February 21, 2007

Sutter Nonsense

If you’re not in Bristol county, Massachusetts, you probably haven’t even heard of Sam Sutter. Unless you live somewhere else in Massachusetts and read the Boston Herald.

For those interested, I’ll give you the very quick background: We in Bristol County recently elected a new District Attorney. Our previous DA, Paul Walsh, apparently was a decent guy, started out as a good DA and had a lot of friends and huge political clout. But there was a widespread feeling that over his 16 years in office, his effectiveness had slipped although his network of supporters were strong. Sam Sutter made effective use of the perception that the DA’s office was not helping fix this area’s crime problems, and he rode that to success in the election.

I, personally, was glad to see new blood in that office and already the man is calling for tougher gun crime laws and holding criminals under the dangerousness statute.

Having won the election and apparently getting down to the business of making the county a safer place to live, it is apparent that some of Sutter’s political opponents don’t know how to lose gracefully.

DA touts wife as new Hillary: Bristol’s Sutter defends spouse’s role

The Boston Herald ran a story about how Sutter’s wife, Dottie Sutter, is working closely with the DA in a voluntary capacity to help this fledgling DA’s office succeed at its job.

And that story is pretty fair compared to the talk radio attacks Sam is weathering. But if you try to follow the logic here, you’ll need to be careful lest your head spin right off. We’re supposed to be incensed that an experienced legal assistant who is a closely-trusted confidant of the DA (what could be closer than his spouse?) is volunteering her time to make the county’s new DA’s office successful.

The hot air behind the strained complaints requires such artificial force behind it that you have to wonder who is shoveling the coal into this locomotive. I’ll leave that to more experienced investigators. Rather, I will focus on this one “scandal.”

It is cowardly and sexist to attack a man through his wife; this is the same old line that car salesmen have been using for years when you say to them “I’ll need to check with my wife.” Oh, ho ho! Who wears the pants in your family? “Surely, a big man like you you doesn’t need to check with his wife!” Lindsay Beyerstein called this sort of tactic a “creepy old man jiujitsu move” in this post about Elizabeth Edwards and Chris Matthews.

This Sutter situation. It reminds me a little bit of another issue in Bristol county: the idea that we ought to have the sheriff’s deputies patrolling the streets instead of taking care of the jails, which is their primary responsibility. The sheriff of Bristol county has his supporters who, along with him, push this idea and won’t let it die. I disagree with the deputy “redeployment” idea because:

  1. We’re already paying the deputies to do another job.
  2. The sheriff should be concentrating on the responsibilities to which he is tasked and paid for by the county
  3. Training for the deputies to manage the jails is not the same training that police officers get.
  4. The suggestion raises a question about why the sheriff has extra time and money to attempt to increase his organization’s responsibility. If funding is allocated incorrectly, perhaps we need to decrease the sheriff’s funding and increase funding to the police, allowing each agency to have the correct funding to do the job.
  5. Subsequently, the sheriff has claimed he is not equipped to handle the jail overcrowding. Which is it — they have manpower and funds to spare, or they’re strained to do their jobs? Too many funds going to these deputies with time on their hands?

In the DA’s case, for comparison:

  1. The DA’s wife is not paid
  2. She is experienced, having worked both with her husband and with the previous DA
  3. She is a trusted confidant

If you like the sheriff plan, with all its many flaws, you really have to be hard pressed to complain about the DA having his wife’s help. Spouses certainly should support each other and it is disingenuous not to recognize the level to which this happens everywhere.

So, why the complaints here? Ignoring that this is probably politically driven by those hurt by the defeat of Walsh, why do these complaints get any air time or play in the papers? Nearly everyone seems to admit that there is no ethical issue here; even the Herald quotes the publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly saying “I don’t see anything improper about it.”

The answer is simple. A wife’s place is to support her husband from the shadows, not as a professional. Wives are not meant to help in a professional capacity. This shocking bit of social backwardness is doubly puzzling if it comes from the family values crowd. Isn’t the bond between husband and wife sacred and special? On second thought, Sutter has violated the traditional mold. If his wife wants to help with the office, she should really be baking cookies or making sure his shirts are ironed. Helping is fine, so long as it’s in a completely nonthreatening manner that hearkens back to a fabricated bygone era.

This is pathetic, and discouraging to see anyone in Massachusetts giving it any credence.

