A We­in­stein ver­dict to suit the Red Queen

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN Wes­ley Pru­den is edi­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

Some­times the lynch mob gets the guilty party, but that’s not the way to run a rail­road. We have laws, af­ter all, even if some of them are sub­ject to change. But due process is per­ma­nent. Let the jury con­sider the ev­i­dence and de­cide, the king said. “No, no! cried the Red Queen. “Sen­tence first. Ver­dict af­ter­ward!”

Ev­ery­one knows Har­vey We­in­stein is guilty of some­thing — as­sault upon an in­no­cent per­son, las­civ­i­ous con­sid­er­a­tion of the fe­male of the species, ter­mi­nal vul­gar­ity, ad­vanced vice, mop­ery and maybe even rape. All of the above, and more. There will be no con­tri­bu­tions to the Har­vey We­in­stein De­fense Fund here, not even in Con­fed­er­ate cur­rency.

But some of his most sanc­ti­mo­nious crit­ics are with the Red Queen, ea­ger to chop off the most con­ve­nient head. It doesn’t have to be Har­vey We­in­stein’s head. Why not the head of Cy Vance Jr., the district at­tor­ney in Man­hat­tan? Why hasn’t he al­ready mea­sured Mr. We­in­stein for the hor­i­zon­tal stripes?

Mobs want blood, and the blood of Mr. Vance will have to do. He had his chance to bring down Har­vey two years ago, on the tes­ti­mony of an Ital­ian model who said she met Har­vey at a party in Man­hat­tan and ac­cepted his in­vi­ta­tion to meet at his of­fice the next day to dis­cuss her ca­reer. Dur­ing her job con­fer­ence she said he fon­dled her breasts — “to see whether they were real” — and put his hand un­der her skirt. When she com­plained to the cops, they set her up with a wire and she recorded an­other meet­ing the next day. The wire recorded a sor­did and vul­gar con­ver­sa­tion, in which he of­fered a rote apol­ogy for touch­ing her.

Mr. Vance lis­tened to the recorded con­ver­sa­tion and de­cided not that Har­vey was in­no­cent, but that the law could not prove he was guilty. The district at­tor­ney has come un­der what one me­dia voice calls “with­er­ing crit­i­cism” for it.

“Our best lawyers looked at the case,” Mr. Vance told re­porters this week, look­ing only slightly with­ered. “I, like they, was very dis­turbed by the con­tents of the tape. It’s ob­vi­ously sick­en­ing. But at the end of the day we op­er­ate in a court­room of the law, not the court of pub­lic opin­ion, and our sex crime pros­e­cu­tors made a de­ter­mi­na­tion that this was not go­ing to be a prov­able case.”

This was a judg­ment call, maybe right and maybe wrong, but it was the kind of judg­ment he was elected to make. To the dis­may of many in Man­hat­tan, Mr. Vance is un­op­posed for re-elec­tion next month, so he may be out of the reach of wrath.

Or maybe not. Maybe a write-in can­di­date could ap­pease the wrath. Write-in can­di­da­cies rarely work, but some­times they do. The fa­vorite son of the an­gry and the frus­trated is one Preet Bharara, who was the U.S. at­tor­ney for Man­hat­tan and sev­eral of the sub­ur­ban coun­ties in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion be­fore he was rou­tinely dis­missed by Pres­i­dent Trump to make way for a new ad­min­is­tra­tion, along with sim­i­lar U.S. at­tor­neys across the United States, and this ac­cords him par­tic­u­lar ca­chet.

But he doesn’t live in Man­hat­tan, which the state district at­tor­ney for Man­hat­tan must. This is a quib­ble that many of the wrath­ful in Gotham no doubt re­gard as a tech­ni­cal­ity, but lawyers, par­tic­u­larly pros­e­cu­tors, are big on tech­ni­cal­i­ties. So Mr. Bharara, with an en­vi­able record of putting away crooked politi­cians and cor­rupt masters of the Wall Street uni­verse, is out, as in ka­put.

The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Philip Bump sug­gests Eliot Spitzer, the for­mer gover­nor, as the man for the job. He’s a for­mer as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney with vast ex­pe­ri­ence in pros­e­cut­ing evil-do­ers and he’s a for­mer state at­tor­ney gen­eral as well as a for­mer gover­nor. He al­ready lives on the Up­per East Side. What’s not to like?

There is one tiny fly in this oint­ment to soothe the pub­lic rage for jus­tice. This is the same for­mer gover­nor caught in a pros­ti­tu­tion scan­dal and who beat the rap for vi­o­lat­ing the Mann Act, which, in the for­mal lan­guage of the law, makes it a no-no to take a wo­man across a state line for an im­moral pur­pose. On re­flec­tion, he might not be quite what the oc­ca­sion de­mands for pun­ish­ing a judg­ment call, even on the Up­per East Side.

Cy Vance cor­rectly notes that a crim­i­nal court is bound by the law, which sets out in picky de­tail how a de­fen­dant must be ac­corded his rights. The court of pub­lic opin­ion, how­ever, has no such con­straints. The court of pub­lic opin­ion, with no rules and no lawyers, can ren­der a ver­dict that would suit the Red Queen, and there’s no right of ap­peal. This is Har­vey We­in­stein’s fate, and it’s a cruel one.

Cy Vance

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.