Thursday, July 13, 2006

Power brokers

Knowledge is power, no matter which way you slice it. These days, it takes an increasing amount of knowledge to know each sentence of the state’s ever-widening book of criminal law. Hence, those who manage a good, operant knowledge of these laws often end up with a fair amount of power.

Most times, these people are called district attorneys.

They’ve got the power to regulate the flotsam and jetsam of arrests percolating out of the police department, choosing when and how aggressively to pursue a case, which is a power that usually adds an unmistakable glean of arrogance to their veneer. In other words, they’re not the type of people you want to bump into in a dark courtroom with a few charges pending.

But add to a prosecutor’s bag of tricks an unregulated voice in the press and you’ve got one audacious lawyer steering the freight train of justice through the land. That appears to be the case in Rensselaer County, where Patricia DeAngelis has a large enough ego to pen her own bi-weekly column the Troy Record –and they’ve got the audacity to print it.

The column recently got DeAngelis into a bit of hot water with the local fire department, as reported by a blogger and a Daily Gazette columnist, after she speculated that they could employ a sex offender as a one of their volunteers. And who really wants a pederast performing CPR on little Jimmy after he’s swallowed too much pool water?

Worse yet, the proselytizing prosecutor also suggested that parents might need to refuse medical attention for the progeny, were someone they know or suspect of being a sex offender shows up to an emergency donning rescue garb. Rightfully, her comments drew a strict rebuke from the fire department’s chief, who castigated the DeAngelis for even suggesting that people consider refusing emergency care.

Granted, DeAngelis was trying to make a point, the point being, let’s get more laws on the books. More laws means more crime, which in turn means more prosecutions to boast about come election time in November. Not to mention, boasting of a hard line on sex offenders is always a good way to accrue a good report with the voting public.

Why DeAngelis –the heir apparent of another dim-bulb DA named Mary Donahue –even has a column in the Record is somewhat bewildering. Most self respecting news organizations aren’t too keen on providing elected officials with regular column space.

But for a news agency like the Journal Register Company, this pandering to district attorneys isn’t anything new, especially in the Capital Region. Take for instance the Record’s sister paper to the north, The Saratogian, which all but run campaign posters for District Attorney James Murphy.

While Murphy doesn’t appear as brazen in his actions as DeAngelis, he’s also got a few interesting tick marks on his record that aren’t readily reported by the paper which unabashedly supports him. One such case was the tragic death of 70-year-old Bob Gorham, after he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while clearing snow from his neighbor’s driveway.

The accident may or may not have been avoidable, depending on the sobriety of Larry Bovee, the off-duty public works employee who fled the scene. One thing is for certain, he rushed home and had a few cocktails before returning to the scene –that’s according to several off-the-record comments Murphy apparently made after the accident.

But in the end, Bovee landed a deal with Murphy’s office that garnered him only 20 weekends in jail and a three-year probation sentence for killing a man. An assistant later said there was no way to prove Bovee had left the scene of the accident, despite the fact that police responding to the accident searched the city for the offending car before finding it parked neatly at his home several blocks away.

Of course, The Saratogian, in a campaign-season editorial written less than three weeks after Bovee’s sentencing, offered their wholehearted support for Murphy, an unchallenged incumbent. The paper described him as a prosecutor who “refuses to allow plea bargains for repeat DWI offenders,” which must have been a misprint, given Murphy’s treatment of Bovee, who had a prior record of drunken driving.

For newspapers and reporters, there’s a fine line that must be ridden with prosecutors, who ultimately control a good deal of the ebb and flow of crime news. This doesn’t mean, however, that papers shouldn’t take their respective DA’s to task when they’re brazenly out of line. And that’s a difficult thing to do when allowing them to pen their own personal columns or running hyper-supportive editorials about them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rensselaer County voters took the measure of DeAngelis last year, when she was running for county judge against a former town justice who did not have the DA's bully pulpit.

She lost by 10 points.

The Record and The Saratogian are cheap Journal Register papers which shamelessly cheerlead for incumbents, because it helps ensure legal advertising.

They do very little real reporting, contenting themselves with stenographing what officials say.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Mr. Friendly said...

C'mon Saratoga! Go after Soares.

Nice entry. I agree with Anonymous on Trish's chances in any upcoming election. Chances not too good.

11:04 AM  

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