|

Letters to the Editor

BY DI READERS | APRIL 21, 2014 5:00 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Prosecutors and the law

I’ve long hoped someone in this town would run what I call “the Gonzo campaign,” in reference to Hunter Thompson’s almost successful run for sheriff in Colorado. He pledged to tear up and sod the streets and promised not to take drugs … while on duty.

Someone’s finally doing it. Recent UI law graduate John Zimmerman is challenging County Attorney Janet Lyness in the June 3 Democratic primary, pledging to “end prosecutions for marijuana for personal use.” There’s even a pot leaf on the flier.

So why, now that someone is finally doing what I’ve been begging for, am I supporting Lyness instead?

Elections aren’t just about platforms. They’re about people.

Lyness doesn’t like to blow her own horn, which is a liability in a campaign. Zimmerman likes to talk about “prosecutorial discretion,” but that means more than just dropping cases you don’t like.

It means doing things with discretion behind the scenes. Things you can’t shout about without ruining their effectiveness. So in the job, aversion to self-promotion is one of Janet’s strengths.

With a challenger’s freedom to say anything, Zimmerman raises some legitimate issues, though there’s a deliberate blurring of the distinction between “arrested,” which the police do, and “prosecuted,” which the county attorney does or does not do. His supporters are calling this election a choice between a “progressive” and a “conservative.”

But even Johnson County doesn’t lean left enough to call Lyness a “conservative.” She has dedicated her life to helping rape and domestic-violence victims. She drafted the county’s first human-rights ordinance in 2006. She’s worked tirelessly to mitigate the consequences of bad laws and over-zealous policing — within the law as it is.

Janet Lyness is as progressive a person as I can imagine in the role of prosecutor. But diversions into drug court and treatment aren’t good enough for Zimmerman’s libertarian-left coalition. They want the arrests to not happen at all.

So do I. I’d like to do that by changing the law.

The Gonzo campaign is a rhetorical device. It isn’t a legal brief. There’s a certain Sticking It to the Man appeal in saying, “I won’t enforce laws I don’t like,” but that starts you down a long slippery slope toward George Wallace in the schoolhouse door. Do we really want to question our relationship to the rule of law, when drug-law reform is approaching legitimate victory?

No, this is not a choice between a progressive and a conservative. It’s a choice between a progressive, Lyness, and a radical. I don’t use that word lightly. It is indeed a radical jurisprudence, that underscores Zimmerman’s inexperience, to say, “I won’t prosecute cases under laws I disagree with.” 

I think a county attorney could ethically say, “I have to follow the law as it is, but here’s something I’d like to see changed.” But I’m a clerk, not a lawyer. That seems to be outside Janet’s comfort zone.

She sees that as the role of a legislator, not an officer of the court. I hope she can expand that comfort zone as this campaign continues. If not, it’ll cost her some votes.

An attorney’s relationship with the law, and how that grows over time, is hard for a non-attorney, or a fresh graduate, to understand. Janet Lyness has spend her adult life building it. It’s a sign of her integrity that rather than grandstanding to gain political points, she is true to that relationship. She sees that role as mitigating the consequences and bringing some justice to the underlying problems.

And she does that difficult, often thankless job remarkably well.

John Deeth


In today's issue:





 
Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.