Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Naked Conflict of Interest

Justice Centre County style was on full display yesterday in the Court House in Bellefonte. We learn about it in today's Centre Daily Times.

For the past few decades, every spring Penn State students gather together the weekend before finals to blow off some steam with an on campus naked run called the Mifflin Streak. Every year, at least for the past several years, a handful of the students are arrested, charged with a misdemeanor count of open lewdness, and placed in ARD. Everyone then forgets about the streak until the following spring.

This year is different. One of the streakers, Elizabeth Burke hired an attorney to fight the charges.(You can read an interview with Burke here.) Burke's attorney Stacy Park Miller argued that for there to be a crime of open lewdness someone had to be offended. Since the prosecution didn't present a single witness to the event that was offended, there was no crime and the charges must be dropped. Before Park Miller could make her argument on behalf of Burke, another student engaged the attorney's services and Park Miller succeeded in having that student's charges dropped. Yesterday she got her chance to plea Burke's case. The hearing lasted five hours and the judge decided to sleep on it before he issued an opinion.

This brings me to justice Centre County style.
“Judge, you’re about to make a decision on whether it is acceptable to run naked in public at a university both of us happen to be alumni of,” [Assistant District Attorney Steve]Sloane said.


Parks Miller argued that the 1,000 or so people who gathered for the Mifflin Streak were there to see streakers. So they cannot be offended, she said, much as patrons of an adult dance club cannot be offended when they enter the club knowing they are going to see nudity

Sloane responded that the argument is like equating Mifflin Hall to a strip club. He then referenced the recent ESPN “Outside the Lines” episode highlighting the Penn State football program’s off-the-field problems and a recent study ranking the university as the nation’s No. 3 party school.

“If Penn State’s diplomas are stock certificates, after the ESPN program, the No. 3 drinking school and then this case, our stocks are worth nothing,” Sloane said.

Think about Sloane's counterargument to Park Miller. He isn't arguing the law. He's arguing that his and the judge's self interest demand that the charges against Burke must stand. How inimical is this to the rule of law? Imagine that instead of Penn State being a public university it was a publicly traded company and Sloane and the judge did hold stock in it. Sloane would never argue that someone must be prosecuted for a crime to protect the value of his and the judge's stock portfolio. Yet here in Centre County looking out for Penn State's interest, because it is perceived to be in ones self interest, is considered so routine that a prosecutor has no problem making the argument in open court. That is justice Centre County style.

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