumpeted in press releases, into more context.
Its important for the public to understand the challenges prosecutors face and their overall performance.
Currently Shelby County voters judge Weirich based on whether they like her personally. This is not fair to her, or the office she represents.
Transparency Flows Downhill
For years Shelby County has been dogged with questions about its justice system. Problems at the Juvenile Court. Questionable policing practices. Rulings of prosecutorial overreach. All of these things have shaken people’s faith.
The response has been a lot of hunkering down rather opening up. Nearly every institution has guarded their practices like state secrets in the face of questions. The police see CLERB as a threat. The Juvenile Court sees DOJ oversight as a threat. The DAG sees the state Office of Professional Responsibility as a threat.
And if the public or press tries to exercise their right to know? The response is always canned. “They’re just against us”, “They’re activists”, “They have an agenda”.
But the truth, for all these groups is simple: if they would just open up a little, it might be uncomfortable at first, but they’ll see a lot more support in the long run.
There will be unflattering revelations. But that creates an opportunity to show your willingness to be better. It gives you the chance to undo some of the damage created by secrecy.
Most importantly, it highlights your commitment to your job and the people you serve.
And ultimately, that’s what’s missing from all of these organization. The “us against them” mentality that is a feature of their interactions with the public sets up an inherent conflict of interests… Commitment to the culture of the organization over their commitment to the community.
I’m not naive enough to believe that Weirich, or anyone else I mentioned, will crack open some transparency willingly.
There’s too much investment in the culture of secrecy in Shelby County. There’s an implicit protection racket between prosecutors and investigators.There are also too many prominent people who might get implicated when folks start finding out where the “bodies are buried”.
The truth WILL be discovered. There’s no way around it. There are too many people digging.
As every layer of secrecy gets peeled away, more people lose faith in Weirich and the office represents.
Might as well rip the band-aid off now and get it done once and for all.