Saturday, August 20, 2011

Arlin M. Adams and the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service

by James Scanlan, Esq.

In addition to being mentioned in any number of the twenty-plus Truth in Justice items I have posted over the fourteen months (links to which are available here), Judge Arlin M. Adams is the particular subject of a February 22, 2011 item styled “Unquestionable Integrity versus Unexamined Integrity: The Case of Judge Arlin M. Adams,” and a March 16, 2011 item styled “The Arlin M. Adams Interview.” Adams is the former federal appeals court judge who from 1990 to 1995 served as Independent Counsel investigating abuses of programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Adams was also several times a leading Supreme Court candidate and would likely have been appointed to the Court in 1971 but for his having angered Attorney General John N. Mitchell. The referenced items note that Adams is one of the most revered former jurists in the county and the esteem with which he is generally regarded has since been further reflected by the American Philosophical Society’s honoring him with the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

But most readers of the two Truth in Justice items and the materials they make available would conclude that at the same time that Judge Adams was refusing to recuse himself from matters involving former Attorney General Mitchell in United States v. Dean, attorneys under his supervision were fabricating a claim that Mitchell and the defendant Deborah Gore Dean had conspired to defraud the United States. They would also conclude that Adams himself was personally involved in many of the prosecutorial abuses in the case, including both (a) the presenting of the false or misleading testimony of Supervisory Special Agent Alvin R. Cain, Jr. in order to enable Robert E. O'Neill to falsely lead the jury to believe that Dean lied about a conversation with Agent Cain (discussed, among many other places, in the June 29, 2011 Truth in Justice item styled “Robert E. O’Neill’s Tricks of the Trade – One”) and (b) the decision to attempt to deceive the courts in covering up the actions of Independent Counsel attorneys concerning Agent Cain and other matters.

Reader opinions may vary as to the extent to which the abuses in the case occurred because Mitchell caused Richard Nixon to break a promise to appoint Adams to the High Court and perhaps as to whether the types of abuses that occurred in the Dean case are commonplace when prosecutors are not closely supervised by a person of principle. But few will dispute that the abuses were pervasive or that Adams bears substantial responsibility for them. And some readers of the March 8, 2011 Truth in Justice item styled “The Remarkable Careers of Sometimes Prosecutor David M. Barrett” will suspect that the reasons Adams allowed David M. Barrett, a person Adams had ample evidence to indict for involvement in abuses of the programs investigated by Adams, to himself become an Independent Counsel investigating HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros involved Adams’ concerns about the way any actions taken against Barrett might influence the trial judge handling the Dean case. But while some matters may allow for differing interpretations, as time wears on, the publicly available picture of Adams’ character, as reflected in his service as an Independent Counsel, is likely to become more, not less, disturbing than the publicly available picture I have so far created. And thoughtful observers naturally will wonder how often the traits exhibited by Adams when exercising a public trust might have otherwise influenced his conduct over the sixty-plus years since he began the practice of law.

The closing paragraph of the February 22, 2011 Truth in Justice item suggested that in the event that my interpretation of Adams’s conduct becomes widely known, entities that have been named in honor of Judge Adams at the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and Susquehanna University may find the Adams name to detract from their stature. The situation can even be deemed tragic in the case of Susquehanna University’s Arlin M. Adams Center for Law and Society, an institution whose admirable missions include the promotion of a criminal justice system that would preclude the type of conduct perpetrated by Adams and his subordinates in United States v. Dean or severely punish such conduct when it occurs.

It should be recognized, however, that each of referenced instances of naming something in honor of Judge Adams occurred when there was little or no readily available information calling his character into question. The same does not hold for the American Philosophical Society’s April 29, 2011 presentation of the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service. The medal, named for the Society’s founder, is quite prestigious and recipients of it and the predecessor Benjamin Franklin Medal have included many appropriately venerated individuals of national and international prominence, as well as, in 1906, the Republic of France.

In the case of the award to Judge Adams, the selection committee included the Society’s highest officers and three members from the organization’s Class 5 (Arts, Professions, and Leaders in Public and Private Affairs). Unfortunately, however, it seems that no one involved in the selection process saw fit to thoroughly research Judge Adams on the internet, a process that would have yielded the above-referenced February and March 2011 Truth in Justice items, the Arlin M. Adams profile, and varied other items suggesting that Judge Adams ought not to be honored with a prestigious award without a careful investigation into whether publicly available materials so critical of his conduct as Independent Counsel have a factual basis.

Such, at any rate, was the implication of responses to my recently bringing some of these materials to the attention of certain members of the selection committee. Sensibly, the Society now will examine these materials carefully, at least to know whether it made a serious mistake – and because, after all, it is a philosophical society devoted to the pursuit of knowledge. Also sensibly – and regardless of its conclusions about Judge Adams – the Society will recognize the wisdom of hereafter taking at least the easy steps to determine whether there exist reasons to believe that a proposed recipient of one of its awards might not be exactly as he or she seems.

There is an irony here involving a matter that both reflects on the selection committee’s judgment and suggests an explanation for the failure to adequately investigate Judge Adams’ worthiness of the Franklin Medal. The narrative accompanying the award to Judge Adams explains that he has been a member of the Society since 1979 and has held numerous offices in the organization, including President, which position he held from 1993 to 1999 (apparently assuming the position the same year that he was overseeing the Dean trial). While it would require some discussion within the Society as to the precise purpose of the public service medal to fully resolve the matter, there is a serious question whether the Society should ever give the medal to a former officer of the Society. And that would hold whether or not service to the Society played importantly into identifying the recipient. As with Judge Adams’ involvement in a prosecution of the stepdaughter of the person who kept Adams off the Supreme Court, leave aside what effectively was a posthumous prosecution of former Attorney General Mitchell himself, there are situations where appearances are important. In any case, there is reason to believe that it was precisely because, as a result of his long association with the Society, and hence that Judge Adams’ background and character were believed to be well known to the Society, that the selection committee forewent the due diligence that one hopes would typically be exercised by an organization when it honors an individual with so prestigious an award as the Benjamin Franklin Medal.

But what’s done is done. And, like many things the prosecutors would never have done in the Dean case had they believed those things might be discovered, some things cannot be undone. Time will tell whether the award to Judge Adams materially detracts from the prestige of the Benjamin Franklin Medal or of the American Philosophical Society. But it would be surprising if the award ultimately did either any good.


The American Philosophical Society’s situation regarding whether to learn the truth about Judge Adams’ conduct in the prosecution of United States v. Dean case raises some issues akin to those facing the Department of Justice with regard to its learning the truth about the conduct of others in the case, including Bruce C. Swartz (for the last decade the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division in charge of international issues) and Robert E. O'Neill (recently appointed United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida). So far the Department of Justice has refused to learn that truth, or, in any event, to act in a manner consistent with its knowing the truth. See, e.g., Truth in Justice items of February 6, 2011 (“Bruce Swartz - Our Man Abroad”), March 10, 2011 (“Criminal Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce C. Swartz, Roman Polanski, and the Hiding of Exculpatory Material”), June 4, 2011 (Willful Ignorance at the Department of Justice, and its Consequences), and August 15, 2011 (“The Ever Rising Star of Criminal Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce C. Swartz,”). If nothing else, these items suggest that it is always better to learn the truth, even an unpleasant truth, sooner rather than later. That holds regardless of whether one is bound by the duties that are supposed to guide the Department of Justice or by the aspirations that guide a philosophical society.

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