Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Elie Honig's "Hatchet Man"

Elie Honig worked as a federal and state prosecutor for 14 years. He prosecuted and tried cases involving violent crime, human trafficking, public corruption, and organized crime, including successful prosecutions of over 100 members and associates of the mafia. Honig now is a CNN Legal Analyst, hosts podcasts and writes for Cafe, is a Rutgers University scholar, and is Special Counsel to the law firm Lowenstein Sandler.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department, and reported the following:
Page 99 picks up right in the middle of one of my own real-life trial stories. This one’s a favorite of mine; it’s about a sad-sack contractor who had been the victim of an extortion by the mafia and was having a nervous breakdown just as he was about to take the stand to testify against a mobster. On page 98, I set the scene and describe how I started to get angry with our recalcitrant witness, until my trial partner saved me:
But thankfully, my trial partner, Lisa Zornberg, stopped me with a look. The contractor was her witness, and she brought a better touch to the matter. “Listen,” Zornberg said to him. “I know it’s not easy. But the law is entitled to your evidence. We need it. The court needs it. The jury needs to hear it.” The contractor seemed to catch himself and arrest his downward spiral. He took a breath and looked up. “Would it help if I gave you a hug?” Zornberg asked.

Minutes later, the contractor walked into the courtroom, past Nicosia, and onto the witness stand. He took the oath and got through his testimony, first answering questions from Zornberg on direct exam and then withstanding a pointed cross-examination from the defense attorney. The contractor was halting and visibly shaky in his testimony—in a sense, his palpable fear probably helped us by driving home to the jury just how scared he was—but he got through it. By the time he was done, it was game over. A few days later, the jury found Nicosia guilty of extortion.

We were lucky to get the contractor’s testimony. It often is difficult to convince witnesses, especially victims, to come forward and testify against a criminal defendant, particularly those who are Mobbed up or otherwise powerful. As a prosecutor, it’s easy to get used to the courtroom. But to a victim, the courtroom can be terrifying. The defendant is right there, seated just feet away from the witness box. (There’s no way around this. Our Constitution ensures every defendant the right to “confront” the witnesses against him, meaning the defendant must be physically present during the trial and can challenge the testimony, through a lawyer’s cross-examination.) Trials are open to the public. Sometimes members of the media show up. And at times, defendants will pack the viewing area with sympathizers and supporters; if the defendant has Mob ties, the gallery can look imposing. It’s a small miracle we got the contractor on the stand, albeit just barely.
I tell these insider stories in part because they’re fun and entertaining and accessible. The book offers a unique, insider’s look at how federal prosecutors really do the job. But I also use these firsthad anecdotes to establish and explain those core principles that I collectively refer to as “the prosecutor’s code.” These are the unwritten rules, the things you learn only by doing, by succeeding and failing, and they guide the ethical and effective prosecutor in everything he or she does. The story on page 99 about our terrified contractor, for example, illustrates the systemic danger posed by what people sometimes dismissively call “process crime” -- witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and the like.

Throughout the book, after I establish each of the core tenets of the prosecutor’s code through a story like this one, I then demonstrate how Bill Barr broke that code during his tenure as attorney general. For example, I use the story on page 99 to launch into chapters about Barr’s unprecedented and nakedly political interference in the prosecutions of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, both of whom were convicted of what Trump and his supporters referred to as mere “process crimes.” I argue that Barr’s actions convey his fundamental disregard for, or ignorance of, the prosecutor’s code and that, all told, Barr should be remembered as a uniquely inept and corrupt attorney general .
Follow Elie Honig on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue