The Most Dangerous Power of the Prosecutor

Bennett Gershman, former prosecutor and James D. Hopkins Professor of Law, to examine federal criminal cases for evidence of prosecutor misconduct in lecture at Pace Law School October 6

Cases include former Alabama governor

WHITE PLAINS, NY (September 17, 2008) – A prosecutor’s decision to institute criminal charges is the broadest and least regulated power in U.S. criminal law. The exercise of this power can destroy a person’s reputation, liberty, and even life itself. This year’s Hopkins lecture at Pace Law School will examine several recent federal criminal cases in which it is alleged that certain individuals were selected for prosecution based on their political affiliation, which in these cases was Democratic.

In celebration of the first Monday in October, Bennett L. Gershman, professor of law at Pace Law School and a former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, will speak about “The Most Dangerous Role of the Prosecutor,” Monday, October 6, at 12:30 p.m. in the Robert B. Fleming Moot Courtroom at Pace Law School, 78 North Broadway in White Plains. The lecture is free and open to the public. Media admission by press pass. “First Monday” coincides with the first day of the United States Supreme Court term.

“Most dangerous misuses in our history.” If allegations are true in these recent cases, Gershman says, they may represent the most dangerous misuses of prosecutorial power in our history. They provide a uniquely important context in which to examine the availability of legal remedies to check a prosecutor’s bad faith charging decisions. Professor Gershman will explore the following cases.

  • Don Siegelman was the governor of Alabama from 1998-2002, previously held numerous state offices, and was a major political force in the state. In May 2004, Siegelman was indicted by the US Attorney on charges related to bid rigging of state contracts. The trial was held in mid 2006. Siegelman was convicted of a bribery charge after the jury twice reported that it was deadlocked over 11 days of deliberations. The appeal is scheduled to be argued in October. Allegations have been made that Siegelman was targeted for investigation and prosecution to further the interests of the Alabama Republican Party.
  • Georgia Thompson was a Wisconsin state procurement section chief and career civil servant. She was convicted in 2006 of misapplication of federal funds and mail fraud based on charges that she improperly steered a large services contract to a travel agency whose principals had made donations to Wisconsin’s Democratic governor. Thompson’s conviction was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007, finding that no crime had been committed. There is no doubt that the Thompson prosecution was highly useful politically to Wisconsin Republicans.
  • A third case involves US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan’s decision to prosecute Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent 76-year-old Democrat who was the coroner in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and was frequently a candidate and holder of elective public office, as well as an outspoken critic of Republican candidates, office holders, and policies. The charge against Wecht was an extraordinary theory of fraud. Wecht was alleged to have misused his office and personally enriched himself by a deal with a local university to trade unclaimed cadavers for university lab space. As noted in news reports, several jurors were concerned that the case was being politically driven.

Knowledge from experience. Professor Gershman is one of the founding faculty members at Pace Law School and has taught as a visiting professor at Cornell and Syracuse Law Schools. In private practice he specialized in criminal defense litigation. A former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for six years, he is the author of two books on prosecutorial and judicial ethics and served for four years with the Special State Prosecutor investigating corruption in the judicial system. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on prosecutorial misconduct. He is active on several Bar Association committees and is a frequent pro bono litigator. Professor Gershman teaches Constitutional Law, Evidence, Criminal Procedure and Criminal Justice, and has taught in the London Law Program.

History. The James D. Hopkins Chair in Law is an endowed chair established with contributions from alumni/ae of Pace Law School and members of the legal community to honor Judge James D. Hopkins in his lifetime and now honors his memory. The title of James D. Hopkins Chair in Law is held by a distinguished member of the Pace Law School faculty for a two-year term in recognition of outstanding scholarship and teaching.

First Monday in October, of which this lecture is part, is a national program that brings together law schools, colleges and universities and the activist community in an annual celebration of public interest work. Events held on campuses or in the community promote opportunities for furthering social justice and civil liberties. “First Monday” is held on the first Monday of October to coincide with the first day of the United States Supreme Court term.

Founded in 1976, Pace University School of Law has nearly 6,500 alumni throughout the country and the world and is consistently ranked among the nation’s top three programs in environmental law. It offers full- and part-time day and evening JD programs on its White Plains, NY, campus and offers the Master of Laws degree in Environmental Law, Real Estate Law and Comparative Legal Studies, and a Doctor of Laws in environmental law. The School of Law is part of Pace University, a comprehensive, independent, and diversified university with campuses in New York City and Westchester County.


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