Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Stop attacks on prosecutors

By David J. Freed,

D. Peter Johnson,

Risa Vetri Ferman,

and the executive committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association

The despicable crimes of Jerry Sandusky are a blot upon Pennsylvania history. Once these crimes were revealed, however, our collective communities' reaction to this scandal should be a source of pride to Pennsylvanians. Prosecutors doing their duty have played a large part in the wise and just response.

First was the work of the investigators and prosecutors who convicted Sandusky on 45 charges, sending him to jail for the rest of his life. Next was the work of the state legislature and Gov. Corbett in assembling a Task Force on Child Protection, which recommended sweeping changes in the state's criminal and child-protection laws. We of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association supported the task force and have fought hard to see its recommendations made into law. We hail the proposed funding for child-advocacy centers and the newly enacted laws that will give child advocates and prosecutors new tools for this unceasing work.

Finally, however sad and distressing the subject, we are gratified by the growing public awareness that child abuse happens and must be confronted.

Although we never perceived a need for the investigation recently concluded by Geoffrey Moulton, a former prosecutor and an associate professor at Widener University School of Law, into the conduct of the Sandusky prosecution, we certainly agree that the report was seriously undertaken, professionally written, and measured in its conclusions.

It is unsurprising that the report revealed no political interference with the investigation, as claims of this nature arose not from evidence, but as talking points in Attorney General Kathleen Kane's election campaign. Her premise was that, as a county assistant prosecutor, none of her child-abuse cases had involved the use of a grand jury or had taken so long.

But in our experience, the variables of each individual case must guide law enforcement's response. If nothing else, we are confident that the findings of Moulton provide a series of lessons learned about these choices, which present themselves in every child-abuse investigation. For that reason, Moulton's report should be considered a serious undertaking, and the District Attorneys Association will continue to study it with interest.

On behalf of the executive committee of the District Attorneys Association, which represents the commonwealth's 67 elected district attorneys from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, however, we are compelled to share our concern and disappointment that any valuable lessons in the report will be overshadowed by the attorney general's continued public attacks on the successful work of career prosecutors. The focus on winning the news cycle must end.

We know the Sandusky prosecutors and have worked with them. They are dedicated career prosecutors whose work does not deserve to be disparaged by any remarks, let alone those that have already been proven to be incorrect.

We choose to speak now because we believe in the integrity and dignity of our profession. The work we all do, along with all in the law-enforcement community, is too important to ever be undermined. The communities we serve expect law-enforcement professionals to be focused on protecting the public, first, foremost, and always.

A prosecutor's first loyalty must be to the integrity of our justice system. We must always fight for the truth. We must strive to present that truth to the public to protect and preserve confidence in the entire criminal justice system.

The reality is that we run for office with political parties. Once elected, however, a prosecutor must put politics aside and focus solely on justice. As Republicans and Democrats, we have always worked together because prosecution and politics simply don't mix. Across Pennsylvania, we stand united in our mission to protect the citizens of our communities. We call upon Attorney General Kathleen Kane to join with us so that we may all strive to be the loyal sentries our criminal justice system demands.

 


David J. Freed, D. Peter Johnson, and Risa Vetri Ferman are the officers of the executive committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the district attorneys of Cumberland, Union, and Montgomery Counties, respectively.

Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected