Sunday, January 16, 2011

United States Attorney Nicholas Marsh

This past week’s New Yorker issue featured an article by the esteemed legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin. I’ve followed Mr. Toobin’s work for several years, not only through his frequent legal articles for the New Yorker, but also through his live commentary featured on the CNN network.

Generally, I admire Mr. Toobin’s work. In the article he published lastweek, however, I think Mr. Toobin missed an opportunity to help readers understand the trauma associated with the criminal justice process. Mr.Toobin wrote about the tragic suicide of Nicholas Marsh. Mr. Marsh had been an up-and-coming young prosecutor within the Department of Justice. Early in his career, administrators within the Justice Department had assigned him high profile cases. Mr. Marsh worked his way into the coveted position of investigating high-profile public corruption cases. While still in his early 30s, he took on the case that would lead to the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens.

In pursuing Ted Stevens, Mr. Marsh relied upon the fickle testimony of Bill Allen. Mr. Allen had been a big government contractor who admitted to relying upon bribery to secure huge contracts for his construction company.  When confronted with his wrongdoing, Mr. Allen began feeding federal authorities information on others with hopes of reducing his own sentence.

Although Mr. Marsh could not gather any evidence to indict Senator Stevens for bribery, Bill Allen provided evidence that he had given the Senator valuable gifts, and apparently, Senator Stevens had failed to report those gifts on disclosure forms. It was a federal crime, and a jury convicted Senator Stevens after a DC trial before the election in November, 2008. A later investigation by the Justice Department and the federal judge who presided over the Stevens’ trial suggested improprieties in the way that evidence was gathered and used against Senator Stevens. That ongoing investigation lasted for several months, leaving Mr. Marsh and his career in a state of limbo. He couldn’t cope with the pressure. Not being able to cope, he hung himself.

Mr. Toobin, himself a former federal prosecutor, wrote an article that was sympathetic to Nicholas Marsh. Although my heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who endures enormous stress, it’s my opinion that Mr. Toobin was remiss in his failure to report on how anyone being investigated goes through stress. His article could have pointed out that our nation incarcerates more than 2.3 million people. As Mr. Marsh did, every individual who proceeds through a criminal trial struggles.

This past week’s New Yorker issue featured an article by the esteemed legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin. I’ve followed Mr. Toobin’s work for several years, not only through his frequent legal articles for the New Yorker, but also through his live commentary featured on the CNN network.

Generally, I admire Mr. Toobin’s work. In the article he published lastweek, however, I think Mr. Toobin missed an opportunity to help readers understand the trauma associated with the criminal justice process. Mr.Toobin wrote about the tragic suicide of Nicholas Marsh. Mr. Marsh had been an up-and-coming young prosecutor within the Department of Justice. Early in his career, administrators within the Justice Department had assigned him high profile cases. Mr. Marsh worked his way into the coveted position of investigating high-profile public corruption cases. While still in his early 30s, he took on the case that would lead to the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens.

In pursuing Ted Stevens, Mr. Marsh relied upon the fickle testimony of Bill Allen. Mr. Allen had been a big government contractor who admitted to relying upon bribery to secure huge contracts for his construction company.  When confronted with his wrongdoing, Mr. Allen began feeding federal authorities information on others with hopes of reducing his own sentence.

Although Mr. Marsh could not gather any evidence to indict Senator Stevens for bribery, Bill Allen provided evidence that he had given the Senator valuable gifts, and apparently, Senator Stevens had failed to report those gifts on disclosure forms. It was a federal crime, and a jury convicted Senator Stevens after a DC trial before the election in November, 2008. A later investigation by the Justice Department and the federal judge who presided over the Stevens’ trial suggested improprieties in the way that evidence was gathered and used against Senator Stevens. That ongoing investigation lasted for several months, leaving Mr. Marsh and his career in a state of limbo. He couldn’t cope with the pressure. Not being able to cope, he hung himself.

Mr. Toobin, himself a former federal prosecutor, wrote an article that was sympathetic to Nicholas Marsh. Although my heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who endures enormous stress, it’s my opinion that Mr. Toobin was remiss in his failure to report on how anyone being investigated goes through stress. His article could have pointed out that our nation incarcerates more than 2.3 million people. As Mr. Marsh did, every individual who proceeds through a criminal trial struggles. The answer is not suicide, but searching within and finding the strength to persevere. I wrote about how to cope with such stress in my books Lessons From Prison and Ethics in Motion.

In being investigated, Mr. Marsh only endured exactly what he and his colleagues inflict as a matter of course on others. Apparently, his colleagues believed that Mr. Marsh had done something wrong. A process was in place to deal with that suspected wrongdoing. He should have endured it, just as prosecutors expect anyone else accused of wrongdoing to deal with the consequences. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as the fairy tale goes. That’s my take.

In being investigated, Mr. Marsh only endured exactly what he and his colleagues inflict as a matter of course on others. Apparently, his colleagues believed that Mr. Marsh had done something wrong. A process was in place to deal with that suspected wrongdoing. He should have endured it, just as prosecutors expect anyone else accused of wrongdoing to deal with the consequences. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as the fairy tale goes. That’s my take.

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