Ambrose: Nifong deserved disbarment

The sad truth, though, is that there are too many others in positions of consequential legal power in this country who walk away from their abuses unscathed, or even hailed as heroes.

It would be nice to think that these abuses rarely occur, that Nifong stands as an extraordinary exception in doing whatever was necessary to advance politically and win a court case, but we know differently from newspaper investigations and reports from such groups as the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

One whopper of a series in the Chicago Tribune eight years ago told the astonishing tale of how no fewer than 381 murder convictions were tossed out over a period of decades because of such shenanigans as withholding exculpatory evidence — a trick Nifong had been playing.

It’s not just district attorney offices that can leave dirty track marks on justice while circumventing laws, but also state attorneys general, as the Competitive Enterprise Institute observes. The think tank has detailed how a number of these officeholders have invented nonexistent laws and harassed businesses not under their jurisdiction while extending their reach beyond their own states in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

One of the worst of this bunch, says CEI, is Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general in Connecticut. He was pivotal in a settlement that got billions for trial lawyers and states out of tobacco companies that were then set up in a virtual cartel assuring that the industry would keep making profits enough from cigarette sales to keep the money rolling in. For this handiwork, Blumenthal and others of his attorney-general partners were honored as having made evil people pay for misdeeds. Laughable.

CEI notes that the attorneys general often operate with relatively little media attention, but not Eliot Spitzer, who was New York attorney general from 1998 to 2006 and threatened criminal penalties in order to secure high-dollar settlements.

He didn’t mind taking campaign contributions from those he regulated, letting others do the prosecuting when political friends may have crossed a legal line. He would also hold businesses responsible for the crimes of others. He went after Western Union because foreigners were using telegrams to try to commit fraud. Ponder that for a minute.

Because of Spitzer, some companies and their shareholders lost enormous sums and reputations were damaged. Unlike many of those in the Chicago cases, they may not have been down-and-outers, but it doesn’t follow that it’s OK to afflict the “privileged,” which is how the Duke lacrosse players in the Nifong case were frequently described.

A story in The New York Times reports that Nifong’s lawyer said his client hoped disbarment would “restore confidence in the criminal justice system,” but there are more infringements on justice than Nifong’s. Last year, Spitzer ran for governor of New York. He received 69 percent of the vote.

Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com

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