A prosecutor's zeal leads him to lenience.
By JAMES TARANTO
September 9, 2014 THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Best of the Web
It was an obnoxious, futile and costly gesture, and it was also illegal. Global-warmist fanatics Ken Ward and Jay O'Hara "faced up to two years in jail for attaching a 200-pound anchor to their keel to block the path of [a] coal ship in May 2013," the Boston Globe reports. The ship was to deliver fuel to the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Mass. Their small craft, the Henry David T., carries a banner with the hashtag #coalisstupid.
At their trial, scheduled to begin yesterday, they had planned to invoke a "necessity defense." That is, they sought to avoid culpability by blaming global warming [of zero degrees over past 18-26 years]. They "would have called a number of high-profile witnesses, including NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen and environmental activist and author Bill McKibben."
But we'll never know if such an appeal to authority would have convinced a jury, for as the Globe reports, the case led to a breakdown in authority in the local prosecutor's office. "Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter knew the law," the Globe notes. "He also understood the threats [purportedly] posed by climate change. So for days he grappled with what to do. . . . Just as the trial was about to begin Monday, Sutter decided to drop all charges."
Samuel Sutter Associated Press
It gets worse: "Then, in a dramatic appearance at Fall River District Court, he said he empathized with the stance of [the defendants]. . . . 'Because of my sympathy with their position, I was in a dilemma,' Sutter said afterward. 'I have a duty to go forward to some extent with this case and to follow the applicable case law, but they were looking for a forum to present their very compelling case about climate change.' He added: 'I do believe they're right, that we're at a crisis point with climate change.' "
Sutter dropped all charges and required only that the defendants pay $4,000 in restitution. The Globe piece is accompanied by a photo of Sutter waving around a McKibben article, apparently from the antediluvian magazine Rolling Stone.
The Globe raises the possibility that "the abrupt decision, which pleased environmental activists around the country, was meant to help him get their votes in case he ran for higher office." Sutter denied it, though he acknowledged it was a reasonable suspicion: "When an opportunity appears, I am interested in doing something other than district attorney with my career, but I spoke from the heart. I thought carefully about every word that I chose. I think it's one of the greatest crises our planet faces."
Yet even if personal ambition did not inform the decision, it was a misuse of prosecutorial discretion. If Sutter found himself facing a "dilemma," such that his ideological convictions made it impossible for him to do his job in good conscience, he should have taken himself off the job by resigning or at least recusing himself from the case.
As for Ward and O'Hara, they're not happy either, for their stunt was ineffectual. "They're still burning coal," O'Hara tells the Globe. "Our effort was to shut this plant, and that hasn't been achieved." But the paper notes that "the Somerset plant, which is in the process of being sold to Houston's Dynergy Inc., is slated to close in 2017." So they could have accomplished their goal by doing nothing but waiting four years.
And is global warming "one of the greatest crises our planet faces," as the prosecutor asserts? Here's the latest reason for doubt: "A snail once thought to have been among the first species to go extinct because of climate change has reappeared in the wild," reports the Associated Press:
The Aldabra banded snail, declared extinct seven years ago, was rediscovered on Aug. 23 in the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles. The mollusk, which is endemic to the Aldabra coral atoll--a UNESCO World Heritage Site--had not been seen on the islands since 1997, said the Seychelles Islands Foundation.
Last week we noted that, supposedly owing to rising water temperatures Down East, lobsters had become plentiful and cheap. (We plan to try this news you can use: The Wall Street Journal's recipe for butter-poached lobster.) Soon we'll be able to say Seychelles sells snail shells by the seashore.