Chickenshit Club Notes:
- In 2002, James Comey was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan. When giving a speech to the criminal division, Comey asked the audience: “Who here has never had an acquittal or a hung jury?” People proudly raised their hands. Comey looked out over the assembled and said: “You are members of what we like to call the Chickenshit Club.”
- Comey was talking about the tendency for attorneys to go after easy targets that provide celebratory newspaper headlines rather than bringing cases that would right the biggest injustices. He was talking about the incentives that existed (and still exist and should be resisted) for prosecutors to advance their careers through wins, not fights.
- As Eisinger writes: Prosecutors should “…be righteous, not careerist….Victory in the courtroom should be a secondary concern, meaning that government lawyers should neither seek to win at all costs nor duck a valid case out of fear of losing. Federal prosecutors should not be judged on their trial record, whether they are criticized, or what the political consequences might be of their prosecutions.”
- Sadly, the very thing that Comey was criticizing, became standard practice in the SDNY and also in the Justice Department itself.
- Eisinger’s book is about how we wound up with a prosecutorial system that makes it standard practice to settle out of court white collar, corporate and political crimes. It is about how white shoe law firms, corporations and big money interests pressured the legal system so that it now works for their benefit not for the benefit of the society at large.
- This book is essential reading. It provides the context in which to understand many of the recent failures of the system to hold high level people accountable.
- If we had a functioning justice system for high level offenders, people like Manafort, Stone, Trump would all be in jail rather than involved in running a country.