Is U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz Chasing The Wrong Cases?

September 21, 2016

U.S Attorney Carmen Ortiz is one of the most powerful people in Massachusetts, as the top federal law enforcement official in the state.

In 2011 the Boston Globe selected her as "Bostonian of the Year." Ortiz was appointed to her post in 2009 and made a name for herself on major cases, getting convictions against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarneav, Whitey Bulger and Former House Speaker Sal Dimasi.

But a Huffington Post article, which appeared in July, painted a picture of a prosecutor who is out of control, citing the recent indictments of two advisors to Mayor Marty Walsh.  Ken Brissette and Tim Sullivan were both charged with trying to pressure a concert organizer into hiring union workers.

The article raised other examples of potential over reach, like the case against Aaron Swartz, a computer whiz who wrote a program which prosecutors said would allow him to make academic journals, which usually charge a fee, free for users. Swartz killed himself, supporters it was because he potentially faced decades in jail.

Last week, Boston Globe Columnist Scot Lehigh wrote a piece, titled "The US Attorney goes way overboard."

What has really stood out in these reports are the number of high profile former prosecutors who have gone public, questioning Ortiz's judicial judgement. They include former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who said to the Huffington Post,  "You'd think the focus would be on those organizations like human trafficking rings, drug smuggling rings, the kind of organizations that in of themselves represent a threat to safety, public safety."

And former attorney general Tom Reilly told Lehigh, about the city hall indictments, that "There are other options, to handle this without branding them as criminals and indicting them".

We invited Carmen Ortiz to join us, but she declined. Instead, her spokeswoman gave us this statement:

While I cannot comment on pending cases, I would note that the purpose of an indictment is to notify a defendant of the charges against him, not to lay out all the evidence.  The evidence in a case normally is not made public until the case goes to trial.  I encourage your viewers to keep that in mind when they read about cases in the press, and to withhold judgment until all of the evidence is known.

The Boston Globe Columnist Scot Lehigh (@GlobeScotLehigh) and Former US Attorney for Massachusetts Frank McNamara (@FrankLMcNamara4) joined Jim to discuss.

Lehigh said that the definition of extortion is "either you do this" or you put money in my pocket, or someone selling something illicitly or using power illicitly. On Sullivan, Lehigh said that he seems like a straight shooter, and it's dubious that this is an extortion crime. McNamara described it as shooting a mouse with a cannon.


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