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Carmen Ortiz: A Case Of Prosecutorial Diligence Or Legal Overreach?

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz introduces U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder before his address at "Protecting Civil Rights: A Symposium on Key Civil Rights Issues" in Boston June 26, 2012.  (Stephan Savoia/AP)

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz introduces U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder before his address at “Protecting Civil Rights: A Symposium on Key Civil Rights Issues” in Boston June 26, 2012.  (Stephan Savoia/AP)

In a matter of days, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz may be called to a witness table in Washington D.C. to face the fire from members of Congress who have accused her of prosecuting a “bullying” and “trumped up” case against Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

Since Swartz’ suicide last month, Ortiz has come under the glare of national attention. According to her critics, there are other cases that display the same problems which publicly exploded in the Swartz case.

WBUR’s David Boeri has joined with David Frank of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly to investigate.


David Boeri, WBUR investigative reporter

David Frank, managing editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts.


WBUR: “Her reversal of fortune came hard on the heels of the Jan. 11 suicide of an Internet activist. Aaron Swartz’s death — which occurred two months before the 26-year-old was due to go on trial on charges that he illegally downloaded millions of academic documents from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer — created a firestorm that prompted more than 52,000 people to sign a White House petition calling for Ortiz’s ouster.”

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  • J__o__h__n

    David Boeri has done a great job exposing this power hungry incompetent. 

    • Jeff

      This problem goes beyond Ortiz and was present before she even took office.  Her overzealous Assistant U.S. Attorneys have been overreaching for years, but Ortiz is ultimately where the buck stops.  As one of the defendants in a case that was discussed here by David Boeri and David Frank, I am pleased that these injustices are finally being brought to light.  Having faced the possibility of 20 years in prison for over two years,  before my charges were ultimately dropped with no fanfare, I can almost understand why someone like Aaron Swartz might take their own life.  When you have been wrongly accused and harassed for years, you lose faith in the system, and everything you hold to be true, and this can make you believe that worse things can and will happen……such as being sentenced to 20 years in prison.

  • Guest

    Great reporting. But how many Rule 29 cases constitute an “unusual number”? You’d expect to see a little more than two over the course of a tenure as long as Ortiz’s, and that’s an average – so even 4 or 5 might not be too large a red flag. Were there more than that? Or is the claim here qualitative – that these Rule 29 dismissals were somehow more egregious than typical?

    Every US Attorney has her critics, although it’s certainly remarkable to see so many prominent attorneys within that clubby world go on the record with their critiques. But is there evidence here of something unusual?

    • Acer

      Fact: Three in three years is her record.
      Fact: It’s an unimpressive record, and documents wasted effort. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

        David Boeri’s 2nd report in his series features the term of art, “breaking a butterfly upon a wheel.”  

        That’s a literary reference from Alexander Pope which appeared last month in commentary by Charles P. Pierce writing for Esquire.  The phrase is a colorful synonym for “excessive over-kill” amounting to a wasted effort.

        Alexander Pope, who was writing in the 18th Century, could not have known that the butterfly metaphor would one day become associated with the modern branch of mathematics known as Chaos Theory.  The irony here is that the butterfly is a creation of an excessive application of some rule (technically a recursion law) over and over in a systematically repeated pattern.

      • Guest

        Three what? I do not consider number of convictions to be a measure of success. The measure of success is bringing justice not putting people away. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

    “This is an adversarial system. We’re here to prosecute. This is a tough business. This is not easy.” ~Carmen Ortiz

    The product of an adversarial system is adversity.   

    The product of the system is supposed to be justice, but the system is producing instance after instance of injustice  – injustice so troubling and egregious that a seasoned judge has excoriated the USAO for repeated lack of good judgment.

    Two of the most prominent law schools in New England are those of Harvard and Yale.

    If you look at the crest of Yale University, you will see two Hebrew words:  Urim v’Thummim.

    Urim v’Thummim are the essential constituents of good judgment.

    Urim, [literally "lights"], means brilliance, insight, mindfulness, thoughtfulness.

    Thummim, [literally "perfections"], means empathy, compassion, mercy, grace, beneficence.

    These two qualities are essential requirements of a powerful government leader who is obliged to exercise good judgment.

    Let’s have a little less adversity and a little more mindfulness and compassion in our woefully erratic and disoriented system of justice.

    • Guest

      Adversarial system has to be replaced with one seeking justice not convictions. In this system the only thing left is the decency of the prosecutors or a judge.  Oritz showed none and it never got to a judge.

  • J__o__h__n

    She claims to be proportional now.  What about her statement that “theft is theft” after Swartz died?

  • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

    Regarding the comments of Carmen Ortiz on the subject of mental illness, there is a variety of PTSD called “Legal Abuse Syndrome” that could well be the subject of a future story on Radio Boston.

    The entire US legal system (including criminal, civil, and family court divisions) is routinely used in an outrageously abusive manner.

    Those who are traumatized, stigmatized, or victimized by such shenanigans within the legal system may suffer what has come to be called Legal Abuse Syndrome.

    • Acer

      I think her summarizing him as mentally ill was the sort of character assassination that defines a bully.

      Doubly so because he is no longer here to respond.

      • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

        Character assassination is the least of it.

        The prosecution was apparently in the business of annihilation

        Aaron Swartz faced spiritual annihilation and financial annihilation, with no viable means of escape. 

        To my mind, our justice system is out of control. 

        The prosecution took leave of their senses

        Unfortunately, this kind of tragedy is all too commonplace, and most of the time goes unreported.

      • lori3288

        She and the people like her are the ones who are mentally ill.

    • public_servant_watch

      −”Swartz, who had battled depression over a period of years and written publicly about it, hanged himself in early January as federal prosecutors sought jail time in a computer-crimes case against him.” NEWS FLASH this is 2013 and writing about depression in 2007 which was related to physical illness does not give anyone the right to assume that Aaron was was suffering a prolonged intrinsic depression. However, legal abuse syndrome can cause an extrinsic depression and if legal abuse syndrome was the root cause of Aaron’s depression the DOJ is responsible for his death. IMO since Aaron’s court record also contained his address which is suppose to be redacted in criminal cases along with the fact that Aaron’s activist actions created powerful enemies homicide can not be ruled out; how convenient that Aaron had previously described on line that he was dealing with some depression. IMO Ortiz was working for the corrupt Administrative Offices of the US Courts; the PACER download initiated government harassment and the AOUSC were not happy that no charges occurred because no crime occurred. Our corrupt federal court system is a huge racketeering enterprise and should Aaron ever be successful in getting the PACER records free and open to the public the game would be over. This entire incident appears to be RISK MANAGEMENT by the corrupt. Show criminal and civil litigation is now common place in the USA; attorneys, corporations and government official benefit. Further, the Massachusetts DOJ refused to investigate a complaint of computer crime where court staff were using computers provided to them by the tax payer to enter bogus opinions and judgments and engaged in the identity theft of US District and Circuit Judges while in collusion with outside attorneys in order to obstruct justice; the aforementioned was a crime with victims and common practice in a corrupt system yet the DOJ went after Aaron with overreaching law when there was no victim. Another kid , 17 years old,  just killed himself-  this time the corrupt family court system in another state is responsible. IF WE DO NOT REMEDY THE ROOT PROBLEM THIS WILL NEVER END.  Aaron brought to light what purposeful blind eyes have refused to see.  MAKE THIS STOP!!!!!!  The corrupt legal system is robbing lives, liberty and property. The corrupt legal system is destroying minds; they are drugging kids they remove from stable homes and indigent criminal defendants are drugged so they can coerce guilty pleas.  This is the USA!!  http://www.lawlessamerica.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp%3Bview=article&amp%3Bid=1325%3Aour-lawless-america-friend-noah-williamson-has-committed-suicide-due-to-the-family-court-system&amp%3Bcatid=137%3Afamily-court-corruption&amp%3BItemid=216http://www.scribd.com/tired_of_corruption

    • Mcmmillvalley

      I know this one well “Legal Abuse Syndrome”.  Please sign my petition at signon.org, Save My Son.  thx..

  • ThirdWayForward

    The petition currently has over 53,000 signatories.

  • Robbie

    C Ortiz was evasive, incompetent, offensive. First time ever that I turned off  a WBUR interview because I could not stomach her any longer. Good work David, shame on her.

