Former South Hadley Prosecutor Testifies At Boston Bullying Hearing – Attorney Sam’s Take

How do former Massachusetts prosecutorial politicians and general politicians admit that they were wrong? Well, they don’t. They simply, and quietly, try to seek a “do over”, as young kids would say.

And so it was that former South Hadley prosecutor, Elizabeth Scheibel (hereinafter, “EXDA”), joined with others yesterday to address the fact that her and other heroic (and speedy) legislators’ measures regarding bullying do not seem to be working very well.

You remember EXDA, don’t you? In response to the public outcry of Phoebe Prince’s suicide, she is the political prosecutor (“PP”) who made headlines, instead of sense, when she indicted a bunch of kids for, when it comes down to it, bullying. Rather than doing further investigation (which the media did later for her), it was more palatable for her to ruin the lives of the other kids involved.

The transparently political move, while gaining accolades at first, soured in the light of day and she thereafter retired. However, the damage had been done. Part of that damage was to “up the ante” with her fellow politicians regarding bullying. So, in true political fashion, they pushed through what they called “the toughest anti-bullying law in the country” Unfortunately, the awesome law did little save give a false sense of security to the general public and confuse those who had to actually read the thing.

Oh. And it also gave us “No Name Calling Day”.

Well, since the bullying problem is, if anything, getting worse, folks are meeting to figure out what to do. A hearing took place at the State House in Boston yesterday. It was convened by PP Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is leading a seven-member panel charged with assessing the anti-bullying law enacted last year.

There were various participants testifying. For purposes of this blog, EXDA was the most interesting of them. One of the obvious problems that she addressed was that there are no “teeth” in the bill as described in this blog on Tuesday.

EXDA opined that the anti-bullying law should be more like laws governing child abuse, a criminal offense, which require a broad range of caretakers to report suspected abuse or face civil penalties.

The law does urge school officials to refer anything that could be considered criminal to law enforcement. EXDA, however, feels it should go further. She suggested that administrators report to prosecutors all episodes they have determined to be bullying, not just those they believe are criminal, as the law currently demands.

EXDA explained that referring credible bullying cases to law enforcement would not increase the number of criminal prosecutions because law enforcement officials share school administrators’ hopes of keeping students out of the criminal justice system.

Apparently, this is a bad thing in EXDALAND.

However, EXDA explains, prosecutors do not have such an odd reluctance. Further, she says, that district attorney’s offices are better equipped to make the call when criminal charges are appropriate.

Coakley declined to comment on Scheibel’s testimony.

I have been imbedded in the criminal justice system for over 25 years. I have been on both sides of the aisle. I think I have a fairly accurate picture of who the players and their mindsets.

Judges judge. They are human, of course, and therefore susceptible to various influences like the rest of us. However, they try to rise above that and they judge. Defense attorneys defend. It is what we are supposed to do and it is what we do…when the job is done right.

Prosecutors, though, are not meant to simply prosecute. Their job description is to “do justice”. While most assistant district attorneys probably want to do that (again, with their own frailties and prejudices), they must obey office policies and directives. These are handed down by the particular PP who’s office it is.

Doing “Justice” is not necessarily the goal of a politician who knows that he or she will be judged simply on whether they were “tough” enough on crime.

I do not hate to say “I told you so”, so I will just tell you that I did. While it was all happening. Just check the blogs from back then. It is no surprise that the problem has simply gotten worse and that school officials, PPs and legislators are all scratching their heads at the problem.

Just like it is not brain surgery to suggest that putting prosecutors in charge of all bullying instances is sheer lunacy. On the other hand…look who suggested it

The issue of bullying is an age-old one and it is not going to be solved by knee-jerk quick political answers.

So, assuming you have no affiliation or interest in schools or kids. What does this posting have to do with you?

It is a reminder that is not often presented with such a clear illustration. However, it is an important one and, thanks to EXDA, I have a great illustration.

As mentioned, prosecutors prosecute. It is the mindset as well as the political motivation.

I meet many people who still believe that if they just “play ball” with the prosecution and tell the truth, as they see it, then everything will be ok and those investigating officers will simply go away.

This is naivety.

When the investigation leads to your door….call a lawyer!

An experienced criminal defense attorney is your best bet in having….to be kind to my friends representing the Commonwealth…another mindset involved.

One that cares about you.

If you have a criminal case and would like to discuss it with me, , please feel to call me to arrange a free initial consultation at 617-492-3000.

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