Bob McCulloch is in the news again. The now infamous prosecutor from the Michael Brown case has been scheduled for an upcoming speech at St. Louis University, raising the ire of some students. The focus of the Feb. 20 law school event is on police practices after Ferguson. The student law review symposium will also feature County Police Chief Jon Belmar and social scientists from five other universities. He is expected to answer audience questions for 25 minutes after a 35-minute talk.
The Black Law Students Association and others have asked the school’s dean to rescind the invitation, pointing to legal and ethics challenges to McCulloch’s tactics before a grand jury that declined to indict former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. McCulloch has acknowledged these problems while doing nothing to address them. He admits to calling witnesses whom he said “clearly lied” to the grand jury. One such witness has been identified as Sandra McElroy, a “bipolar Missouri woman with a criminal past who has a history of making racist remarks and once insinuated herself into another high-profile St. Louis criminal case with claims that police eventually dismissed as a ‘complete fabrication.’” She claimed to have seen Brown charge at Wilson, a claim that could neither be confirmed nor denied by the forensic evidence.
A 3L at St. Louis University had this to say:
“One of the first things we learn is you don’t put a witness on the stand that you know is lying,” said third-year law student Christina Vogel, who volunteered as a legal observer at the frequent protests that followed Brown’s death.
Well . . . duh. Another one of the “first things we learn” is not to misrepresent, i.e. lie, about the standards and letter of the law. McCulloch and two assistants, Kathy Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley, also currently face a disciplinary complaint alleging that they provided grand jurors with improper instructions on the legal standards for use of force by police. It had been strongly suggested before the grand jury that McCulloch should have recused himself due to a publicly known history of pro-police bias as well as personal family history that created the appearance of bias if not bias in fact.
The law school’s dean, former state Supreme Court chief justice Michael Wolff, said in an interview that the school has no intention of rescinding the invitation, noting that student organizers and not administrators had invited McCulloch to speak. Citing academic freedom, School President Fred Pestello said in an email addressed to students and faculty that “These conversations need to happen – and SLU needs to be a place that supports and contributes to them – if we are to improve the quality of life for everyone in our region.”
There are several ways to look at the nature of this complaint about the speaking engagement. One is that the ideals of justice find the notion of giving McCulloch another public platform inherently a repugnant notion. This is in a way the heart of student complaints. Another way is the free speech truism that the proper response to injustice and/or corruption is the sunlight of public scrutiny and discourse. This is akin to Pestello’s argument regarding academic freedom. No problem was ever solved or conflict resolved without first defining it and formulating options for mitigation or elimination. The response of Wolff is a non-answer pass on responsibility and, quite frankly, ill-thought out and spineless, but it has been my experience that law school deans come in two primary flavors: true scholars and academic politicians. Many are a little of both. For lack of a better term, Wolff’s argument “is what it is”.
I submit that there is yet another way to look at this and that is a nexus between karma and justice. I suspect that the nature of the audience, already adverse to the to the manifest mishandling of the grand jury proceedings in which McCulloch’s office and agents effectively proffered an affirmative defense for Darren Wilson and displaced the role of the courts as trier of fact, is going to give McCulloch twenty-five of the most uncomfortable minutes of his life. Their questioning is likely to be heated and directed by idealism that is often inherent in law students. It could be and should be a moment of karmic justice in the public eye that provides some satisfaction in lieu of disbarment proceedings or criminal charges of obstruction that are probably not in the cards due to politics trumping justice regarding McCulloch.
What do you think?