The misjudgments of a poor prosecutor

THE MISJUDGMENTS OF A POOR PROSECUTOR…. There’s been a fair amount of attention lately on Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck’s (R) handling of a 2005 rape case, and with good reason. The extremist candidate chose not to prosecute what appeared to be a horrible, violent crime in which the rapist practically confessed to local police. As Buck saw it, a jury might think the rape victim was merely suffering from “buyer’s remorse,” since she’d invited her attacker into her home.

But it’s not the only case in which Buck’s judgment has come into question. Bob Barr had an item in the Denver Post this week on Buck’s handling of a gun case. Barr has a unique perspective — he’s a former Republican congressman, a former federal prosecutor, and a board member of the NRA — so his criticism is especially noteworthy.

In 1998, an investigation was presented to Buck, serving at the time as one of the top assistants in then-U.S. Attorney Henry Solano’s office. The investigating agency, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, believed a firearms dealer in Aurora was engaged in the sale of guns to so-called “straw buyers,” in violation of federal law. Buck declined to pursue the prosecution, and the ATF apparently did not at the time appeal that decision to Solano.

Shortly thereafter, Tom Strickland, Solano’s successor, decided to review the gun case — as was his prerogative as a U.S. attorney. He elected to present the case to a grand jury, which returned an indictment against Greg and Leonid Golyansky and Dmitriy Baravik. And that’s when the trouble began.

There obviously was disagreement within the U.S. attorney’s office over the decision to pursue the case against the alleged firearms violators, something not unheard of. Normally, such internal opinions are kept within the four walls of the prosecutor’s office. This is not only ethical and professional, but pragmatic as well. If word were to leak out — especially to a defense attorney — that questions about the strength or weaknesses of the government’s case had been raised internally, this would almost certainly provide grist for defense arguments to the judge and the jury; and would at least indirectly pressure the government to settle the case more favorably to the defendant.

But that’s what Buck did, quietly revealing details to the defense and undermining his own office’s case against criminals. Buck was then reprimanded by the Justice Department for his ethical and professional lapses, which in turn led to his resignation. Barr noted that his behavior “raises legitimate concerns about ethics, professionalism and loyalty in one of the most sensitive of public jobs.”

The issue is still largely below the radar, though it’s the subject of some new campaign advertising in Colorado.

I’ve long questioned Ken Buck’s judgment. He does, after all, support repealing the 17th Amendment, privatizing Social Security, eliminating the Department of Education, scrapping the federal student loan program, and has even said liberals are a bigger threat than terrorists. Yesterday, Buck insisted the entirety of climate science is an elaborate hoax, which is insane.

But the basis for Buck’s entire campaign is that he’s been a capable prosecutor — and even that claim now appears dubious, at best.