(SAN DIEGO) - Former Congressman and Democratic Mayor of San Diego Bob Filner took the unusual step of publicly calling for jury nullification in the prosecution of Ronnie Chang, who faces 60 felony charges for violations related his ownership of marijuana dispensaries San Diego and Riverside Counties.
"This is way overdoing it when local laws, state laws allow compassionate use of medical marijuana,” Filner told reporters at the downtown U.S. District Court complex Monday. “Someone should not be going through this stage of prosecution for trying to help people to have access to medical marijuana."
Chang's lawyers have maintained that he was in full compliance with California Law, and that the prosecution of his case is based on political motivations only. Filner, who stands on the other side of the political aisle on this issue, is perhaps one of the few public officials to publicly advocate for jury nullification. Jury nullification is the practice by which a jury will acquit a person otherwise guilty of a crime because they disagree with the law itself or believe the law is unjustly applied in the current case.
The story gets more complicated when you consider that Chang's lawyer, Michael McCabe, has blasted the US Attorney General Laura Duffy in her prosecution of the case. He has accused her of prosecuting the case with bias and vindictiveness rather than justice. This is the same US Attorney General Laura Duffy who leaked e-mails in support of Bob Filner's Republican opponent Carl Demaio last election. Several San Diegan's publicly called for Duffy's resignation at the time including Bob Filner and Steve Peace, warning of the danger that could arise from a US Attorney getting involved in partisan political activity.
There is room for argument concerning rank and file federal employees and the question about how far away from the “electioneering” line they should stay. But, the U.S. Attorney has to enforce these laws. In this case, Duffy has not only crossed the line of appropriate behavior by participating in the election. She has added an element of sleaze to the story by participating in what appears to be an orchestrated leak of a “private” email clearly designed to benefit the candidate she has supported financially. At a minimum she put herself in a position that a U.S. Attorney should know better than to be in. But, the more believable interpretation of events is even more troubling. She gave money to a candidate. She organized an event. She invited both candidates. She established the rules of the event. She moderated the event. Filner clearly began to smell a rat as the event unfolded. After the event, she initiated an email to the candidate she supports articulating a partisan view of what occurred. She participated in an interview with the local newspaper to insist that the “leaked” email was “private”, never intended for publication. But, then she kept talking. This isn’t about who people support in a Mayor’s race. It’s not even about San Diego. I do not live in the City of San Diego. The DeMaio campaign tactic is shady, but I’m sure the Filner campaign has its share of similar efforts. That’s politics. That’s why, of all institutions, the Department of Justice simply has to keep itself miles and miles away from politics. For the U.S. Attorney to involve herself, or even get close enough to let others get her involved, is inexcusable.
Could Filner just be giving Duffy the proverbial bird for her underhanded support of his opponent last election? Or has Filner's activism streak just be re-ignited by a fight he believes in?
Mayor Filner is no stranger to activism. In 1961, he was arrested for "disturbing the peace and inciting a riot" for his participation in a protest at a Greyhound bus station. The protest was part of what would become the Freedom Riders. He refused to post bond for his release and remained incarcerated for two months.
Regardless, there is no doubt that Duffy put herself in a precarious position by politicizing her office last November. And Filner, a longtime politician, is capitalizing.