Many of us were pleased with the outcome of the Grand Jury investigation into allegations that the Centre County District Attorney had acted improperly and committed several potentially criminal acts. At least we were going to be spared a very messy public trial of a sitting District Attorney! We could get back to normal in Centre County!
But the parties continued to escalate their dispute, now in Federal civil court, and our nightmare continues. Centre county’s legal community has become toxic. I suspect the District Attorney will insist, and likely believes, that pursuing the various civil and tort remedies she is seeking in Federal court will restore her reputation in the community, and in turn will restore confidence in the justice system.
This outcome could not be more unlikely. The public is upset about the fighting and the allegations and the acrimony. I see it daily from my clients, friends, family, and people I just happen to meet out in public.
To make matters worse, a private anti-union group (an apparently Thatcherite organization that seems to crusade against evil groups like public schoolteachers) has begun agitating against the District Attorney, accusing her of corruption and other violations of the public trust. Just today, I saw a flashy, professionally produced mail piece arrive at home imploring the public to… I don’t know what. Rise up? It wasn’t clear what their goal is, aside from shitstirring. Maybe they’re just bored?
I’m only half-joking when I tell people we are going to need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to get over this.
Many of us in the legal community have stayed out of these fights. It is my belief that the Rules of Professional Conduct require us, at least the attorneys, to not do anything that undermines public confidence in the Judiciary and, by extension, the criminal justice system. But there is a conflicting requirement in our Rules: to speak out on issues of public concern and for the reform of the legal system.
So here’s my idea for what needs to happen: For the good of our community, the District Attorney needs to drop her lawsuit. The other various parties need to drop any counterclaims they may have filed.
Apologies should be offered and accepted all around, by and to everyone involved. Only then can we start to work together to restore Centre County’s reputation as a model court in the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System.