I am concerned about the dark tone of your closing remarks in an editorial published Wednesday: “Judge-Jury in Daker trial set an example.” I was happy to read the first paragraphs, giving well-earned praise to Judge Mary Staley and the prosecutors (Jesse Evans and Jason Saliba). I doubt most lay people understand just how challenging the Daker trial was for those involved.
To ensure a fair trial (and avoid error that might strengthen an appeal) Judge Staley walked a fine line. So did Mssrs. Evans and Saliba — as well as the bailiffs — who were tasked with the balancing act of (1) trying to convict an accused murderer (2) fairly and legally (3) while ensuring the security of themselves, the witnesses, the victims and the jurors (4) without, again, tainting the fairness of the proceedings (see 2 above). As an attorney who has practiced in Cobb and in courts around this state and country, I have tremendous respect for all involved, including Mr. Treadaway, whose quiet service as defense counsel to Mr. Daker (as a public defender) will probably enhance the fairness of the trial in the eyes of any future appellate court. So the praise is well-deserved for the participants in ensuring Daker was convicted justly and sentenced appropriately.
And that is why I do not understand the abrupt change in tone at the end of your editorial. The MDJ took an example of laudable public service — the judge, the prosecutors, the lawyers — and depicted it as a “refreshing” exception in an “era” of “lip service to victim’s rights.” I’m not sure what personal experience your editorial staff has in the justice system but the courts and professionals I deal with — by and large — do not fit the caricature your editorial writer perceives. It saddened me that the good work of so many people was twisted it into a broadside slander of the justice to which these people have committed their professional lives.
Your readers deserve more than pandering to silly stereotypes. Admittedly, criminals do, as you write, “get the benefit of every (reasonable) doubt from the court system.” That is the law. It is our constitutional right that we will not be convicted of any crime and our liberty taken unless guilt is proven sufficiently. Perhaps your editorial staff would rather abandon the presumption of innocence but I doubt most people, if they thought about it for a moment, would agree.
For lawyers and judges in this community, I believe the real problems of our “era” are not of “bleeding hearts” “falling for accused killers’ sob stories” or judges who merely give “lip service to victims.” As an attorney who has spent most of his career in or near the Cobb courthouse, I believe a far more pressing concern is public cynicism about the mission of the jury system wherein lawyers and judges work to ensure all people are equal before the law and receive a fair trial. The system is far from perfect — what human institution is? But citizens, especially in Cobb, often do not realize how much an asset their justice system really is. Your editorial started out in the right direction, but its concluding paragraph went off the rails.
There are enough misconceptions about the justice system without the editorial staff of the MDJ stoking them. I hope the next time you write to congratulate people like Judge Staley, Mr. Evans, the jurors, etc., you can do it without trying so hard to depict a success as a rare exception to an otherwise bleak and cynical rule. They, and their peers, are doing a better job overall than I think you are giving credit for.
John F. Salter