The petition to remove Carmen Ortiz, the controversial district attorney in charge of the prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, has reached the threshold of 25,000 signatures that is required for a White House response.
The petition, launched the day after Swartz was found dead in an apparent suicide, urges the Obama administration to "remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz." Citing Lawrence Lessig's essay "Prosecutor As Bully," itself inspired by Swartz's death, the petition's text continues:
A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path.
A Twitter search reveals that the petition has become a focal point for a community of bereaved digerati; its supporters on social media include everyone from Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom to Wikileaks.
The real question, of course, is whether the White House will respond. Petition responses on WhiteHouse.gov have slowed to a crawl in recent months, with media outlets criticizing the Obama administration for letting controversial petitions with a 25,000-plus signature count languish without reply.
Still, if the scrutiny following Swartz's death continues, it could take a toll on Ortiz's career. As recently as December, she was floated as a possible Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate, and although she declined to run, she remained a rising star in the legal system. But now, the charges against Swartz have been criticized as too severe, and Swartz's own family has gone so far as to say the prosecution is partially to blame for Swartz's death.
Ortiz herself has thus far declined to comment out of respect for the privacy of the Swartz family.