…And so the nationally known South Hadley bullying criminal case that began as a bombastic farce goes out with a face-saving and clearer headed whimper.
As you have probably heard, and as we discussed in previous blogs, all but one of the teens indicted last year by, to be undeservingly generous, overzealous ex-district attorney Scheibel, have had their cases resolved. While one remains awaiting trial for a typical Massachusetts statutory rape charge (hardly a bullying issue), the other kids have resolved their cases as misdemeanors.
The dispositions ranged from guilty pleas to misdemeanors to continuances without findings. The latter means that, so long as that particular defendant stays out of trouble after a probationary period, the matter will be dismissed. In the various cases, of course, the fact that they were initially charged as they were did the damage to each defendant’s criminal record. At best, it will be several years before these high school students can potentially seal their records and so moving on to college and/or employment will be even more of a challenge than it already is for the general public.
Although she spent much of her time in giving a victim-witness statement blaming her daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Phoebe Prince’s mother, Anne O’Brien, apparently agreed to these dispositions. In her statements, she included the following statement:
“Phoebe ended her pain brought about by harassment, harassment that could easily have been stopped if any of those involved had ever reached inside themselves to find their own compassion.”
Perhaps Ms. O’Brien did just this when she agreed to endorse these dispositions despite the cruel treatment and loss of her daughter.
This is real strength. This is something to be admired.
I have been pretty vocal about this case, and others like it, on this blog, television radio and print press. So, I assume my opinion of the media-bating and unprecedented indictments by ex-DA Scheibel are known to you. Suffice to say, in my over quarter century as an attorney practicing in the criminal justice system, on both sides of the aisle, I have never seen a prosecutor perform such a transparent attempt to garner publicity at the cost of others as DA Elizabeth D. Scheibel did in obtaining and prosecuting these indictments. It was unprecedented.
This being said, I am not pro-bully. The acts alleged against, and to a great extent admitted to by the defendants, were repugnant. It is understandable that people would want to react to Miss Prince’s fate in kind when it comes to her tormentors.
A prosecutor, however, is charged with “doing justice”. This does not mean, “Do what is politically expedient, taking advantage of a knee-jerk reaction of anger”.
That would be tantamount to prosecutorial bullying, which these indictments were.
There are many ways to bully. A tough kid in the schoolyard can push around a smaller child because of a perceived power. Sometimes, all it takes is to be an audience for that bully to urge the behavior on. As one of the defendant’s said as she was recounting her unkind acts toward Miss Prince, “… But mostly I am sorry for Jan. 14 of 2010 in the library and in the hallway when I laughed when someone else was shouting humiliating things at you.”
Not to be outdone by a mere prosecutor, our legislature rushed into action to continue the ill-conceived “war on bullying”. Instead of taking the time and trouble to truly address the problem, which would include things like the stressing of compassion, they gave us a bogus holiday (“No Name Calling Day”) and created a bill which did little, if anything, to address the problem. It did, however, give them an opportunity to announce the “toughest” bill of its kind in the nation.
The new law was clearly a failure and, as we now see, created more problems than it had any chance of fixing.
Again, the “tough” approach, particularly when done for political reasons, did not, and does not, work.
During a statement to the court, Ms. O’Brien recalled a sketch that her daughter had drawn on a folder, presumably during her time of torment. The picture depicted a dandle with a flame. Underneath it, the girl had written, “There is always a light.”
Perhaps when our political and legal leaders reach down into that light, and not their own anger and/or aspirations, we will begin to improve, if not solve, the real problems which plague our society.
Until then, I am an experienced criminal defense attorney. I will continue to shield my clients from an overzealous and otherwise motivated government. I am not afraid of confronting the law enforcement bully. It is what I, and many like me, do every day.
And I believe in it.
If you would like to speak to me about a matter in which its finger of accusation is pointed at you, please free to call me at 617-492-3000 to arrange a free initial consultation..
In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!
To view the articles upon which this blog are based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/05/05/2_get_probation_community_service_in_phoebe_prince_bullying_case/