Innocent until proven guilty. Do we still really believe that?
Or is that an outdated concept of a simpler era? Once charged, is someone so guilty in the court of public opinion that they should lose their rights before we know all the facts? A better question might be, have we become a mob mentality culture, and did the Seattle Times go too far in encouraging legislative intervention to remove Troy Kelley as state auditor before his trial even starts?
Kelley’s trial was scheduled to start in June, but has been rescheduled to start in January. Kelley asked for the new trial date but so did the federal prosecutors who want to disqualify Kelley’s attorney. The judge set the new date.
Politically, voters are not very forgiving. Kelly’s political career is likely over no matter what happens at trial. It is hard to rebound from weeks of front page negative news coverage. And Kelley hasn’t made many friends in Olympia. That state elected officials, including the governor and attorney general, would recommend Kelley resign isn’t surprising. Kelley probably should have resigned. It was good advice. But he chose not to. He decided to fight the charges, as is his right.
But rather than allow the legal process to unfold as it should, as most people would want if it were themselves on trial, the behavior of many politicians became unseemly. Some legislators have been openly gleeful regarding Kelley’s plight and searching for ways to impeach him, even though Kelley hasn’t been charged with a crime or conduct relating to his public office.
Some legislators invited Kelley to attend a committee meeting knowing it would make him look bad when he didn’t. They also knew he couldn’t and wouldn’t attend. Kelley likely perceived it was a setup to ask questions that could be used against him. This is hardball, Olympia-style, and the questions could have been framed to see if Kelley would commit perjury. Kelley is entitled to avoid self incrimination. And he would be foolish to help others who want to make themselves look good while making him look bad. He was wise to not take the bait.
Unsurprisingly, the press demanded he comment. Again he had absolutely nothing to gain by talking to the press. Anything he said would have been providing his opponents ammunition. Would you talk to the press under those circumstances?
That a publicity-seeking former legislator would mount a recall effort was not surprising either, nor was it a surprise when the allegations didn’t pass judicial muster and were denied.
But the tipping point of behavior in this debate may have been an editorial opinion in the Seattle Times on May 4 that recommended the Legislature amend the law to vacate Kelley’s office because he took “a leave of absence” to prepare for and attend the trial and defend himself.
While the Times did suggest a narrow interpretation, it was still wrong to try and subvert our legal system by legislative maneuver just because someone “may” be guilty or “appears” guilty or the media “thinks” they “could” be guilty and they don’t like Kelley’s “brazen refusal to resign.”
Kelley may very well “be” guilty, but that isn’t the point. It’s up to the court system to make that determination, not the Legislature. Think through what could happen if the Legislature, with media endorsement, started changing laws to unseat duly elected public officials they didn’t like.
Most of what we have read isn’t new information and was available during his election as auditor, and he still won. What would happen to our democracy if changing the rules after the election started to become an accepted practice.
The media is supposed to be the watchdog of the public interest when politicians try to manipulate our judicial system for their own gain. In fact, the media shouldn’t condone mob mentality, let alone encourage it; they should be outraged by it. Their concern should be about the unintended consequence of reactionary self-serving legislation.
Fortunately, the media’s endorsement to apply laws retroactively to get rid of Kelley is likely illegal.
Whether you like Kelley or not, he is entitled to his day in court to try and clear his name if he can. If you felt you were not guilty of a charge against you, wouldn’t you expect your rights to be protected? Would you want politicians in Olympia treading on your rights to enhance their own position?
According to our Constitution, we are a “government of laws, not of men.” Disregarding the gender objection, it means you don’t get preferential treatment because you’re rich or famous or important. It also means you shouldn’t be treated to less than your full rights just because you are rich or famous or important either. It means everyone is treated the same. We are all equal under the law.
Ask yourself, what would happen if the Legislature did find a way to remove Kelley from office and then he is found not guilty?
Now that there has been an extension in the trial date, the rhetoric by all the politicians demanding Kelley be removed has predictably increased. Fortunately, House Speaker Democrat Frank Chopp and Republican leader Dan Kristiansen are more interested in finding solutions to our education, transportation and homeless problems than pursuing Kelley’s impeachment. Hopefully they will show the same seasoned judgment on any other proposed legislation.
Keep the branches of government separate and let the process work. Let the facts come out. Don’t encourage or tolerate those who would deny you or your neighbor or Kelley the rights to which we are all entitled.
Don’t let us became a society ruled by mob behavior.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: firstname.lastname@example.org.