Thursday, July 12, 2007

More on McGee

I am at home nursing the Reddess after her latest orthopedic surgery (tennis elbow advancing to torn tendon this time) so I will not be on Backstory this afternoon. But you Milwaukee folks should listen all the same. In fact, this may be a great time to listen. WMCS 1290 AM - 4:30.

One of the topics that will be discussed is Alderman Michael McGee, Jr and his elusive bail. McGee has been charged in state court with conspiracy to commit substantial battery along with criminal contempt and a series of election law violations. He has been charged in federal court with multiple episodes of extortion. He has been denied bail on the federal charges largely because he has been trying to intimidate or tamper with witnesses from his cell. On the phone. On tape.

Earlier this week, I suggested that the denial of bail may serve what may be his only hope - jury nullification (likely a hung jury) by jurors who are angered by Milwaukee's racial politics and past. I thought that such a sentiment would likely be seeded and watered by certain local opinion leaders.

It didn't take long.

Everytime I criticize Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane, I try to say that he does do some good work. After today's effort, I am losing my religion on the guy.

Although he jumps on board toward the end, much of today's column focuses on how "McGee supporters" are perplexed by the fact that he remains in jail. This is a lazy columnist trick. You want to advance a position without having to do the hard work of defending it or being associated too closely with it. You muse about what "some would say" so that you can say it without having to own it.

In this case, Gene rehearses the concern of "some" that McGee is being held when all he has done is demonstrate "a tendency" to "flout court rules." These folks worry, according to Kane, that "apparently ... long-held beliefs" don't apply because the government has been concerned that other defendants might intimidate witnesses while awaiting trial and yet they were released.

If Kane can establish that there is a pattern and practice of releasing white defendants who were trying to tamper with witnesses from jail, "they" might have a point. If he can find white defendants who did this repeatedly with the almost certain knowledge that they were being taped, but yet were released with an admonition not to do it again and "severe limitations" on their activities (few limitations are more severe than jail), there may be more to talk about.

Reasonable people might disagree on McGee's bail application. (In fact, they have. Pat Gorence, the magistrate judge who initially granted release, and Rudy Randa, the district judge who denied it, are both reasonable people and intelligent jurists.) Denying bail is a big deal.

But so is what McGee has been up to while seeking his release. Nodding sagely while you report that "some" believe that McGee is being treated unfairly for racial reasons is, at best, more of Kane's wearisome schtick and, at worse, irresponsible.


Anonymous said...

I am not a big fan of Kane, but you wildly overread and twist his column. The central point was that the bail situation could nurture and feed the perception of some that McGee is singled out for racial reasons.

I don't think for a minute that he was but still have concern that this matter is handled in a way helps bring home the fact that the guy is no more than a comment crook. Creating or fostering the perception that McGee is being treated differently can exacerbate some of the fractures and alienation in the city.

When Kane says something pretty similar - why do you insist that he be identified with those that actually see McGee as a martyr? The notion that being concerned with creating/encouraging destructive perceptions is the same thing as championing those perceptions as accurate - is nonsense.

Again, I think Kane is a lightweight usually. But you simply rewrote the column and then clucked your tongue in indignant disapproval.

Rick Esenberg said...

Read the last couple grafs.