Monday, July 11, 2011

No Charges Planned in Pottygate, huh?

Christopher Reavey
Every once in a great while you stumble upon a fantastically ridiculous feud within the courts that rival in the imagination the Hatfields and McCoys, Michigan v. Ohio State, Yankees and Red Sox.   I guess it's apropos that I mention the Sox, because from greater-Boston, Ma region, we have Fred Contrada's report at MassLive's tale of "Pottygate:"

More than three years after the Northwestern district attorney’s Office began a grand jury investigation of Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court Clerk Christopher D. Reavey, the case known as “Pottygate” is finally down the toilet.

Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan announced Friday that the investigation is officially over and no charges will be forthcoming.   Reavey’s initial response was a single word: “Wow!” He then added, “This whole thing was just a horrible waste of taxpayer funds on an investigation of a crime that never happened.”

Reavey’s lawyer, David P. Hoose, who was subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify before the grand jury in the case, said Sullivan’s announcement was “about time.”

“This whole thing was nonsense,” Hoose said
Prosecutor Scheibel
“Pottygate” became the popular term for the investigation of [Clerk] Reavey and all the bizarre side-shows surrounding it. These included a failed effort to subpoena Reavey’s lawyers before the grand jury, the subpoenaing of the Boston Globe reporter in an effort to make him disclose his sources and a stinging rebuke by a Superior Court judge who denied former District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel on both these matters.
The term “Pottygate” came from reports that [Prosecutor] Scheibel had called a grand jury [investigate] a dispute involving [Clerk] Reavey and a bathroom key. The key was allegedly taken from a locked office in the Hadley juvenile courthouse controlled by [Prosecutor's] Scheibel’s office. [Clerk] Reavey came under suspicion for allegedly authorizing a court officer to retrieve the key because someone needed to use the bathroom. 

When word of the supposed bathroom dispute got out in the newspapers, Scheibel widened the grand jury probe to find the source of the information, attempting to bring in Boston Globe reporter Jonathan Saltzman and [Clerk] Reavey’s lawyers, Hoose and Luke Ryan. The matter came to a head at an April, 2009, hearing in front of Judge John A. Agostini in which Saltzman cited the First Amendment and Hoose and Ryan attorney-client privilege as arguments for not appearing before the grand jury.

Essex First Assistant District Attorney John T. Dawley, who was brought in by Scheibel as a special prosecutor in the case, surprised many in the courtroom, notably Reavey, by insisting it was not about a bathroom key but Reavey’s efforts to “administer self-imposed justice to select juveniles represented by certain attorneys.” A stunned Reavey later called the allegation “a total fabrication.”
Ok folks, this story goes on and on, and is utterly preposterous.  A hacked-off prosecutor initiated a Grand Jury investigation into a "potty key!"

Obviously there was some bad blood between former Prosecutor Scheibel and someone, possibly even Mr. Reavey over something, not the bathroom--that the key came to represent in the mind of Ms. Scheibel.   This was an argument over power, respect, boundaries, and who-knows-what.  Ms. Scheibel so lost her perspective that she embroiled lawyers and the press in her pursuit of God-knows-what but which boiled down to Ms. Scheibel's perceived slight over her perogatives.  To be viewed as the villain in something called "Pottygate" can not have been all that good for her career as a prosecutor.

The reality is this sort of thing happens all the time in your local courts.  Petty annoyances play out in these silly little disputes.  Rarely do they make the press, but inexplicable things occur that impact lawyers, litigants, and court employees while these power struggles play out behind the scenes.  A dear friend of mine, who I've often referred to in connection with my accounts about small law spent two decades smoothly transacting his job at a local municipal court.  But a couple of years before his retirement and unfortunate untimely passing from cancer, his community elected a court clerk who defiantly informed the judges that he would no longer do certain things the way those things had always done them in the past.  Obviously, I know only a little about the underlying dispute, but I do know that that the arguments in that court caused no little angst for my friend the judge--I'm sure he tried hard not to let these feelings color how he did his job, but it can not have been easy.

In one of the Courthouses I routinely practiced in years ago, we "regular" practitioners had a key to the judges' restroom while lesser mortals had to go to the Plaza level of the building to use the facilities with the public at large.  Eventually, the obvious bias in favor of the "insiders" was too much to be ignored and we all lost this privilege. 

Pettiness abounds, but you aren't surprised if you're reading this blawg.

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