Alex Kozinski, Attorney Misconduct, Books, Federal Government, Federal Judges, Legal Ethics, White-Collar Crime

Prosecutors Run Amok: An Interview With Sidney Powell, Author Of Licensed To Lie

As Chief Judge Alex Kozinski recently wrote, “There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.”

But judges need to know about prosecutorial misconduct in order to do anything about it. The public needs to be made aware of this important issue as well.

Last week, I interviewed Sidney Powell, a former federal prosecutor who has written a new book — a book that pulls no punches when it comes to her former colleagues at the U.S. Department of Justice….

The book is called Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice (affiliate link). In addition to Powell’s commentary, it features a foreword by Chief Judge Kozinski, who writes that “this book should serve as the beginning of a serious conversation about whether our criminal justice system continues to live up to its vaunted reputation.”

I caught up with Sidney Powell during her recent visit to New York. Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

ATL: You’re ideally situated to write this book, as a former federal prosecutor turned defense lawyer. Can you provide me with a quick overview of your legal career?

I started out as an AUSA when I was very young. It was the perfect job for me because I’ve always believed it’s how someone should practice: serving as a true officer of the court and seeking justice. I loved it. No U.S. Attorney ever looked over my shoulder; my job was to just follow the law. I worked for the Department for roughly ten years under nine different U.S. attorneys, focusing on criminal appeals. Then I left for private practice. I was a partner for several years at Strasburger and Price, doing civil appellate work, before launching my own appellate boutique, Sidney Powell P.C., in the early 1990s.

ATL: Congratulations on Licensed To Lie. What led you to decide to write this book?

It was a book I hoped I would never have to write, if we could have made the system work and addressed prosecutorial misconduct through the courts or even the bar associations. But we couldn’t get anything to work. I couldn’t sleep without this story being told. It was my moral and ethical obligation to tell it.

ATL: When did you decide to write the book, and how long did it take you to write?

I began considering the possibility about three years ago, when I sensed and was concerned that the system wasn’t going to do anything about it. The courts failed to rectify it, and I had no confidence that the bar associations would touch this prosecutorial misconduct, especially given the prominence to which the prosecutors rose, and sadly, the respective bar associations did not. Then I just sat down and wrote it. It took me probably three to six months.

ATL: That’s very fast for writing a book!

This book is true. I have a friend who writes Irish historical fiction, and it takes her longer because she has to create her characters and much of the story line. I’m just telling what happened. I will say it’s more fun than writing a brief.

ATL: You focus on federal prosecutors and white-collar cases. Have you looked at prosecutorial misconduct in other areas — state and local prosecutors, violent or drug crimes?

I’ve heard of prosecutorial misconduct in all kinds of cases. I’ve been speaking with Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project; they’re co-hosting a book signing for me at Cardozo. The issue strikes a chord with so many people who feel that they weren’t treated fairly by the justice system, and I wrote it in the style of a legal thriller so more people could read it. It’s written for many people.

ATL: What kind of reception have you gotten for the book thus far?

The response has been totally positive, overwhelmingly positive. We had more requests for printed galleys than we had galleys. The reviews so far, such as the one that just came out on MAL Contends, have been glowing.

ATL: You name names in the book, including the names of some very powerful lawyers, including Kathy Ruemmler, the outgoing White House Counsel, and Matthew Friedrich, a former top Justice Department official who’s now a partner at Freshfields. Are you worried about the enemies that this book might make you within the legal community?

No. It’s going to have to be what it is. I have not yet heard from the lawyers and judges I criticize in the book — although I imagine there are going to be some very upset judges. Judges are not known for their appreciation of being challenged.

ATL: Why do you think judges haven’t been more aggressive in cracking down on prosecutorial misconduct?

Judges are very uncomfortable dealing with this issue. They don’t always realize how bad it is, and they don’t want to. That’s one of the big reasons I had to write the book. Some judges have been on the court a long time; they forget that there are real lives and real people being affected by their decisions. A lot of judges may be jaded or tired or oblivious — like they’re part of a machine that cranks things out without remembering the underlying people — or they are overworked or not paying enough attention.

ATL: What are your proposals for reforming the system?

First, every district or trial judge in the country should enter a Brady compliance order. Second, Congress should go ahead and pass the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, and provide for an inspector general with mandatory review of intentional Brady violations by prosecutors. The only group I know of that opposes the Act: the Department of Justice.

ATL: Are you concerned at all about false accusations of prosecutorial misconduct?

That’s a legitimate concern, and why the immunity doctrine is there. But we can’t keep giving immunity for obvious and intentional transgressions. If any prosecutor found to have committed an intentional violation was fired immediately and disbarred immediately, that would go a long way towards shutting it down — as would judges holding them in contempt. Right now there is no disincentive for prosecutors. They hide evidence, they win convictions, and they are rewarded for it. They need to be reeducated on what their job really is. This business of being promoted when you’ve done something like this is beyond egregious.

This issue should not be that hard to fix. And it’s a bipartisan issue, supported by everyone from libertarians to the Innocence Project — by anyone who has seen a blatant injustice in the courts.

ATL: You mention in the book your disillusionment with the legal system. Will you continue to practice law?

I don’t know about continued practice. I still have my law office and active cases, but I’m not sure what I will do after I finish those.

ATL: Did you find writing the book to be therapeutic?

I have felt some relief now that it is out. Writing it was very painful. And every time I had to edit it, which I did at least twelve or fifteen times, I’d get angry all over again. But I have felt better now that it’s done and out. I’ve done what I can do really to explain the story and share the reality. I was raised to tell it like it is and to do whatever I can to make things better.

ATL: Do you have any plans for another book?

There is another one waiting to be written. I do plan to do more writing in the future.

ATL: Thank you for bringing public attention to this important issue, and congratulations once again on the book!

Thank you for your articles, reports, and all that you do to keep lawyers and the public educated on the issues!

Licensed To Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice [official websiste]
Licensed To Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice [Facebook]
Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice [Amazon (affiliate link)]

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