  • Guest

    The virtually unlimited power given prosecutors proves corrupting influence of power. No more immunity for prosecutors.

    In addition the use of “prosecution” as a way to build political base is nothing but sick. In order to avoid it
    all US attorneys should be required to sign an agreement to never run for political office. Political ambition and voters willingness to elect such people is one of the major reasons for such overreach.

  • Teresa

    My gratitude and admiration go out to David Boeri for outstanding reporting.

  • Mark

    Carmin Ortiz, presidential ward winning incompetent, still has no idea that she has no idea. Someone throw her the hell out and let the real 99% do something. She wasted a life, and even with the excellent handling and coaching she is displaying the incompetence of only someone like Eric Holder could admire. She is way out of her leagues. Please stop the agony….

  • Mark Mile

    Fool. She should be fired.

  • Kathy

    Carmin Ortiz grew up in very different circumstances than wikipedia states. Not from a tough neighborhood, but an affluent long island community. Liar.

  • Mtm

    Why does Carmin Ortiz use her picture from when she was 20 years younger, instead of the old hag she is. Why does Obama support her? Is it because the wh was afraid of Aaron….what is going on here???????

  • http://www.facebook.com/terrence.a.davis1 Terrence Andrew Davis

    I am not a crazy liberal.  The world is perfectly just.  If your enemy is stupid enough to wrong you, God will punish him and reward you.  Even accept wrongful imprisonment.  God says, “direct stiffneckedness envious think_you_could_do_better
    unlawful hear alas can_you_hear_me_now goodly quoth sons’
    NUMBER proportion urgently mission_from_God ceases shadows
    sensible abuse balls “

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OJ46O4HDANU2MPGKH6TY6PCJ5U No Name P

    I don’t think she realizes WHY people hate her so much. 

    When she is asked about any REGRETS she might have, she talks about MENTAL ILLNESS. 

    Gee thanks, you old hag … that says more about YOU than it says about Aaron.

    Do you regret saying “theft is theft”? Do you regret that your mentally challenged husband made those idiotic tweets? Do you regret not having a salad to lose those extra 80-90 pounds???

    • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

      The inability to feel or express remorse might be a sign of mental illness ranging to a pathological lack of empathy for the suffering of others.

      Simon Baron-Cohen is a British Professor of Developmental Psychopathology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.  Among other things, he is an expert on Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.  He prefers to use the term “systemizers” to characterize people who are adept at addressing and solving problems in a systematic manner.

      He also studies the phenomenon of empathy — the ability to recognize, interpret, and respond to the cognitive-emotive state of others.  He has developed instruments to measure the degree of empathy in individuals.

      On the extreme low end of the range are those with “zero empathy” — totally oblivious of the cognitive-emotive state of others.  Is that a problem?  It depends.

      If one is engaged in work on algorithms or code or hardware and not working with people, it hardly matters.  But if one has power over people, then it matters a great deal.

      Simon Baron-Cohen says that the cultural concept of “evil” corresponds to zero empathy when one is functioning in a role where they are exercising power over other people.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/OJ46O4HDANU2MPGKH6TY6PCJ5U No Name P

        Initially, I too thought that Carmen Ortiz was evil (and perhaps lacking in empathy) … but as I read more and more about how inept her office has been, I have come to the conclusion that she just isn’t qualified to be US Attorney. 

        I think if I were to take her job, I would probably make the same mistakes she has … and I would be called out on it … but people wouldn’t realize that it wasn’t that I was cruel or oblivious to the cognitive-emotive state of others … but the truth would be that my mistakes would stem from the fact that I was in over my head leading that huge bureaucratic nightmare of an office … and that is what has happened to Carmen Ortiz.

        She just isn’t qualified to be US Attorney, and she is coming off like a evil, old hag when she speaks. 

        If I were Carmen Oriz, I would max out my 401K because this is the last real job she’ll be getting.  

  • Patricia Hamilton

    Why hasn’t she been thrown out yet?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamieaa64 James Abrahams

    :( Everyone else has talked about this better then me but… yeah I really dislike her bringing up “mental illness”. If you bully someone to suicide you can always claim mental illness because a “sane person wouldn’t kill themself”. I think it might be that she has been desensitised to how horrible prison is to people who aren’t close to prison.

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