Posted by James at February 21, 2007 11:10 AM
Create Social Bookmark Links

This is a perfect rundown of the situation.

People arguing about non-issues because they've got nothing else ... and ignoring real issues like the Sheriff because of political loyalty.

Posted by: Keri at February 22, 2007 7:57 AM

Thanks. Since I don't feel like making a whole separate post regarding the second attack the DA is weathering in this week's Herald Political Onslaught, I'll address it here.

The DA is also under attack for a campaign contribution he received from a woman who had served her sentence after being convicted of embezzlement a few years ago.

Now she is charged with a new crime and political opponents are calling for him to return the money.

The DA seems to have bought into the whole notion of "innocent until proven guilty" (I wonder where he got that idea?).

The woman was innocent of any new crime when she made the donation (the DA says he believed she was turning her life around) and now she has yet to be convicted of the new crime.

Politically, the expedient thing to do is just return the money. However, it exhibits prejudgment. I would be worried if there were any evidence that this woman had a relationship with the DA that showed the law was being subverted, but such evidence has not been presented.

In lieu of that evidence, it really seems to be a matter between the DA and his supporters. Until it's a scandal, it's another faux-scandal.

Don't we have enough real problems?

And is it in our best interest to encourage insubstantial attacks on the DA we just elected when we need him to be successful? It'd be one thing if people were attacking his policies because they disagreed with what he was doing.

Instead, I see this as a political reaction to some of the initial good press he's gotten for his popular proposal on harsher handling of gun crimes and use of the dangerousness statute to make sure we are focusing on keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.

My answer to "should he give the money back" is "please stop bothering me with this bullshit."

Add in the hubbub over the governor's car and we have a cornucopia of apparently nothing better to talk about.

For those that think this is a partisan opinion: Sure, if it were Kerry Healey, the type of car she drives might catch a snide remark, but it certainly wouldn't merit my attention for much longer. And I would be embarrassed if that were one of the most noteworthy complaints I had against a Republican governor.

When Romney was in office we picked on some of his opinions and the fact that he never seemed to be around, and never came to the SouthCoast. Oh, and his obvious use of MA governorship as a pre-campaign for president.

I have no idea what sort of car he drove.

MA state Republicans have gone off their gourd.

Posted by: James at February 22, 2007 8:28 AM

There is one good reason to return the money, and it has nothing to do with prejudgement. The DA's office needs to go beyond the level of ethics most of us have to. To that end, they need to avoid not just impropriety, but also the appearance of impropriety.

Sutter should outline the position he had when he accepted the contribution and explain why there is nothing wrong with it. He should then add "IHowever, in the interest of avoiding the appearance of unethical behavior, I have decided to return the donation."

I felt similarly last summer when al the Congressional ethics stuff came up and we were gleefully piling on the Republicans. Then it came out the Reid had received some assorted boxing related gifts of value. Given the climate, he had an opportunity to take the high ground and show how it should be done. What did he do? He defended his actions.

Posted by: briwei at February 22, 2007 10:51 AM

Is it fair or necessary to expect the DA to keep money on hand to refund any contribution to anyone who might be accused of anything during his tenure? I guess I just don't agree.

And I still see an element of prejudgment. If you're talking about political reality, I understand.

I don't remember commenting on a similar situation with Reid. Did Reid do something that violated ethics rules, or did we pile on about the rules being insufficient?

In the DA's case, so far I've neither seen him violating any rules, nor have I seen evidence of corruption.

Posted by: James at February 22, 2007 12:16 PM

It is a slippery slope and not an easy issue. I was referring to the need for the public to believe in the impartiality of the office. Sometimes that may mean having to do something that was unfair. You know that if she is acquitted, the naysayers will scrutinize the case looking for any area where they feel the DA 'should' have acted differently.

So, I guess I am referring to the political realities.

As far as Reid, I didn't mean "we" as in Aces Full Readers. I meant "we" as in Long Suffering liberals and moderates. Reid accepted free ringside seats to boxing matches from the Nevada Boxing Commission. He was working on boxing regulatory legislation at the time.

When it came out, he was defensive of his actions. He later said that he could see where people might get upset and that he wouldn't do it any more. But he never paid them back for the tickets.

Posted by: briwei at February 22, 2007 5:38 PM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved