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Another Smorgasbord of Lies

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The Washington, D.C. area has produced a story casting additional light on the relationship, such as it may be, between criminal defense and truth-telling.

For a number of years, Prince Georges County, a D.C. suburb, was run by County Executive Jack Johnson.  The County has long had a "pay-to-play" reputation  --  i.e., if you want a County contract, you start handing out bribes.  Things got no better under Johnson.  Last November, he was indicted by the feds for extortion and various other forms of corruption.

At the time, the reaction was bravado.  We've all heard it before:  The prosecutors are cowboys, I've done nothing wrong, I can't wait for the opportunity to tell the whole story at trial.

Yesterday, the tell-it-all-at-trial theory went bye-bye and Johnson, as quietly as possible, pled guilty to two felonies in a plea deal.  The Washington Post story, hilariously titled, "Evidence may have led Johnson to plead guilty," begins:

On the November day he was arrested on federal corruption charges, then-Prince George's county executive Jack B. Johnson stood on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse in Greenbelt and proclaimed his innocence.

"I just can't wait for the facts to come out," said Johnson, a Democrat who was in the waning days of his second term. "I'm absolutely convinced I'll be vindicated."

Four months later, Johnson, 62, again vowed to fight allegations that he accepted and solicited bribes. "I don't even recognize the person being charged," he said.

But on Tuesday, Johnson admitted in court that he took more than $400,000 in bribes, pleading guilty to two felonies. Prosecutors said they will seek prison time at a sentencing scheduled for Sept. 15.

Why the dramatic reversal?

The Post story suggests the reason is that Johnson and his legal team were blown away by the government's evidence.  Well, maybe.  But a more likely explanation seems obvious:  Johnson changed his tune because, from the getgo, though he knew full well what he'd been up to (and thus had no need for the "government's evidence" to tell him), he had no compunction about standing on the courthouse steps, legal team in tow, and lying through his teeth. 

Is a display like that really something our profession needs to be part of?

1 Comment

I agree with you. This is another example of why lawyers should be making "no comment." Unless in the course of litigation it appears obvious that it is ethically necessary and responsible. I would also suggest the same for the prosecution when they hold courthouse media invites to brag about the recent arrest, or indictment, or case, and in the process disclose far too much about the case than appears appropriate under the ethical rules.

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