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I know it seems contradictory, but it may be the truth.
The Attorney General (AG), by definition, is he chief law enforcement officer of the United States or of a state government, typically serving in an Executive Branch position. State attorneys general represent the state government in litigation and serve as the principal advisors to government officials and agencies in legal matters. In Oklahoma, the State Attorney General is Scott Pruitt. It makes since that the person serving in this capacity would be knowledgeable in the law, have a law license, be experienced in providing legal opinions and legal interpretations. The individual should also be capable of litigating matters of the interest to the State. In other words, the Attorney General should be a lawyer and a competent one. It should go without saying that the attorney general and his or her staff should be expected not only to interpret the law but to follow the law. But in the following examples, it has to be said.
A recent debacle that placed Oklahoma once again in the national headlines in a negative manner concerned the botched executions of death-row inmates. The “botching” of what should have been a straight-forward process included using the wrong medicine to execute one inmate and attempting to use the wrong medicine in the execution of inmate William Glossip. Attorneys for Mr. Glossip were able to halt his execution by lethal injection when it was determined that an unlawful medication “Switcheroo” was about to perpetrated. The resulting embarrassment was part of a series of embarrassments including an attempt by the AG staff to submit false evidence to the US Supreme court, led to the discredited attorney general to suspend all subsequent executions. This has led to increased scrutiny of the role of the Attorney General. Mr. Glossip’s attorneys have objected to last-minute attempted substitution of medications for his execution and considered this a violation of law. The State should know its own laws and is also expected to follow them, not violate them. When it does not follow the law, it opens the state up to liability. It would seem that this is precisely the situation that an AG would prevent, rather than facilitate, deliberately or out of negligence. As a result of the mishandled executions, the Governor of Oklahoma and the Department of Corrections have each retained private attorneys, presumably to protect themselves from liability, criminal or otherwise, for their part in proceeding with an execution performed unlawfully and for attempting to proceed with another one.
By these actions, they have effectively commuted the death sentences of all death row inmates in Oklahoma, simply because they cant follow the law or don’t quite understand it. Whether the actions were willful or the result of incompetence are for the courts to decide.
A similar confounding case of questionable AG actions is occurring in the State of Pennsylvania. Kathleen Kane was elected AG in a landslide, over the mishandling of the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State/Molestation case. Although little experience in politics except for a stint in political fundraising and an assistant DA, she performed well during her first year, but subsequently she was criticized publicly in a media report about her own handling of a sting operation she dropped that involved corruption and bribes. Kane believed that the source of the story, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer , were two former state prosecutors who had been previously critical of her actions. She is then alleged to have leaked secret grand jury information to discredit the sources. A grand jury investigation into the leak led to charges of perjury and related offenses by General Kane. She was subsequently charged and the PA Supreme court acted to suspend her license to practice law in the State of Pennsylvania. This suspension should take effect on 10/22/15. She will set a precedent as a sitting attorney general without a valid license to practice law. Despite this limitation and the embarrassment, she has thus far refused to resign her position. The license suspension by the Supreme Court does not come with an automatic dismissal from this elected position. This is a tragic irony.
In an further effort to discredit and embarrass the former prosecutors, she has indicated she will be releasing sensitive emails, of a pornographic nature, that were part of an email ring, as well as the identities of the members of this ring. This would include her accusers and other lawyers, staff and officials.
It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out. We elect our leaders to serve our interests. In these two cases, it is clear that the electorate made a grave mistake. Not only are the interests of the people being served, but the reputation of the State is being harmed, when educated people with law licenses don’t know how to follow the law or they clearly don’t understand the law. The law itself is flawed, when the citizens of the states are essentially powerless to remove the source of their embarrassment.
The attorney general position may be the only job in the country where you can break the law and stay in your job.
Should we blindly trust them? No. Nor should they be rewarded.