Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Get it out there, Deval -- UPDATED

The one thing that gets politicians in trouble is their inability to get all of the information out ahead of a story. Their first reaction to a question or challenge about anything controversial in their past is to acknowledge as little as possible in hopes of getting the issue out of the way. Time and time again, if they would just own up to their positions, there would be no controversy.

Now, Deval Patrick is facing some pretty tough questions about whether or not he mischaracterized his involvement in the appeals of convicted rapist Ben LaGuer. From today's Globe:

....Patrick issued a statement suggesting he no longer supported the effort to free the convicted rapist. Patrick said he had reviewed the history of the case and concluded that "justice has been served," in light of a 2002 DNA test that confirmed the prosecution's case against LaGuer.

In the same statement, issued Thursday night, Patrick sought to minimize his ties to LaGuer: "My sole involvement in this case was more than 10 years ago, when I wrote a letter on Mr. LaGuer's behalf."

At an event last week he told reporters: "I know who he is. He is someone on whose behalf I wrote, I think, maybe 15 years ago."

His spokesman, Richard Chacon, told the Sentinel & Enterprise that Patrick's comments in support of LaGuer were made when Patrick was working as a lawyer at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1980s.

But letters obtained by the Globe indicate Patrick's involvement was more recent and more significant than he has suggested. He wrote the Parole Board in 1998 and again in 2000. He also wrote at least twice to LaGuer himself, addressing the notes "Dear Ben."....

On Aug. 5, 1998, and again on April 3, 2000, Patrick asked the Parole Board to set LaGuer free.

The problem here is that Patrick could have released all of this info himself, and rendered this a non-story. Patrick is a civil rights lawyer. He has fought his entire adult life for fairness, and yes, that includes fairness for both the accused as well as the accuser. There were issues with the evidence and the original trial that convinced an awful lot of people that LaGuer deserved to be retried.

Lots and lots of people were shocked when the DNA tests concluded that LaGuer was the rapist after all. I don't think Patrick had any reason to shy away from his position, except for the reflexive instinct of politicians to hope that controversy goes away. had I been a Patrick advisor, my statement would have read something like this:

Recently there have been questions about a statement of support for convicted rapist Ben LaGuer that appears on a web site advocating for his retrial. In the years following his conviction, I came to understand through letters Mr. LaGuer wrote to me and a review of his trial that there were problems with his trial. As such, I advocated for Mr. LaGuer's appeals for retrial and parole through a series of letters to the court and to Mr. LaGuer himself.

In 2002, a DNA test concluded that Mr. LaGuer did, in fact, commit the crime. While I am still troubled by some of the irregularities at his trial, Mr. LaGuer has had his day in court, and the evidence he sought to exonerated him has shown the correctness of the verdict.
Now would that have been so hard? Just let everyone know that you thought the trial was shaky, you wrote a number of letters on LaGuer's behalf, the evidence proved him wrong, here are copies of the letters, and that's the end of the story.

UPDATE: Looks like Patrick's campaign was thinking the same thing, to an extent. From a press release:

Deval Patrick has said that almost 10 years ago he wrote a letter on Mr. LaGuer's behalf. He was not alone in expressing concern about the case at the time. Dr. John Silber of Boston University, legal scholars, newspaper editorials and many news reporters also expressed concern; indeed, several investigative reporters looked into the case and raised questions as well.

Deval felt strongly at the time-- and does so today-- that whenever issues of fairness are raised in our court system, they should be addressed in a serious manner.

Deval has said that after reviewing an update to the case--including DNA evidence that was not available at the time --he now feels that the right outcome has been achieved and that justice has been served in this case.

That's a pretty weak defense, essentially rehashing his earlier responses. He doesn't acknowledge the multiple letters to LaGuer. He does talk briefly about "issues of fairness," but doesnt make that the center of his statement.

Just as weak is his attempt to compare this to Lt. Governor candidate Reed Hillman's attempts to get parole for a friend who was serving time for DUI. Is it important? Yes. Should he use it as a way to muddle his own issues? No. Why not stand up proudly for your position--even if it was later proven incorrect--instead of bobbing and weaving?

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