State Attorney Angela Corey, the prosecutor in the George Zimmerman case, recently called the Dean of Harvard Law School to complain about my criticism of some of her actions. She was transferred to the Office of Communications and proceeded to engage in a 40-minute rant, during which she threatened to sue Harvard Law School, to try to get me disciplined by the Bar Association and to file charges against me for libel and slander.
She said that because I work for Harvard and am identified as a professor she had the right to sue Harvard. When the communications official explained to her that I have a right to express my opinion as "a matter of academic freedom," and that Harvard has no control over what I say, she did not seem to understand. She persisted in her nonstop whining, claiming that she is prohibited from responding to my attacks by the rules of professional responsibility -- without mentioning that she has repeatedly held her own press conferences and made public statements throughout her career.
Her beef was that I criticized her for filing a misleading affidavit that willfully omitted all information about the injuries Zimmerman had sustained during the "struggle" it described. She denied that she had any obligation to include in the affidavit truthful material that was favorable to the defense. She insisted that she is entitled to submit what, in effect, were half truths in an affidavit of probable cause, so long as she subsequently provides the defense with exculpatory evidence. She should go back to law school, where she will learn that it is never appropriate to submit an affidavit that contains a half truth, because a half truth is regarded by the law as a lie, and anyone who submits an affidavit swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Before she submitted the probable cause affidavit, Corey was fully aware that Zimmerman had sustained serious injuries to the front and back of his head. The affidavit said that her investigators "reviewed" reports, statements and "photographs" that purportedly "detail[ed] the following." It then went on to describe "the struggle," but it deliberately omitted all references to Zimmerman's injuries which were clearly visible in the photographs she and her investigators reviewed. That is Hamlet without the Prince! The judge deciding whether there is probable cause to charge the defendant with second degree murder should not have been kept in the dark about physical evidence that is so critical to determining whether a homicide occurred, and if so, a homicide of what degree. By omitting this crucial evidence, Corey deliberately misled the court.
Corey seems to believe that our criminal justice system is like a poker game in which the prosecution is entitled to show its cards only after the judge has decided to charge the defendant with second degree murder. That's not the way the system is supposed to work and that's not the way prosecutors are supposed to act. That a prosecutor would hide behind the claim that she did not have an obligation to tell the whole truth until after the judge ruled on probable cause displays a kind of gamesmanship in which prosecutors should not engage. The prisons, both in Florida and throughout the United States, are filled with felons who submitted sworn statements that contained misleading half truths. Corey herself has plausibly prosecuted such cases.
Ironically, Corey has now succeeded in putting Zimmerman back in prison for a comparably misleading omission in his testimony. His failure to disclose money received from a PayPal account requesting donations for his legal defense made his testimony misleadingly incomplete. In her motion to revoke his bail, Corey argued that Zimmerman "intentionally deceived the court" by making "false representations." The same can be said about Prosecutor Corey. She too misled and deceived the court by submitting an affidavit that relied on a review of photographs and other reports that showed injuries to Zimmerman, without disclosing the existence of these highly relevant injuries.
Even if Angela Corey's actions were debatable, which I believe they were not, I certainly have the right, as a professor who has taught and practiced criminal law nearly 50 years, to express a contrary view. The idea that a prosecutor would threaten to sue someone who disagrees with her for libel and slander, to sue to university for which he works, and to try to get him disbarred, is the epitome of unprofessionalism. Fortunately, truth is a defense to such charges.
I will continue to criticize prosecutors when their actions warrant criticism, to praise them when their actions deserve praise, and to comment on ongoing cases in the court of public opinion. If Angela Corey doesn't like the way freedom of expression operates in the United States, there are plenty of countries where truthful criticism of prosecutors and other government officials result in disbarment, defamation suits and even criminal charges. We do not want to become such a country.