This was one case where the Good Ol' Boys Club, or its modern more gender-conscious equivalent, did not prevail. A local Supreme Court justice has resigned in disgrace. An attorney has been fired from her part-time job at the University at Buffalo Law School, pleaded guilty to three crimes and faces the loss of her law license.
And Erie County's new District Attorney, Frank A. Sedita III, has distinguished himself by acting forcefully to rebuke two lawyers whose actions threatened to damage the ability of the local court system to dispence justice creditably.
The sordid story begins Sept. 2, when Anne E. Adams, an attorney, former prosecutor and until Saturday director of the trial technique program at UB Law, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.
As charged by Sedita, and as admitted in court Friday, Adams then launched into a scheme to frustrate the wheels of justice. It was a scheme actively assisted by Joseph G. Makowski who was, until he resigned Friday, a local State Supreme Court justice.
Adams, apparently desperate to beat the rap, filed a false affidavit attesting to the accuracy of a phony blood test, one intended to challenge police evidence that she was intoxicated while weaving down Route 5. And she persuaded her personal physician to do the same.
That scheme amounted to filing a false statement and attempted tampering with evidence. She pleaded guilty to both, plus the drunken driving charge, all three misdemeanors, last week. Sentencing, which could be as much as two years in jail, is set for late April.
Makowski, meanwhile, was accused of filing a false affidavit of his own. In it, he claimed that while he and Adams were together in the parking lot of a local restaurant (they were) that she appeared sober and able to operate a motor vehicle (she wasn't).
His deal with Sedita allowed Makowski to avoid facing any criminal charges of his own, but demanded an immediate resignation from the bench.
Deliberate attempts to mislead the criminal justice system happen every day. If they didn't, we'd never need trials or juries or expert witnesses. But when those attempts, so blatant and deliberate, are made by officers of the court, more than the outcome of one case is at risk.
As Sedita rightly pointed out, one of the things that he, as district attorney, must strive to protect is public confidence in the criminal justice system. Widespread knowledge, or even suspicion, that the system can be manipulated by those in the know, or by those taking advantage of who they know, seriously damages the credibility the system must have if it is to sift truth from falsehood, establish guilt, proclaim innocence and mete out the proper consequences.
This community is still reeling from recent reports of innocent people -- people without wealth or influence -- spending years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Allowing other sorts of people to play the system to escape punishment for crimes they did commit would only compound the mistrust many times over.